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656: The Five Things that Leaders Do with Jim Kouzes

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Jim Kouzes says: "The best leaders are the best learners."

Jim Kouzes discusses how everyday professionals can make an impact regardless of their title, role, or setting.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The definitive answer to the question, “Are leaders born or made?”
  2. The four components to building a compelling vision
  3. Easy ways to sustain your team’s motivation

About Jim

Jim Kouzes is the coauthor of the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, and over a dozen other books on leadership, including the 2021 book, Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. He is also a Fellow of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. The Wall Street Journal named Jim one of the ten best executive educators in the U.S., and he has received the Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance Award from the Association for Talent Development, among many other professional honors.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Jim Kouzes Interview Transcript

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

Jim Kouzes
Hey, Pete, thank you for the opportunity to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your goods. But, first, I want to hear about your experience as JFK’s honor guard. What is the story here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I was an Eagle Scout at 15 years of age and I guess back then that was a rare occurrence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty young, 15 versus 18.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, 15 years old. And so, they asked a few of us, I think it was about a dozen, two groups of six, who were stationed at the base of the reviewing stand where President Kennedy and his family and some of his Cabinet and the spouses stood, and watched as the parade went by. This was when he was right in front of the White House years and years ago. And I stood there in the very, very below freezing cold. When I talk about it, to feel the frigid cold in my feet, it was so cold.

And it was one of those experiences in life that you can vividly remember, and as Kennedy unveiled his various initiatives, the Peace Corps was one of those, and I think it was that event that really inspired me both to join the Peace Corps but dedicate my life to service and education. And so, I joined the Peace Corps after university and that began this career that I’ve been in since, really, 1967.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. That’s cool. Did you get to shake hands or were you just sort of standing there with the honor guard duties?

Jim Kouzes
No, we later were invited to the White House.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jim Kouzes
So, yes, we did meet the President and the First Lady much later after the inauguration.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, your career is storied. We were chatting, before I pushed record, that I read your book The Student Leadership Challenge when I was a student 15 plus years ago, and you’re still cranking out the hits. So, I’m excited to dig into your latest Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. But maybe, first, could you share what have you discovered that is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating thing about leadership from all your decades of research? Like, is there something the average professional doesn’t quite seem to grasp about leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Well, there are a couple of things that come to mind immediately, Pete. The first of those is the most frequently-asked question we get, “Is leadership born or made?” And we’ve been asked that question since the very first edition and we still get asked that every time we speak or do a seminar or workshop or a class. And so, Barry and I have done the research on this, my co-author Barry Posner and I, and we have determined, based on our extensive research, that every leader we have ever met is born.

Pete Mockaitis
They emerge from the womb. Okay.

Jim Kouzes
Never known one not to be born unless it’s a fictional character that was made up in somebody’s mind. And so, that’s really not the question to be asked. The question to be asked is, “Can leadership be learned regardless of what you might be born with?” And the answer to that question is definitively yes. I wouldn’t have stayed in this career this long if it wasn’t.

And I think that reveals an assumption that people tend to make, that leadership is something special that only a few people have and you’re either born with it or you’re not, it’s a gift from the gods, it’s in your DNA, and it’s only a few people, a few charismatic individuals that might have the ability, or people who have lucky circumstances early on in their lives.

And we’ve found that that’s just not the case. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we wrote this book directed at everyday leaders. Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership is really about the fact that, and I say fact and I’ll give you some data in a minute, that supports the notion that we all have some capability to lead regardless of our circumstances. And I think that’s probably one of the most significant things we found in our research.

Just to give you some data, we looked, Pete, at the data from our leadership practices inventory which, as you may know from your reading of The Student Leadership Challenge is the assessment we use to determine whether people are engaged with these practices or not. And what we found was that the number of people who exhibit zero leadership capability, that is they actually scored the lowest score on our inventory, from observer standpoint the number is 0.00013%.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jim Kouzes
So, that means 99.99987% of people have some leadership capability. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is at the 10 level of leadership, which is the highest number you can get on our scale. That is not the majority of the people, or the majority, or somewhere in the middle but it does indicate that most people, only one in one million people do not have leadership capability, and most people, 99.99987%, or 999,999 people have some leadership capability. And the issue really is then, “Can you increase the frequency with which you use leadership behaviors?” And, again, the answer to that is definitively yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into some of the particulars of how that’s done. But maybe could you kick us off with an inspiring example of an everyday professional who, indeed, went ahead and exercised some extraordinary leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. One of the people that I’ve had the opportunity to follow not only in writing the book but subsequently, in fact, this person, Erin Bern McKelroy…

Pete Mockaitis
Fine name.

Jim Kouzes
…and I would be doing a session together tomorrow, a virtual session together tomorrow, because we’ve stayed in touch. And Erin, during the pandemic, like all of us, was sitting at home on her couch feeling very anxious. Not anxious about the pandemic but anxious about what she was going to do to help her community during this difficult time.

And, given her background with the community, she was very service-minded, she had been involved in a lot of activities in her community in the Midwest, she decided that she had to do something about it as someone who is deeply involved in her community. And what she told us is that, she said, “I turned to my core values and took an internal audit of my heart and my mind.” And what came up for her was that service to others was the most important thing to her.

And so, she asked herself, “What can I do to be of service to others during this time?” And she came up with an initiative that would enable local restaurants, which were currently not open, to serve frontline workers and first responders by preparing meals for that group with funding that would be raised with the community.

And so, as a result of that effort, they raised $50,000. It doesn’t sound like a lot but given this small community that she lived in, it was considerable from 542 residents and 40 local establishments participated in preparing meals and delivering meals, and 8,130 frontline workers and first responders benefitted from that service. That’s just one example of many.

And she had no title, she had no position, people knew her in the community because she was involved but she wasn’t the manager, she wasn’t the boss. She was just someone who felt the need to take initiative during a challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yeah, perfect in terms of example right there, someone who didn’t have that authority and, yet, made some big things happen very cleverly, helping multiple people in need of help in some great way. So, very cool. Well, then can you walk us through, how is that done? You’ve got your five practices of leadership model. Should we start there or how would you think about discussing the how?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, I think that is the organizing framework for the book. And what we did was we took a look at data to validate this premise that we all have some leadership capability regardless of title, regardless of position, regardless of authority. We took the data from peer leaders only. So, these were people who had direct reports, these were individuals who were part of a team, part of a community, were not the boss of anyone, and, yet, were observed by others as leaders.

We took that data and we looked at the extent to which they engaged in these five practices and whether or not those individuals had a positive impact. And what we discovered, and we report out in the book with several graphs to illustrate this in data and story, is that individuals who are peers, who lead other peers, who exhibit these five practices more frequently are viewed by others as effective leaders and have an impact on their sense of whether they’re making a difference, the extent to which they understand the purpose and the vision, to the extent to which they are willing to work hard when necessary, those kinds of outcome measures, or engagement measures as some people call them.

And so, what we did in this book was to tell stories, like the one about Erin Bern plus the data around these five practices, which are model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re bringing back fond memories, Jim. Bring this back in the days, like, “Yeah, that holds up. Those do sound like the five things that make up leadership,” which is huge in and of itself because leadership is such a big amorphous fuzzy word, like, “How does one do that?” “Well, this is how you do it, these five practices.”

Jim Kouzes
Yes, absolutely. Like in Erin’s example, for example, I mentioned how she said she did an audit of her values. One of the things that exemplary leaders do, we call it model the way, is, first, clarify what’s important to them, their values and beliefs, and then they set an example for others by living them out. She came up with a vision of what could be, she saw this picture in her mind of these people working together to provide service to frontline workers and to first responders, engaging people in the local community who were providing food through their restaurants or the kitchens.

And she had this picture in her head, she was able to then envision it, and then inspire others to share it. And then, because it was a challenging time, they searched for innovative ways to do this because people were all locked down, and they experimented and took some risks, we call it challenge the process, and she involved a team of people to make this happen, we call that enable others to act. And along the way, they celebrated their little small wins as they went through this process, they encouraged each other’s hearts.

And as a consequence of that, Erin recently was awarded, in her local community through their leadership program in their local community, leader of the year as a result of that experience. So, that’s how individual peers live out these five practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s lovely in terms of that one story, we kind of walked through all five of those. So, then maybe we could spend a couple minutes on each of them. In terms of model the way, it starts with getting clear on values, beliefs, what’s important to you, and then living it. Any pro tips on how we can get a boatload of clarity on those dimensions without taking decades?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, without taking decades. We’ve written a few books about this. Well, let me just give you a couple of those. Let’s take clarify values. And one of them is a little technique we can try on our own is imagine the following scenario, imagine you’re going to be away from your team that you’re wanting to lead or currently leading. You’re going to be away from your team for, let’s say, three months, and you’re going to be not able to communicate with that team while they’re doing their work in any way whatsoever but you can leave them a one-page memo, we call it credo memo, prior to being incommunicado.

What would you tell people are the principles by which they should conduct themselves in their work during your absence? What are the values and beliefs that should guide their decisions and actions? Write that one-page memo to your team.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And it’s probably not going to have much to do with the specific software tools they should be using.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. What are the principles that should guide their decisions and actions? And do it in one page. That forces people to have to think in short memorable ways in which they can communicate to others what they should use as guidelines for doing their work and making their decisions. That’s very effective. I’ll use other techniques like values cards. We have people do card sorts. But any way in which you can explore your head and your heart, as Erin talked about, and your soul, and think about, “What do I really believe in and what do I hope other people will believe in as we conduct our work?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you give us a couple examples of that verbiage? I mean, when you say values, it could just be a word like integrity, or humility, courage, innovation. Or, how are you thinking about values and how they’re expressed here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I’ll offer a couple of examples. Because there are about 150 values words in the English language and not all of them are understood similarly so you can’t hold 150 values simultaneously and have people follow those guidelines. It’s just too many. So, five to seven that will help people to understand. And integrity might be one of them but go the next step and ask yourself, “What does integrity look like to you? What does it look like in practice?”

So, integrity might look like to you in practice that, “When we’re with each other and we’re doing our work, we’re always straightforward and honest about what’s going on. We give each other honest feedback even when it’s tough, even when it’s challenging, but we do it in a way that’s empathetic and not critical of other person but really ways in which they can take that feedback and act on it.” So, we have to go the next step from the one-word integrity to give an illustration of what that might look like in practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, that’s modeling the way. And how does one inspire a shared vision?

Jim Kouzes
Well, let’s take another technique that we like to use, and I call it the life technique, L-I-F-E. Think about the following scenario. At the end of the year, you’re going to be awarded leader of the year, and people who are your friends, your peers, your colleagues, your team members, your family are going to be there celebrating with you this award, and they’re going to be telling stories about you, and they’re going to tell about the lessons they learned from you, the ideals you stood for, the feelings that you have, that they have when around you, and the evidence that you’ve made a difference, you’ve had an impact.

L for lessons, I is for ideals, F is for feelings, and E is for evidence, L-I-F-E. If you’re hearing other people talk about you, what do you hope they would be saying about the lessons they learned, the ideals you stood for, the feelings they had when around you, and the evidence that you made a difference? Apply that to yourself, write that down, and then apply that to your team.

If your team is going to get team of the year, what would you hope others would say would be the lessons people learned from you, the ideals your team stood for, the feelings that people had when they were around your team, and the evidence that you made a difference? That kind of exercise helps people to think more deeply about how they hope to have an impact on others, how they hope to be seen by others. It helps them to see more clearly how they would envision themselves in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much and this is also kind of making me think of Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind, and like a eulogy, like what you want people to say even at your funeral, like if you win the leader of the year award, but you can even zoom out into other context to make it spark things.

And that reminds me, well, I did a brief stint of nonprofit consulting at The Bridgespan Group, and when we did our sort of farewells, someone said about me, I was very touched, and she said, with regard to me, and working and leading, collaborating, that I never made her feel dumb. And I thought, “Well, thank you. That’s a really kind thing to say about somebody that you work with,” because I don’t know about you, Jim, but I felt dumb a lot of times working with a lot of people. And that is, that’s something that you remember and it sticks with you as does the lessons, the ideals, and the evidence of the impact. And I think that’s a really nice tidy summation there.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, one of the things that’s most challenging for people to do, we have found from our research, is be forward-looking, and inspire a shared vision is the lowest-scoring practice of all the five practices. So, inspire a shared vision is extremely challenging for people to do. And, in fact, we found this find that this is probably the only practice which is correlated somewhat with age, meaning younger people are not as forward-looking as those with more experience.

Part of that is you’ve had more experience in the workplace and you do understand that you don’t get instant results in an organization. It takes a while to complete a project and so you need to be thinking ahead, particularly when you’re managing or supervising or leading other people. You need to think potential years down the road.

And so, it is a skill that’s developed over time but we can build that skill the more we begin to imagine scenarios out into the future and what we hope things will look like at the end. And so, we can draw on our past about things that we’ve accomplished in the past and kind of go back and review them to see how they went for us and what the end results were, reminding us that we can start at year one, and in year three, something gets realized, and imagine what went on during that time.

And then, coming to the present and reflect on what’s going on right now that is in need of some action, what are the trends, what’s happening, that can inform our vision today. And then let’s look into the future and project ahead and say, “Well, what’s going to be the impact of what’s happening right now down the road?” People do that all the time. Who would’ve known that you and I would be communicating this way 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago? And, yet, here we are, using this technology that someone invented a while back.

One short little example of this, Barry Posner and I wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge starting in 1983 up through 1985 and did some editing and got published in 1987. We wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge using a software program called Kermit. It was available only to people at universities, it was only available to people in research institutions. It wasn’t publicly available. It was an internet program that allowed us to share files over the internet.

Today, people just assume that’s the way it’s been all along because we’re doing it all the time. But when we first started writing, there was no such thing as the internet publicly available. But somebody imagined that we could be doing this kind of thing now. What do you, as you’re working in your community and you’re thinking about what you can do, what is it that you imagine could happen if members of your community took an initiative to deal with a particular challenge?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about the third step there, challenge the process. How do we do that well?

Jim Kouzes
Well, challenge the process is essentially about searching for opportunities by kind of seizing the initiative. Again, going back to Erin Bern McKelroy’s personal best leadership experience that she told us about during the pandemic. She was sitting there on her couch just feeling anxious about wanting to do something because she’s always been involved with the community. So, she seized the initiative to do something and, also, by looking outward for ways to improve.

So, looking out in the community and ask yourself, “Well, how could we make this happen? We can get people from food service organizations, or restaurants and kitchens and commercial kitchens, and ask them to be involved. And then who could we be serving? Well, who’s the most important population in need?”

So, she looked outside, not just in her own head, but she looked outside in the community for ideas about what could be done to improve, then she ran that by some people who were close to her to test these ideas, and then they set up little experiments to try it out, then things began to work and come together. So, it’s about searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve. And then, by experimenting and taking risks, by constantly generating little ideas that can help them to take action on that vision that they had.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips for sparking more ideas when you’re in the heat of things?

Jim Kouzes
So, here’s one idea that I think anyone can use that will help them be more curious and more innovative and creative. The idea, actually, talking about looking outward for ideas, came to us from a participant in a workshop. We had this idea of sitting down and asking your team at least once a week, “What have you done over the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

And so, we offered that suggestion, and one of the participants in the workshop followed through and implemented that idea and came back to us four weeks later, and said, “You know what happened? The first time I asked my team to think about this question, ‘What have you learned in the last week to improve? What have you done in the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?’ The first time that I asked that question,” he said, “…no one had an answer. They kind of looked at me silly, and said, ‘He’s been to a workshop. This will pass.’”

He said, “The second week, about 25%, 30% of the people had a response. Those conscientious folks who thought maybe I’d ask this question again, 75% had it the third week. You know what happened on the fourth week? They asked me what I had done in the last week to improve so I was better than I was a week ago.” So, we knew that that worked. It stuck.

So, you need to come up with some way in which you ask a question or you set up a situation in which people have to think about what they’ve done to improve, to learn, to innovate, to create. You can take people shopping for ideas. Think about organizations that do things not identical to yours but if you’re in the service business, other people in the service business that you might go and observe, who seem to be very creative and innovative. Go shopping for ideas from other people. Anything that we can do to get people to exercise curiosity about themselves and about others will be helpful to improving.

So, I like that technique of asking people, “What have you learned in the last week, or what have you done in the last week to improve so you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s also, in and of itself, illustrative about how change can unfold. At first, it’s like, “Okay, blowing this guy off.” And then the second time, a couple people get on board. And then, with that consistency, there it goes, you’re off to the races.

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you tell us now about the fourth practice there, enable others to act?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. So, enable others to act is about two things. It’s about fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships, and then about strengthening individuals by increasing their self-determination and developing their confidence. So, here’s another technique or method that can be helpful, again, one of those things that you can do almost instantaneously.

Whenever you are engaged in an interaction with another person or a group of people, whether it’s one people, ten people, or a hundred people, ask yourself the following question prior to the interaction, “What can I do in this interaction with this person or a group of people that will make them feel more powerful, efficacious, strong, and capable after we’re through with this interaction than when we started? What’s one thing I can do to make other people feel stronger, more capable, better and more capable than maybe even they thought they were?”

It might be simply to listen to that person or that group of people. It might be to offer a suggestion. It might be to say, “Well, I know somebody who might be able to help you with this.” It might be, “You know, I think there’s a development experience that would be useful to you here. Let me see if I can get you connected with someone who can help you with that.”

Anything that you can do to make other people feel more powerful, whether it’s in a one-minute interaction, or a one-hour interaction, or longer, is something that will help other people feel stronger and more trusting of you because you’re paying attention to them and their needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the opposite of that. How might a well-intentioned everyday leader accidentally or unintentionally disable others from acting?

Jim Kouzes
Let me give you a specific example to frame this because I think it’s really important that we talk about this. This is probably one of the most important topics we can discuss, “How do we make other people feel enabled or how do we make them feel disabled?”

So, in response to that question, here’s a study, one of my favorite studies that I think will help to frame this. So, researchers were doing an experiment on collaboration and trust using what’s called the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a zero-sum game that’s often used in experiments on cooperation and collaboration.

And they set up the experiment in a very unique way. They told people that one group of people, half the participants in this experiment, that they were playing the Wall Street Game. And they told others, the other half, that they were playing the Community Game. What they were really looking at was the extent to which people would cooperate. The rules of the game were the same, were identical, and the only difference was the name of the game – Wall Street Game, Community Game.

Who would you guess was more cooperative, those playing the Wall Street Game or the Community Game?

Pete Mockaitis
I would guess the Community Game.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. And that’s the point. The only difference was the name of the game not the game itself. But those who played the Wall Street Game, only about 37% were cooperative on their initial move and subsequent moves. Those playing the Community Game were 70% cooperative, and that continued throughout the game.

We, as leaders, have impact in just one or two words so when we speak as leaders, we, essentially, are like viruses, to use a current example. We spread things and we can either spread positive behaviors or negative behaviors in just a couple of words. And, as leaders, we need to really reflect on the language we’re using in order to have a positive impact in people because we know that that positive impact will produce better results.

So, do you want to be playing the Wall Street Game? If you want to be playing the Wall Street Game where people are uncooperative with each other and try to compete and beat the other person and never have a win-win solution, then call it the Wall Street Game. But if you want people to be cooperative, you need to play the Community Game.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Jim Kouzes
So, again, I think that helps to frame our understanding of this concept. It is a lot about language and behavior. As leaders, you have to be the first to trust. You have to be the person who creates a climate of trust for others, makes it possible for people to cooperate in a trusting manner. So, take a cue from that research that you are having an impact, either positive or negative, you’re either being transformational or toxic. Which do you choose to be?

Pete Mockaitis
And, finally, how do we go about encouraging the heart?

Jim Kouzes
Encouraging the heart is, again, about a couple of things. One is about recognizing contribution from individuals. What have people done that you can show your appreciation for? And, secondly, celebrating the values and the victories as a group of people. So, we need both to recognize individuals for what they do as well as we have to celebrate, as teams, the milestones we’ve reached and the values we’ve been consistent with.

One of my favorite examples comes from Tom Malone, he wasn’t an everyday leader in this particular case but he was a great example to all everyday leaders, to all leaders. He had a small…a medium-sized factory. And, as the owner of the company, he would often walk the floor. It was a relatively small organization and so he had the chance regularly to walk the floor. And one day, he saw one of his manufacturing employees put a part in a refrigerator, in the freezer of a refrigerator, and he was really curious about that.

So, he went up to this individual, he said, “Lala, excuse me, I’m really confused. Why did you put that part in the freezer?” And he said, “Well, I put it in the freezer because it was a little too large to fit in the hole,” this was a rod that went into a component. “The rod was a little too big and I knew if I put it in the freezer, it would shrink a little bit and be able to fit into the part. I wouldn’t be wasting either part.”

And then Tom realized that Lala, is what his name was, put this part in the freezer because he was committed to the value of zero rejects called the total quality control. And later, at a celebration, which they had weekly on the floor, Tom called this out, told this story and said, “He is an example of the kind of person we’re looking for who stays dedicated both to his job, to our value of zero reject quality, and to the productivity of this organization.”

So, as a leader, be out there and about looking for individuals who are doing things that you can then tell stories about. And when you tell that story, you’re communicating to others who are part of that team that they are individually making a contribution, and “Here’s one of your colleagues, one of your peers, who’s done that. This is an example to you of the kind of behavior that we’re looking for throughout this organization.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I would only say that you’ve done a great job, Pete, with your questions, but I think the thing that I want to emphasize and I want to say most, Pete, is that every person has a capability to improve their leadership skills and abilities. And using the five practices of exemplary leadership as a guide, find ways in which you can more frequently engage in modeling, inspiring, challenging, enabling and encouraging.

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

Jim Kouzes
Quote from one of the people we interviewed early on, Don Bennett, who, in response to a question of “How did you do that, Don? How did you climb 14,410 feet on one leg and two crutches to the top of Mount Rainier?” and He looked down at his one leg, the first amputee to climb Mount Rainier, and said, “One hop at a time.”

I think of that quote every day when I’m stuck somewhere, and if I may add a second quote from Don. When I said to Don, “You were the first amputee ever to climb Mount Rainier, the first to do it. What was the most important lesson you learned from climbing that mountain?” And he said, “You can’t do it alone.”

People often think about leadership as an individual solo act that is just unique to the person, but Don made me recognize very early on in our research that it really is not about what one person does. It is about what a team of people does together. Any leader who claims credit personally for accomplishments is not going to have the kind of impact that a leader like Don who attributes his success to the team.

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

Jim Kouzes
My current favorite, Pete, is the newest book from Adam Grant.

Pete Mockaitis
Think Again.

Jim Kouzes
You got it. You knew that book.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a great Kindle as well.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah. I’m sure you have the same stack or a similar stack. Yeah, but Think Again is a wonderful new book. Highly recommend it to anyone. And I think, particularly around this notion of challenging the process, it’ll help us all to recognize that we all have blind spots, we all are always in need of thinking again about the way in which we think.

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

Jim Kouzes
You know, one of my favorite tools is Grammarly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Jim Kouzes
As a write, I use it all the time. Again, I work alone writing, and there’s often not an editor nearby, but I just run my texts through Grammarly, and say, “Oh, yeah, I see how I could do that better here.” So, that probably is my favorite tool that I use in my day-to-day work.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite nugget, something you share that people quote back to you again and again?

Jim Kouzes
I would say that there are a couple of them. One is “Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message,” is often something that people recall from our work. People also frequently say, “The best leaders are the best learners,” another line which we wrote. But I think my favorite is, “Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I think the best way to find out the scope of everything that we are up to these days is the LeadershipChallenge.com. So, LeadershipChallenge.com website, which is where we have programs and books and activities. And then follow me at Twitter @Jim_Kouzes.

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

Jim Kouzes
I would say that my challenge is the following to all of us as leaders, whether with a title or as peers, that our wish, ours, mine and Barry’s, is that you make the most of every opportunity to lead, that you stretch yourself, and be willing to learn continually from the challenges in front of you, and that you step out to the edge of your capabilities, and then ask a little bit more of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and adventure in your extraordinary leadership.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you. So, we’ll sign off and I hope that we get to do this again. Love them and lead them.

643: The Overlooked Fundamentals of Inspiring and Managing Teams with 15Five’s Shane Metcalf

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Shane Metcalf reveals his top research-based do’s and don’ts for being a great manager.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one meeting a manager should always make
  2. The teambuilding technique for great teams from the get-go
  3. How and why to keep an employee dossier 

About Shane

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Business Insider, Washington Post, Tech Crunch, and Bloomberg. 

As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for their company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. 

Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn, and listen to him co-host the Best-Self Management Podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Shane Metcalf Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, it’s good to be here and I’m hoping that I’m qualified. I’m, like, asking myself, “Am I being awesome at my job today?” And, you know what, I think I am actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the website says you’re a visionary, so.

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hey, man.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a lot to live up to.

Shane Metcalf
That’s all, you know, websites are amazing. It’s like, “Shane Metcalf. Visionary.” Yeah, one of the many illusions of the digital world, that I’m a visionary.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, I don’t think you envisioned getting a job after spilling orange juice on a customer but you’ve got a fun story there. I’ve got to hear it.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, I was, God, I was probably about 19, 18 or 19 and I was working in a restaurant called The Western Sky Café in the town where I grew up called Taos, New Mexico. And I’ve been in the restaurant industry for four or five years or something, kind of worked my way through high school. And one day I was waiting, I was serving tables, and I go to deliver a glass of orange juice to this gentleman wearing a white shirt. And, lo and behold, something happens and I spilled the glass of orange juice all over this poor gentleman. And he’s pretty gracious, and I made the most of it and I handled it however I do.

And then about 20 minutes later, somebody comes up to me and approaches me, and he’s actually the guy who was washing the windows. We’d hired a professional window washer to wash the windows of our restaurant. And he comes up to me and he says, “I was so impressed by how you handled spilling that glass of orange juice on that poor dude. I’m wondering, do you want a job? Do you want a different job?” and he offered me a job to join his window-washing company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And so, I still don’t really understand what I did that was so impressive other than like being apologetic and probably comping his meal and not being an a-hole after spilling orange juice on him, but, yes, so it got me a job. I think the lesson there is that we never see the big picture. We don’t understand how things that seem catastrophic and bad news are actually the drivers of creative evolution.

And zooming out a little bit, I mean, this is a very small example of that, but one of my favorite quotes is from this cosmologist named Brian Swimme, and he said that the driver of life’s creative evolution…” remember, this is a cosmologist so he’s thinking on this massive time scales, “…is always bad news, breakdowns, and chaos.” It was the extinction of the dinosaurs that paved the way for small mammals to proliferate and become humans. It’s just part of the recipe of evolution is that the things that look horrible are actually moving the storyline forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, I could chew on that for a good while. And so, you move the storyline forward in terms of the experience of work and management and culture at your client organizations. Your company is called 15Five. First of all, what is that and what do you do?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. So, 15Five, we are a people and performance platform. And so, what does that mean? So, we build software education and services that helps to create highly-engaged and high-performing teams by helping people become their best selves. We believe that human development, like careers, are an opportunity for incubating human potential.

So, if we stop looking at our company as, “Hey, I’m going to hire a bunch of human resources to then kind of extract value from them and generate profit and then kind of throw out the used resources.” If we stop thinking of our people like that and actually looking at them as potential to be unlocked, we think that’s really where the best performance, the most creativity, the most engagement, the most retention, and, ultimately, the most rewarding experience we can create for not only our people but also for ourselves.

So, our software does everything from performance reviews and engagement surveys, to more manager-focused tools like check-ins, one-on-ones, peer recognition, real-time feedback. Creating more of these opportunities to communicate and have the right and most important high-leveraged conversations to improve everything inside of a company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if those conversations are high-leverage, it sure sounds like we should be having them. Can you give us a picture for just how high that leverage is? Like, what kind of results or lift or value do you see generated for your clients? Do you have any cool case stories or numbers to share here?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. You can go to our website. We have over 2500 companies using us and there’s a lot of really interesting stories. No two companies are alike and so no two applications are going to be the same. But one of the things that I love hearing one of our customers, I had people like Credit Karma. She says loves 15Five because it instantly gives her X-ray vision into, “Which are the managers that are actually engaging their teams and giving feedback? And which managers are just not doing the basics of what foundational management principles really are actually being kind of required of us as managers, as people leaders, as people that are organizing other humans and helping to untap their creativity in problem-solving and the ability to move the needle forward?”

Pete Mockaitis
So, they can just see straight up, “Are the managers doing it? Are they in the platform having the conversations? Are they not?”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, and what’s the quality of their conversations, what’s the quality of the feedback. Gallup says, I mean, there’s a pretty damning statistic from Gallup. Gallup says only one out of 10 managers should actually be managers.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on their competence.

Shane Metcalf
Based on their competencies

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And competencies, strengths. It’s a bit of black box when you try to figure out, “Well, what are they determining that from?” But, bottom line, managing people is actually a pretty tough job. Giving proper feedback, getting people aligned with their strengths in their right roles is not always a simple thing and it does require a bit of attention and intention.

And so, what we try to do with our software is provide the scaffolding of what great management really looks like and make it easy, automate that. Automate the asking of the right questions on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a reinvention of the annual performance review. It’s slightly more frequent, less of a heavy lift, more future-focused than just looking at the past.

Also, not only tied to comp because there’s a big mistake in only tying performance conversations to compensation conversations because people are just trying to game the system to try to make more money, and they don’t go into the conversations as much around, “How can I actually improve performance? And what are the blind spots? What are the areas for me to improve upon?”

But then you have manager tools like the check-in, and that allows you to automate the asking of questions around, “Where are you stuck? Where do you need help with? What’s an idea you have to improve your role?” And you can front load your one-on-ones with getting this check-in so that you can sit down and actually have a coaching conversation versus a check-in conversation and waste that 30 minutes in person on just during what the latest is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so much of what you’re saying is resonating big. I just want to make sure we’ve got the why nicely installed here. So, have you seen some rocking things in terms of the, I don’t know, Gallup engagement number, or the attrition rate, or sales performance? Or, can you give us a couple hot numbers?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, some of these things are hard to measure an ROI on. And so, the thing that I go back to is retention. We can go into an organization and through increasing recognition, increasing feedback channels, we keep people at companies longer, we keep the right people at companies longer. Engagement, we’re just starting to play in the engagement game, and so what I’m really excited about is, not too far from now, we’ll be able to run the assessment of engagement, get a score, and then, through the deployment of 15Five, of the check-ins and better one-one-ones, see the impact of that.

And it’s so customizable, so depending on what you’re struggling with as a company, you can then custom-tailor the questions to direct those conversations. So, say, you’re struggling with meaning, say, you’re getting low-meaning scores in your engagement surveys. You can then start asking questions and lead the trainings around, “What actually gives you meaning in your role? Where do you find meaning and inspiration inside the company? And maybe you aren’t finding it. Okay, cool. Well, let’s have a conversation around what that actually look like. Are you just separating your job from meaning and inspiration? Or is there an opportunity to merge those two? And, potentially, also, maybe change roles. Start bringing more of your strengths to the table when you’re actually doing that same role.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig into, so we talked about the basic foundational scaffolding management stuff. Like, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, and we talked about what he called the crisis of undermanagement and it still haunts me to this day, how I’m guilty of some of that, and how insightful it is in terms of, like, yeah, you actually don’t have a clue unless you’re doing some of these very basic stuff on a regular basis.

So, lay it out for us, what are the basic things that managers need to be doing? And what are the basic questions that need to be asked and how often? Like, give us the one-on-one. Like, what should a manager who’s like doing his or her basic job be doing in terms of conversations?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, okay. Well, look, and some of this stuff is so obvious that I like to think that, “Oh, well, everybody is doing…every manager is doing a one-on-one with their people at least twice a month.” And so many times that’s not actually happening. So, let’s just start there. Let’s just start with one-on-ones because one-on-ones are a container to be having a conversation. It doesn’t mean you’re having a really high-quality conversation but that’s the foundation, so regular one-on-ones. And then how do you actually design those one-one-ones?

So, first of all, the one-on-one isn’t for you as a manager. It’s not for you to be holding your people accountable and making sure that they’ve done the tasks of their role. This is actually your employees one-on-one. This is the chance for them to actually have a direct channel to you to talk about the things that are either going well, the things they want, career development conversations, blockers, places they’re stuck in solving a problem.

And so, if you can orient the one-on-one as more of a coaching conversation, and, again, this is really kind of starting to shift out of the mindset as a manager, of a task manager, which is we want to be leaving behind, and more into as a coach, “I’m here to help you get your next job.” That’s how I think managers should be thinking about this, is, “I want to help you be successful so that you can go and get whatever job you want. Once successful, you’re going to get a promotion, you can move careers, you can move industries. And so, that’s part of the context here I have as your manager is to help you get your next job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And I think from an unhealthy perspective, it’s like, “My job as a manager is to keep you in your place so that you don’t try to take my job,” and that’s an unhealthy approach to management.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, some foundational pieces in terms of the right mindset, helping them succeed, and get whatever job they want, as well as having one-on-ones just occurring on a regular basis, at least twice a month, as you say. All right. And then those one-on-ones is not about, “Do this or this or this or this,” not about accountability on the task checklist but rather about serving them and their needs. And then what are some key questions that are important to cover there?

Shane Metcalf
Sure. Okay. So, other pieces of this that I think are going to be useful in terms of, “How do you then actually maximize your one-on-ones?” is, “Are you setting the right goals? Are you helping your people get clear on what they’re trying to accomplish in their role?” Honestly, we actually should go back to the beginning and really go back to role clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Shane Metcalf
So, kind of surprising but one of the key things to psychological safety that we’ve discovered, not 15Five but Amy Edmondson and all the research being done on psychological safety, is that role clarity is a massive factor of whether people feel safe at work, whether people feel like they actually know what they’re supposed to be working on and what are the expectations, and the actual agreements of what they’re supposed to be doing in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that resonates.

Shane Metcalf
And very few people have.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like when I don’t know, it’s so like, “What’s important here and what should I be doing? And am I doing it? Am I not doing it? I hope I’m doing it but I can’t be sure.” And, thusly, there’s always a lingering possibility that somebody be like, “Pete, you know what, you’re just not crushing it the way we want you to.” It’s like, “What does crushing really mean in this role, in this organization?” So, role clarity is huge. Most people don’t have it.

Shane Metcalf
And, look, that starts at the beginning. Like, you should be able to take your job description that you’re posting for that job to hire that person. You should be able to. That should be so well thought out and detailed that basically you take that, copy and paste it from the website, and that is that person’s role description. It should actually hold true.

If you want some examples of this, if you go to our careers page at 15five at 15Five.com/careers, you can see what a really well-thought-out job description actually looks like. Because, ultimately, the job description, we call them actual role and performance agreements. It’s the role, this is exactly what we want in this role, and this is exactly the performance expectations. This is what okay looks like, this is what great looks like, and this is what exceptional looks like in this role. So, that right there is something that the manager and the employee should be crystal clear. And it takes a little bit of work upfront but it’s frontloading the work in the beginning to avoid pain down the line.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, give us an example there in terms of on your careers page you’ve done the work of showing them before they even apply for the role, “This is what’s up and what we consider great versus okay on those dimensions.” That’s pretty cool.

Shane Metcalf
So, you have that clarity, and then people are coming into that position with that clarity. And then the beginning of that relationship, your first week with your new manager is super important. Lots of research has shown the first 90 days of somebody’s role experience at a job is going to be kind of a determinant of how long they stay. Onboarding is super important.

And, again, another thing that a lot of companies get wrong about onboarding is they make the onboarding all about the company, “Look at our values, and look at what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going. We’re going to be a rocket ship and we’re going to do all these things. Aren’t you excited to join our club?” That definitely has a place but you want to balance it with a lot of attention on the individual that’s actually joining.

Help them discover new things about themselves. Ask them what their personal values are. Discover what their strengths are. What does success for them look like in this role? Because, then, it’s actually, “Oh, wow, this company is curious about me and they’re helping me learn and grow and evolve on my own path.” And that’s going to win every single time. If you help your people learn, evolve, and grow, walk their own hero’s journey, you’re going to get better performance. They’ll either leave your company sooner if they’re not the right fit or they’re going to stay longer if they are the right fit.

So, in the onboarding process, we do what we call a best-self kickoff. This is generally about a two-hour meeting, and so you get assigned a new employee and it prompts you to do a best-self kickoff, which is going through a set of questions designed to really actually build rapport and have the manager and employee get to know each other.

And, again, it’s about frontloading some of the work here so you can build a better relationship. I mean, business is all relationship. Every single thing we do in business actually is about relationship. All collaboration is relationship. So, if you have more rapport, you can have more truth. If you have more truth, you can be more efficient with how quickly bad news gets communicated, how fast you learn about what’s really going on with your people and what the real problems of your company are.

And so, the best-self kickoff is just a series of questions to go through and understand things like, “How do you like to receive feedback? What’s your preferred method of communicating? Which channels do you like to be on? Should I text you? Should I Slack you? Should I email you? Where are your work boundaries? Do you have obligations at home that really have you not be available at certain hours?”

Those are the kinds of questions that so rarely get answered and agreed upon and established in the beginning of a management relationship, and so without those things, there’s a bunch of expectations which are always going to lead to disappointment and people being, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they didn’t give me a public recognition and just gave me a private high-five.” And maybe they really love public recognition and you would’ve found that out if you’d only done the best-self kickoff.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so good and I’m reminded of one of our guests, Mary Abbajay, wrote a book about “Managing Up,” and she said exactly this, like, “Here’s something that make all the difference in the world with your manager relationships is to have the conversation about, ‘Hey, what are your expectations and preferences on all these dimensions?’” And so, just get that understanding from each other. And she says that in her experience, like less than 1% of people have had this conversation.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it makes all the difference in the world in terms of having a great relationship. And so, if you’re not as fortunate to be a 15Five client organization, you can still engage in these conversations and get some of that clarity and expectation setting to proactively diffuse/preempt just a billion kerfuffles and moments of irritation down the road.

Shane Metcalf
Absolutely. And, like, if you can keep kind of an employee dossier where it’s like, “Okay, cool. This person on my team, their family is this. Their strength, their top-five strengths are these. Their preferred method of communication, the way they like to receive appreciation is this way.” You have an incredible resource to have that person feel deeply seen and appreciated.

And that’s how you’re actually going to get the best out of that person. You can give them all the perks and rewards, but if they don’t actually feel seen and appreciated by their manager, it dramatically shortens the life cycle of them at your company as well as it just kind of limits the amount of success and joy they’re going to have in their role at your company.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s hit the dossier and some of the big points. So, top five strengths, I mean, that’s easy to get a StrengthsFinder or whatnot as well as maybe some reflections.

Shane Metcalf
And it is. So, like, the two evidence-based strengths profiles are Gallup and VIA Character Strengths. At least that’s what my head of people science tells me. And the strengths are really interesting because strengths, I like to say the first time I did strengths, I did my top five from Gallup and I got them and I read the thing, and it kind of felt like a bad horoscope. It’s kind of like, “Meh, okay, kind of resonates. Whatever.” It didn’t really make an impact.

It wasn’t until later that I actually worked with a facilitator and a coach on strengths that the lightbulb really went on. And I think most people are in that kind of bad horoscope relationship to strengths. And strength is unbelievably powerful but it takes a little bit of digging. It takes a little bit more contemplation to really unlock them.

And so, I would highly recommend, if you’re a manager, make a study of strengths. Help your people not just take the strengths assessment but then really be in a months-long conversation, and really you should be in conversations about your strengths your entire career because the more you look into it, the more it opens up, and the more you realize, “Wow, okay, I really could develop these strengths into my superpowers as a professional.”

You want to talk about how to be awesome at your job, it’s strengths. Use your strengths. That’s the secret. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a big part of the game is really digging in beyond, “Oh, Activator. Okay,” “Ideation, all right.” It’s like, “No, no, seriously. What are the kinds of places where I’m getting like all these ideas? What’s the kinds of activities I’m doing as I’m getting those…?” To really dig deep such that it’s not just a, “Hey, good for you, Shane. Here’s a star for this strength you’ve got,” but to really zoom in on, “How do I cultivate that into a superpower?” and I guess what I’m finding personally as I do this sort of thing is that a lot of the gain is getting all the stuff that needs doing that are not my strengths done in different ways without me.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of things, whether trusting people, developing processes and systems and talent in others, just like, “This is yours. You own this now. I’m saying goodbye because I’m okay at this and you’re great at it, and it just makes more sense for it to be here,” but it takes a lot of doing to make that handoff.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. And I think as managers, essentially, we’re orchestrators. We are the ones with the greater responsibility to make sure that we’re helping our people actually understand their strengths. And this is kind of a recent revelation that kind of blew my mind is that every strength has a need and a contribution. Like, “What does this strength want to contribute and what is the need of this strength?”

And you can go look up like Gallup strength needs. I think you’ll find a chart on this. But it kind of opened my eyes of like, “Wow, right.” Like, part of what’s so difficult about designing cultures and designing really thriving companies and cultures is that, fundamentally, I think culture is about meeting human needs. And so, we have universal ones around belonging, and connection, and esteem, and growth, and autonomy, and mastery, and all these things. But then there’s the nuance ways that it shows up.

And, okay, Pete, you have a different top five strengths than me, I’m assuming. And maybe we have the exact same ones. It would be interesting to compare but those are all going to have their own unique combination of needs to feel truly fulfilled. And so, designing a culture where you can meet a broader range of human needs is how you win the culture game.

Business, traditionally, was like, “Hey, we only care about you as a professional. You’re a cog in the machine. We don’t even really care about your thoughts about things, let alone your feelings about things.” And, now, we’re just broadening the scope of this. We’re saying, “Actually, we want to support you in having a great life as well as a great career, because we’re in personal development as also professional development. And so, we’re going to support/nourish the whole being, the whole human.”

And I think there’s distinctions there because we’re not actually supporting the whole human. There are parts of us that truly are better off to not be addressing in the professional context. But there’s a much broader range of the whole human that we can address as business leaders than we’ve traditionally been led to believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I love it, Shane, how you walked us back a little bit and we zoomed out and we say, “Let’s just get the fundamentals in terms of role clarity, understanding expectations associated with the role and how we cared to interact with each other, having that deeper sense of person knowledge that builds out the dossier with the top strengths and such.”

So, then now that we’ve established some of the fundamentals that almost no one establishes, let’s hear about some of these one-on-ones. What are some of the questions and content that we should be covering over and over again?

Shane Metcalf
So, again, it’s not only because it’s part of one of the main products in our platform but because I think it’s actually good practice and the science backs us up on this, is asynchronous check-ins that lead into your one-one-one. And so, what I mean by that is take a few minutes to write down the answers to some basic questions in advance of your one-on-one.

And those, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” there’s a great quote, “A problem well stated is half-solved.” Get your people to state their problems and articulate exactly where they’re stuck, and they’re already half-solved. They’ve already done part of the work.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, this reminds me of just, I don’t know, junior high, high school, maybe middle school, I know, learning ages. Some folks would ask a question of the teacher and it was just, “I don’t get it.” And you can even see the teacher is frustrated, like, “I guess I could repeat what I just said. I mean, I don’t know,” versus, I noticed that the good students would ask the more specific questions, like, “Okay, wait. So, what’s RNA polymerase’s role in this whole DNA process that’s going down here? Because I see what these things did but what’s the RNA polymerase?”

So, yeah, I think that that’s well-said in terms of we have a little bit of precision and clarity and specificity associated with, “This is where I need help. This software platform makes no sense to me and I’ve asked four different people, like, how the heck to do this thing and none of them seem to have a clue. So, I need to know how to do this function in this software platform,” which is way more specific than, like, I don’t know, “Expenses suck,”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, of course, but I also know that we have heard. Anyone who’ve been in business has heard ridiculous complaints that are only complaining and aren’t actually addressing the problem. Instead of saying…and so instead of like getting into your one-on-one, and then the person just bitching about expenses, you’ve already asked the question, “What are you struggling with? Where are you stuck?” and they say, “I’m really struggling with my expense report. I just don’t understand how to classify the lunches that I’m supposed to expense, and it just really confuses me and it just hurts my brain.”

The beautiful thing is that does not belong in a one-on-one. That is something that you can then go and answer ahead of the one-on-one, and say, “Oh, you categorize it as a benefit, a company benefit, category 12.” Boom. Done. Handled. Cleared. And then you can get into the deeper meatier issue of maybe like they also bring up that, and maybe they put this in private comment, “I’m really having a hard time with Sally, and we’re having a lot of conflict, and I’m pulling away on that team.” That’s the kind of meaty stuff that that one-on-one can be of use to coach this person on and to challenge them, and to actually challenge them through the values of the company, to challenge them to lean in and go direct with that person.

So, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” phenomenal question. “What’s going well? What are you proud of? What are you celebrating?” The power of small wins cannot be underestimated. There’s a great book, a woman Teresa Amabile wrote The Progress Principle, and it’s all this research they did on what actually makes the biggest difference in improving somebody’s inner work life. And so, they had a bunch of professionals keep these journals of tracking their inner work life, how actually they were feeling at work.

And the number one determinant they found was an experience of making progress on meaningful work. And one of the easiest hacks that create a sense of progress was they actually record the small wins. And so, those are kind of just preliminary basic questions that you’d be asking ahead of one-on-ones so that you can then go in and actually have that time to get into the heart of what this person really wants.

And sometimes that’s problem-solving with issues at work, and sometimes those are actually career conversations of “What do you really want?” Like, okay, like you’re pretty happy in this role, but you know that sales isn’t actually what you want long term, and you want to start thinking about maybe actually products is calling your name, or maybe customer success is that.

And so, that’s where we get to put on the coach hat and really start thinking about, “How do I help this person get clear about what they want? And then once they know what they want, how do I help them get it?” In my experience, it’s that even when that person…even when that conversation leads to helping that person get clear that they don’t want to work at my company, it’s a good thing because they’re obviously not going to be fully engaged if they don’t want to be there.

And if you help them pursue their career as a DJ and quit, we actually had somebody do that. They were like, “Yeah,” because we hold these annual in-person company retreat, and I had an aspiring DJ and he loved DJ’ing the retreat so much he was really inspired. And through a lot of support from us, actually went to pursue his career to produce electronic music.

And, for me, that’s just the coolest. As an entrepreneur, as a founder, those are the stories that fill me up because when people actually come into alignment with doing what they actually want to be doing in life, that’s how we’re awesome at our job. That’s when we’re not wasting our time doing something we don’t want for a paycheck. It’s like doing a job we don’t like to make money for a house that we don’t ever spend any time in, and that’s just a miserable cycle. And I think we can do better in the business world on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Well, Shane, we hit some big ideas and I’d love it if maybe you could just give me a couple just like, hey, top do’s and don’ts. You’ve looked at a lot of research, seen a lot of correlations across a lot of things as people are checking in and have the exchanges and answering questions. Can we wrap it, before we hear some about your favorite things, just a couple top do’s and don’ts based on what you’ve learned on management from your unique vantage point?

Shane Metcalf
Do get personal. There’s obviously nuance to this. But care about the whole person. Care about what they really want. Get curious about what they want out of life, what they want to experience, how they want to grow, and what they want to contribute. Go back to those three questions and dig deep and really understand who this person is and what are their intrinsic motivations in life. That’s going to build a better relationship. It’s going to establish more trust. And it’s, ultimately, I think going to produce a more productive working relationship.

Don’t. Don’t neglect your people. Don’t skip your one-on-ones. Don’t always cancel them because something more urgent came up. That’s going to communicate that you don’t care, that that person is not really important, and that you aren’t invested in their growth and development.

Do study strengths. Go deep into StrengthsFinder. Understand your own strengths and be really honest with yourself whether you like managing and whether managing other people is something that you want to do and you’re intrinsically motivated by. Or, is it did you get into management because it was the only way up the career ladder but, really, you’d love to actually still be coding and doing IC work?

That’s a really interesting one because most companies have it setup as a trap. Why do we have so many crappy managers that shouldn’t be managers in the first place? Because it’s the only way to gain social status and make more money. So, as company builders, as HR professionals, we need to design career progression tracks that accommodate for other ways of progressing in the company other than just being a manager.

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

Shane Metcalf
This is a poem by this guy Jed McKenna that wrote books on spiritual awakening. It’s pretty short. It’s called Open Sky.

“If you are not amazed by how naïve you were yesterday, you are standing still. If you’re not terrified of the next step, your eyes are closed. If you’re standing still and your eyes are closed, then you are only dreaming that you are awake. A caged bird and an open sky.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Shane Metcalf
And so, stay on that own bleeding edge of your development, your own evolution. We need to be on a continual journey of examining our own beliefs, reexamining what we hold as true. Adam Grant just came out with a really cool new book called Think Again which is about questioning our underlying assumptions about things and rethinking how we approach the world. And we need to be doing that. The world is changing, our jobs are changing. If we don’t reexamine them, we will be left in the dust.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Shane Metcalf
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Phenomenal book about, “How do we actually create cultures that focus on developing all the humans inside of them rather than just our high potentials?” And that learning and development is something that needs to be baked into our daily process rather than to some retreat or an offsite.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Shane Metcalf
Phenomenal habit. Can’t recommend it enough. Various ways of doing it, everything from an inversion table to like a yoga swing. And so, every morning I do my Morning Pages, I write out three pages, handwritten, of stream of consciousness, and then I hang upside down for five to ten minutes. And then the other one inside of that is Wim Hof breathwork to alkalize the body, oxygenate the whole system. That’s kind of like my trifecta right now is Wim Hof breathwork, Morning Pages, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Shane Metcalf
The journey of helping somebody become their best self is a long-term commitment. It’s not something that just happens once where you have a momentary commitment to somebody. It really is a long-term journey, and we need a long-term commitment.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, so you can sign up for our content at 15Five. You can just go to our blog. I think it’s at 15Five.com/blog. You can find me on LinkedIn, Shane Metcalf. You can also follow our podcast HR Superstars where we’re interviewing kind of the leading experts in HR, people operations, culture, management, leadership. And that is you can find that at HR Superstars if you just search in any of the major platforms.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. Really understand if that’s the job you want. If you fell into your life kind of by accident, and now are just in the habit of inertia, and feel like you can’t actually break out, and that’s a really dangerous place to be. Because if you’re just staying in your job because, “Well, what else would I do? Or, I don’t know how to do anything else,” it probably means you haven’t really examined the rest of the options.

And we’re always free. We can always make new choices even if it means some sacrifices and to kind of shake things up in a pretty radical way, but life is short. Let’s really actually live the life that we want to live and connect with our deeper sense of purpose and passions and be aligned with what we truly are meant to be doing here.

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you and 15Five all the best.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, thanks so much for having us.

642: How to Identify Your Career Season and Land Your Dream Job with Ramit Sethi

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Ramit Sethi shares how to find your career season and jobhunting insights for landing your dream job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes a job the dream job
  2. The question you should ask your career role model
  3. How the briefcase technique can get you the job or raise

About Ramit

Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a personal development expert to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. 

Ramit grew up in Sacramento, the son of Indian immigrant parents who taught him the art of negotiating. Ramit went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technology and psychology from Stanford University and has used this understanding of human behavior to create innovative solutions in self development. Ramit and his team build premium digital products about careers, personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes over 1 million monthly readers, 300,000 newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. Follow Ramit on Twitter and Instagram.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Ramit Sethi Interview Transcript

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

Ramit Sethi
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit, I’m excited to chat with you for several reasons. And one thing, you wouldn’t know it, but the very name of this podcast was inspired by you, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I was chatting with my roommate in the bath, not the bathroom, in the kitchen, and we were thinking about different options, and he said, “You know what, I really think How to be Awesome at Your Job is where it’s at. It’s like ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich.’” I was like, “Yes, exactly. It’s so clear this is what you’re going to get here. If some guys can teach you to be rich, I’m going to show you how to be awesome at your job. That’s what’s up.” So, thank you for that.

Ramit Sethi
Very straightforward. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Word. Well, straightforward is one of your specialties and you’ve got a whole lot of straightforward wisdom in your course Find Your Dream Job 2.0. Tell us, kind of what’s the big idea or thesis behind the whole thing here?

Ramit Sethi
When people talk about a rich life, it’s funny, you ask them, “What is your rich life?” and they almost always say one of three things. They say, “I want to do what I want when I want.” And I go, “Well, what do you want to do?” And then they just stare at me blank because they’ve never actually thought beyond that answer. So, that’s one.

The second one is they say, “I want to have a million bucks,” which is fine, but a million bucks, if you’re 60 versus 30 or if you live in Manhattan versus Topeka, Kansas is completely different. And the third and most haunting answer they give me is, “I just want to pay off my debt.” So, to them, their rich life is simply getting to zero.

Well, one of the things that’s been happening more recently, especially online, is people talking about freedom and looking down on jobs, basically saying, “If you have to work at a job, you’re a loser because only entrepreneurs are successful, etc., etc.” Now, first of all, I’m an entrepreneur but I’m personally offended when people say this because that’s just not true.

The majority of people make their wealth through a full-time job. There’s also lots of good reasons to work at a job. You can create something together that’s bigger than you can ever create alone. You can learn skills that you could never learn alone. You can have an impact, and on and on and on. And I happen to know this first hand because I have coworkers, employees who work with me to create an amazing business and help millions of readers.

So, I just want to first start off by saying let’s get rid of this misconception that a lot of people on Twitter are talking about, which is that if you have to get a job, you’re a loser. That’s BS. A job is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life, being an entrepreneur is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life. We choose.

So, with that said, I wanted to help people find a dream job, not just a normal job, not just a job where you’re like, “Oh, God, it’s Sunday evening. Ah, I have to take a deep sigh thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow.” But, really, the tactics that top performers use to find jobs that pay them well, that challenge them, so that was the origin behind the Dream Job program.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so finding dream jobs, sounds like a great thing to do. Tell us, there are a lot of career coaches and voices out there in the world, what’s kind of distinctive about your approach?

Ramit Sethi
Well, when I started out in college, I had an odd hobby which was I love to interview. And so, I got a small group of my friends together. This was our hobby, we love to interview, so we’d get together, we’d compare notes, “What did they ask you? What did you say?” And we started landing job after job. So, I received job offers at top-tier companies like Google, Intuit, a multi billion dollar hedge fund, and one of the key differences with many career options out there is there’s lots of people who can give you on a resume, you know, 1.25-inch for margins. Irrelevant when you’re looking at top-tier jobs.

So, I always have a philosophy which is study the best. And if I want to find a job, I want to find people who have gotten jobs at top companies because they understand the game at a completely different level than everybody else. So, after I graduated and I had these job offers, I wondered if it was just me. Sometimes you can just be very good at something, and I decided I wanted to help some of my friends to see if I could teach this to them.

So, I remember one of my early friends, she had dropped out of law school and she was feeling very despondent because her parents and family expected her to become a lawyer. She’s like, “What am I supposed to do? I have all this debt.” I said, “I’ll help you find a job but you have to do everything I tell you.” And she was like, “Okay.” And she didn’t think she had any transferable skills. Of course, we all do. We just don’t know how to position them. So, I helped her get a job at a top tier Wall Street company. And then two and a half, three years later, she came to me, and said, “Can you help me again?” She switched to technology and got another top-tier job there.

So, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find their dream jobs, switch industries, get substantial raises from $10,000 to $80,000, and that’s really what separates the material that we teach from the average career coach out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one distinction you assured is, “Hey, we got some results. Shebam! That’s what it’s about.” That’s awesome. Well done. And so then, how was the approach towards those results different than maybe the mainstream?

Ramit Sethi
Let’s take the most common advice in the career space when you’re looking for a job. What do you it is? If people look for a job, what’s the most common advice that they run into?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know, follow your passion, see a bunch of things online.

Ramit Sethi
Yes. Oh, my God, both of them. It’s just drives everybody nuts, right? As if you’re supposed to go outside in the rain, open your mouth and lift it up towards the sky, and passion just rains down into your mouth. That’s not how it works, my friends. And then, “Oh, let me see. I don’t like my marketing manager job. Hmm, one day my boss finally says something disrespectful to me and I decide to leave, what am I going to do? I’m going to go to some random job search website. I’m going to type in ‘marketing manager’ the very job title that I don’t like and then I’m going to delegate my job search to an algorithm and upload my resume and wait.” What a passive approach to life. What a passive approach to the eight plus hours a day you spend in your job which turns into a career.

I want to propose a totally different approach. So, first off, if you are going for a $250,000 a year executive position, the way that you approach your job search, the companies, your informational interviews, is going to be completely different than if you are a lawyer transitioning to being a social worker. Completely different. So, I want to start by introducing this concept which you will not have heard anywhere else called career seasons.

Just like in life we have different seasons, we dress differently, we travel differently, we have the same in our own lives for our careers. So, let me give myself as an example. When I was in my 20s, I loved working hard, I was willing to work weekends, 60, 70 hours a week, no problem because why? I wanted to grow and more money, more responsibility, more skills. That was the growth season. And some of you listening right now, you’re in growth season. You’re like, “Yeah, pay me $15,000 more I’ll put in all the time you want.”

Okay, what happens as we get a little older in life? Some of us have families, elderly parents, hobbies, and we decide, “You know what, I think I want to focus on my lifestyle. Yes, I want to perform at work but I’m going to prioritize a job that lets me have a lifestyle outside of work, maybe pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m.” And then, for some of us, for example, the lawyer who decides they want to be a beekeeper, “I’m sick of being a lawyer. Okay, I’m out of here.” They want to completely reinvent themselves. They are in the reinvention season.

So, if you are going to a career coach or a random website, how can you expect to find your dream job if you’re getting the same advice as a lawyer reinventing themselves or a senior executive gunning for a half a million dollar a year job? You first start, as we teach in our dream job program, how to find your career season. And you can only choose one, not two. That’s the most common mistake. You choose one and then we show you exactly how to filter and find the right jobs for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that was a handy framework right there in terms of those are three very different flavors. And so, let’s talk about growth then. Yeah, I got to pick one. That’s what I want to go for as the best fit for most of us listening, although, personally, I think I’ve recently emerged from growth into lifestyle.

Ramit Sethi
Wait, wait, before we go on. Can you just tell us, how did you know you switched because there are always telltale clues? How did you know you switched to lifestyle?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s like, I guess, I think about it financially in terms of I don’t see any reason for me to work more to earn more. I could work less and earn less, but, fortunately, the way my business is working, I work less and earn about the same. So, it seems like I can do that and I’d like to do that and, you know, got two kids and a wife, and they’re toddlers. How did I know? I think it’s just more and more times bumping up against something, it’s like, “Why am I trading more hours of which are scarce for more dollars which are, hey, fortunately, these days, not as scarce? This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.” And so, yeah, those kinds of things.

Ramit Sethi
Well, that’s awesome and I hope everyone listening really think about if that resonates with you because, for example, when I was 22, everything you just said would’ve made zero sense to me. I’d be like, “What are you talking about trading? I have infinite time. Get out of my way. I want to grow my career. I want to get promoted,” all that stuff.

But you’re completely right. When you have toddlers, when you’re married, when you have the financial stability to really think about, “What do I want with my limited time every day?” Then, suddenly, you may recalculate, or you may say, “You know what, I love growth. I’m going to double-down on this.” So, anyway, thanks for sharing that. It’s very insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. My pleasure. So, let’s say folks are in the growth season and they’re thinking, “Let’s do it up. Let’s find a new opportunity that’s going to mean more fun, more impact, more money, more responsibility, more learning, more, more, more,” how do they go about it?

Ramit Sethi
The typical way, as we know, is go update your resume and then put it on a website. That’s fine if you want to compete with five other million people who are doing the same thing. I prefer to narrow down my job search, and this is what we teach our dream job students, so that you can answer this question, “What is your dream job?” When I ask people that, they say things like, “I want to help people.” Okay, I do too. But what I really want you to be able to do is to answer that question with something like this, “I want to work at a B2C technology company in the Bay Area which has between 15 to 50 people, as a marketing manager or senior marketing manager.”

That is extremely focused. And when you have a crisp answer like that, suddenly, you can identify the 10 to 20 companies that match, and, like a shark, you can start circling it. And I’ll talk about what do you do when you circle those companies. But remember, you are a shark. You’re going after your target versus, “Let me throw my resume up in the wind and see where it lands.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And how does one arrive at that level of specificity?

Ramit Sethi
Well, you want to start off by saying, “What is my dream role? And what is my dream company?” So, dream role, a lot of people, again, they sort of just fell into the current job title they have. They graduated college, they became whatever title, and then maybe they got promoted or they just kind of got bumped along. And so, here they wake up, they blink their eyes, and they say, “Okay, I guess I’m a blank, blank, blank.” And then when they search, they search for the same title they have.

We want to start off by saying, “What skills do I have? And what do I want to be doing?” So, I’m a marketing coordinator, marketing manager, insurance salesperson, etc., and you can start by doing the research, which we show you how to find other people who have that title or had that title, and say, “Do I like what they do? Do I like their career trajectory?”

The best part about doing this research is you have a crystal ball into other people like you. So, if you are, I’m just using marketing manager, it could be any job title. If you are a marketing manager, you can look in the future and see what other people, who used to be a marketing, are three years from now. Senior marketing manager, maybe eventually CMO. Is that what you want? What does a CMO do? Okay, great. Now I’ve turned a job into a career and I’m looking forward. Awesome. That’s part one.

You walk out of there saying, “Great. I know my job title. Now, company.” Most of us sort of look around at the companies around us geographically and we go, “Okay, I’ll apply to a few companies and wait.” Again, that’s the approach that everybody takes. Nowadays, particularly if you want to work remotely, there are lots of opportunities and ways to do it. So, when we do our research and we show our dream jobs students, they start off with the companies they know I’ll just give you an example. We had a woman who worked at Guitar Center, you know, those places where you go and buy a guitar.

Ramit Sethi
She’s in some kind of marketing role. And then she got promoted, she ended up working at Disney, and then she went and got promoted and worked at some other entertainment company in L.A. And as I was following her career on LinkedIn, it occurred to me, “Wow! This lady, first of all, she’s a top performer. She’s gotten promoted every two to three years. Second, let me look at her trajectory.” For example, if I was starting out, I would’ve never thought of working at Guitar Center. It’s just not in my purview. But guess what? Someone who worked at Guitar Center then went to work at a world-class company like Disney.

And, suddenly, I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Can I work at Guitar Center? What other companies are similar to Guitar Center?” So, you can piece the puzzle together, as we show you how to do this research, and you end up with a spreadsheet of roughly five or so job titles and 20 or so companies, dream companies, and now you start putting them together and going out and circling your targets. That’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now with Guitar Center, that turned up in LinkedIn sort of, I think about that Wayback Machine, you know, sort of like back in time at a previous phase. So, is the method by which we surface those Guitar Center opportunities thinking, “Well, what’s the super dream in terms of like long term?” and then say, “Well, who’s got it? And what did I do before?” Is that kind of the strategy?

Ramit Sethi
Yeah, that’s absolutely one part of the strategy. Yes, you want to look at where people are today. Everyone has got two or three dream companies in their head, and Disney tops the list for a lot of people. Great. Let’s look at what marketing managers or senior marketing managers at Disney do and what did they used to do. Now, we can start to trace it back. So, that becomes a very powerful reverse-engineering technique.

But there’s also more to it, right? We can sit at our computers and Google around LinkedIn. But what if we actually talked to this person who now works at Disney or the next company? We’ll say, “Hey, can you give me 15 minutes of your time? I’ve studied your career. It’s fascinating to me. I dreamed of one day working at Disney.” And this is a classic informational interview.

First of all, people are terrified of doing this. They get all in their head, “Oh, why would anyone talk to me? I don’t know what to say.” Well, guess what, we just decided to show you the exact script for when you have these calls. This is exactly what you say. It turns a lot of people will take your call, especially if you approach them in the right way.

And so, you get on the call with this person, him or her, and you can do it through Zoom, and you say, “You know what, I wonder if you could just tell me how did you go from here to here? What was the thought process? Why this company not that?” And, suddenly, you’ve looked at their LinkedIn but now you’re going so much deeper. They’re going to actually tell you why they made those decisions.

And, of course, if you impress them, which you can in not too difficult of a way, those people often say, “Hey, if you decide to apply, let me know. Send me your resume. I’ll make sure it gets to the right person.” So, suddenly, we’re completely side-stepping everyone applying through the front door and just waiting for the black hole doom to reject them, and you’ve got someone who either works or used to work at the company who’s recommending you for an interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s good. What I like about that informational interview approach is it’s a bit different in terms of we’re zooming into the thought process and decision-making of that person and modeling a potential career after them as oppose to merely gathering fundamentals about their current job, which I guess you could do at the same time, like, “What’s it like working there? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it?” It seems like there’s another level of richness there associated with, “How are you thinking about the career game in ways that can inform how I’m thinking about the career game?”

Ramit Sethi
Well, I love how you described those layers. You see, when people think about informational interviews, as I said, a lot of people are afraid to even pick up the phone. But when you really understand how to use all the layers of an informational interview, it’s almost a no-brainer that you need to be doing these in your job search.

I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say that I’m in the lifestyle season, okay? I need to pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m. every day. And so, I’ve narrowed it down to three dream companies and I call somebody who used to work at the company, I say, “You know what, I’ve followed your career. I’m thinking about applying to this company and I just wanted to understand what’s it like to work there?” And they say, “Well, first of all, nobody ever takes any vacation.” And I say, “Oh, really? Why is that?” He says, “Well, it’s a really hard-charging culture, and they bonus you heavily but nobody takes a vacation. And I would say I worked two Saturdays a month.”

Well, guess what. If I’m in lifestyle season, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate the feedback.” That’s an instant no on your spreadsheet. Think about it. So many of us never even get clear about what our career season is so we start off just arbitrarily applying to all these jobs and then our application doesn’t match up with the culture of the company. How could it, right? Because if this company is hard-charging, and you’re talking about, “Oh, I’m looking for work-life balance,” they’re just like, “Get out of here.” And, of course, you never hear back why you got rejected.

So, following the dream job approach lets you unpeel all these layers and, yes, you’re frontloading the work. You’re doing more work on the front-end and it’s going to take you a little bit longer. But I would rather spend two times the amount of time and get eight times the results, then arbitrarily send out my resume and just wait to get back a flood of rejections or arbitrary interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Yeah, so that’s great stuff. Let’s just keep rolling through the process here. So, we’re getting some great clarity, and we’re doing the informational interviews, and in so doing, we’re zeroing in, getting a clearer and clearer picture of what’s up. And let’s just say our dreams have come true or partially true, and we’ve got an interview scheduled at a promising opportunity, what do we do?

Ramit Sethi
You need to have the perfect answers for the obvious questions you’re going to get. So, let’s start at the very beginning. Most people walk in with the mental model of, “I’m going in the interview to answer questions.” Wrong. If that is your mental model of walking in, you’ve already lost. Your job is to communicate your key messages in an interview. Now, yes, of course, you’re going to answer questions. Of course. But if you don’t communicate your key messages, then all you are is just a random person. You’re like a puppet answering questions.

Pete Mockaitis
That mindset shift is just like every political debate ever, “I don’t care what you’ve asked me. I’m going to convey my talking points.”

Ramit Sethi
That’s correct. And I have to say I hate using politicians as an example of effective communicators because sometimes I just want to strangle them. But they absolutely get their key messages across. And I’ll give you an example. So, this starts all the way back at your resume.

When you write your resume, again, people think that your resume, the job is designed to share your chronology. Nobody cares about your chronology. Your job is you’ve got 10 seconds of a hiring manager’s attention, “What is your narrative? What is the story that somebody gets after looking at your resume for 10 seconds and then they close their eyes?” For me, it was the technology and psychology guy who understands human behavior. Okay, so that started with my resume and it flowed from my cover letter. And then when I walked in the interview, that was one of my key messages on and on and on. It’s all consistent.

So, for everyone right now, if you’re listening, you’re like, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” Pull out your resume, close your eyes, and then open it for 10 seconds. Close your eyes again. What is the narrative or how would you describe this person whose resume you just looked at? If the answer is from 1986 to 1999, they worked at XYZ, you’re never going to get that job. So, you want to start off with your narrative. Then you walk in the interview. You have a narrative; you have your key messages.

Here are some questions that you’re going to get in your interview that you need to have the perfect answers for. “Why do you want to work here?” “Tell me about yourself.” “What did you do at your last job?” and “Do you have any questions for me?” Those are table stakes. You’re going to get them so you better have the perfect answer and you better be able to deliver in 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90-second-versions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so can you give us the framework then? How do we nail each of those four?

Ramit Sethi
Well, let’s start with “Tell me about yourself.” Well, let’s do a roleplay right now. All right. So, I’m going to ask you that question as if I’m interviewing you and then you just tell me about yourself. This is the best part. Okay, ready? Tell me about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so not prepped, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi
You got 18 seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I know, like some of the right answers but I haven’t worked it in years because I haven’t interviewed.

Ramit Sethi
Ten seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Ramit. Well, I’m passionate about discovering, developing, and disseminating knowledge that transforms the experience of people, and through my podcast which reaches over 14 million people how to be awesome at your job, and become the first ever podcast to have courses adapted on LinkedIn Learning. I am thrilled at how I have transformed people’s experience of work away from drudgery into things that light them up, and hear about their victories. So, that’s what I’m into these days.

Ramit Sethi
That was pretty good. I mean, you got a slow start but that was very good. Okay, so, clearly, you’ve talked about yourself before, which I love. I think of interviews as the greatest gift we give ourselves. We get to dress up, we get to talk about ourselves for 45 minutes, and then we get to find out if we were effective communicators or not. It’s binary. Yes or no. I love it.

So, when somebody says, “Tell me about yourself,” most people are not prepared for that question, and they start off by saying something like this, “Well, I was born under a palm tree, and I really love peanut butter, but after I went to college, I was not sure what to do so I was listening to…” and it’s just like, “I don’t care. Nobody cares, okay?” These are questions where you know you’re going to get them so we want to prepare ahead of time and rehearse them so that we can actually be natural in the interview, and it’s a great opportunity for you to also build in your key messages.

So, you might say, “You know, there’s three real things that interest me. The first is technology, that’s why I studied STS when I went to college and that is why I’m really interested in building systems that scale from one-on-one to one-to-a-million. The second part is psychology. I’m really interested in human behavior. So, at my last job, I specifically took on a role of blank, blank, blank, and we focused on doing jobs to be done, research, and customer usability testing before we ever launched the product. And the third thing that I’m really interested in is XYZ.”

Al right, that’s just a very, very simple crisp approximately 20, 25-second answer. Notice that I didn’t go through the chronology because nobody cares. Notice that I focused on my key messages that I’ve already reinforced in my cover letter and resume. What’s the point there? The point is not to talk like me. You need to talk in your own style. But the point is, know what they are really asking. They’re not asking about a chronology. Please stop going through your resume point by point by point. They’ve already read it.

What they want to know are your key messages. What’s interesting? What drives you? Why are you here? So, we want to prepare for these questions ahead of time and have the perfect answers ready.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I really love about that approach there in terms of “There are three key things that interest me,” is you have complete control to hit what your talking points, your core message, and it’s flexible in terms of, surely, you can say something about how something you did in your career fit that interest.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very easy to do.

Ramit Sethi
So, in the program, we brought in people, and you can actually see them interviewing with me, and you can watch people’s before-and-after transformation. It’s quite magical. There are some advanced techniques you can use too. You can use something called verbal values. So, you can do things like this, you can say, “You know, in my last role, we focused on customer usability, did testing, and we were actually able to drive up conversions by 32%. Happy to talk about that if you’d like to. But moving forward, we then moved on to XYZ.”

Okay, notice what I just did. That thing called the verbal value where you dropped down and you say, “Oh, I’m happy to go into that in detail if you’d like,” but you keep moving forward. That gives the interviewer a sense of control and, if they are interested, they go say, “Hey, tell me about that.” And you’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. First, we start it off by doing ABC, and this produces massive insight.”

In the program, I did another thing which I really love. I brought in hiring managers. And when was the last time you actually had real hiring managers with a hiring budget who sat around a table and told you how they hire people and what they are looking for? Never, because they don’t do this, but we brought them in because I know these hiring managers.

So, they came in, and one of the managers said, “My favorite interviews and the people who always get an offer are the ones who teach me something.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, we brought in somebody who was a performance marketer and they basically said, ‘Let me show you how I ran this campaign last time,’ they pulled up their laptop, and they started walking this person through.’” The interviewer was completely…like her questions were out the door. This interviewee started driving the interview, and that’s exactly what she wanted.

So, what’s the key takeaway there? It’s not, throw the interviewer’s questions out and pull up your laptop. That’s not the point. The point is you have control over your answers, and your hiring manager wants to learn something. They want to see someone who is assertive in the interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And, frankly, it can be kind of boring to have a full day of interviews.

Ramit Sethi
Who are saying the same things, “Oh, I’m really passionate; I love the synergy.” Oh, God, what makes you different than anyone else?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you learn something new, it’s like, well, one, you’re just sort of stimulated, they’re memorable, and that’s killer. And so, actually, I wanted to specifically ask you about the briefcase technique. And so, we’ve kind of hit that a smidge here. What is the briefcase technique?

Ramit Sethi
The briefcase technique is this powerful concept that we pioneered which is used to get substantial raises, land jobs, or lock in freelance contracts. So, I’ve used this many times and so have my own employees used this with me, and I hired them. So, it works like this.

You walk in whether it’s to get a raise or to land a job, and you say, “You know, from my understanding of speaking to several former coworkers and people who currently work here, I understand that the key strategy right now is to improve customer conversion. And based on that, I’ve actually laid out a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan of what I would do if I began this role on February 1. And would you like me to show it to you?”

What percentage of hiring managers do you think say yes to that question?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all of them.

Ramit Sethi
One hundred percent, okay, they go, “Yes.” And this is where I made it a little fun. You theatrically pull out your presentation, you can pull it out of a briefcase, or you can turn your laptop around, it doesn’t really matter. But it’s kind of fun to pull it out of a briefcase and just let the silence fill the air, and you say, “Here you go. Here, I made a copy for you.”

You literally walk them through, whether it’s a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan, or a proposal for a strategic how you would drive some strategy that they’re working on, or whatever that your plan is, and you watch the hiring manager’s jaw drop. Why? Number one, no one has ever done this to them. Number two, you’ve actually done the research and come in with a plan.

Now, your plan doesn’t have to be completely right. How could it, especially if you’re working outside the company? But you’ve clearly done your research by using those informational interviews, by listening to what the CEO has said in the press and on recent podcasts, and you’ve put together, generally, a pretty thoughtful proposal. Maybe even you’ve included some metrics that you’ve driven before. When they look at this and they compare you to every other candidate who goes in there talking about passion and just living under a palm tree, the difference is clear.

Now, we’ve actually included briefcase technique examples in the program. One of them, for example, is a student of ours, Jesse, who used it to get an $80,000 raise, and you can see the actual document that he presented so you can see how it works. We’re showing you not just telling you, and it is very powerful when you go in there for your next raise or you’re switching jobs. You use the briefcase technique with great results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, when it comes to the raise, that’s a bit of a different context. Is it just sort of like, “Hey, I have a plan and a vision that’s going to create extraordinary value, here it is. Let me go run this.” Is that kind of like the vibe associated with how the raise happens?

Ramit Sethi
A little bit but people pay for performance not necessarily for potential. So, let me flip that and let me walk backwards a little bit. A lot of people have this thing to ask for raises, and one of my charters, one of the things I’ve been talking about for over 15 years is how to negotiate your salary. It’s all over the internet.

And I think one of the big fears, first of all, our culture doesn’t encourage negotiation. We’re absolutely petrified of it. I love negotiating. It’s fun. We get to have a game. Let’s talk about it. And the other thing is a lot of us envision negotiating as, “I’m going to kick down my boss’ door, spin his or her chair around, and then put my hand on and say, “Give me some money.” Well, of course, you’re going to get a no if that’s your approach. Let’s take a slightly different approach.

Here’s what you do. Let’s say you know that your performance review is coming up in six months. You go in your boss’ office, first you set up a time, and you say, “You know what, I really like to make sure that I’m a top performer. Am I hitting all the metrics of my role to be a top performer? So, I’d really like clarity on what that takes.” And you work through this process and you come out with, let’s say, three KPIs, and you say, “Great. I’m going to send you an email just to remind you and I will update you every other Friday.” Great.

So, now, that’s part one. Part two is you got to do the work. You got to hit those numbers. You got to deliver on what you both committed to. And, of course, you say, “If I am able to achieve these goals, I’d love to discuss a compensation adjustment.” “Okay, whatever. We’ll talk about that later.” So, you hit the numbers, you’re documenting this every other Friday, sending an update, no surprises. And then, step three, when your review comes up, that is where you initiate the briefcase technique.

You walk in, you say, “Six months ago, we discussed becoming a top performer. These were the key metrics we laid out. As you know, I’ve been updating you every other Friday. I’d like to show you the final numbers. We hit it. I’d now like to discuss something else. I pulled research.” And we show you how to find out what you are actually worth. Many people are underpaid by $10,000 to $15,000. We find this routinely. “Here’s what I’m worth on the market. I’d like to discuss a compensation adjustment and here’s what I see in the marketplace.”

What have you done now? You’ve done a ton of work, you got micro commitments from your boss all along the way, you’ve, most importantly, delivered and you can also pull out what you plan to do for the next six to 12 months. At that point, you’ve given yourself an irresistible shot at a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you deliver the goods and you show them what’s coming up next, and you show them the market compensation figures.

Ramit Sethi
That’s the most important part. Look, you can show them what’s coming up next. That’s optional and that’s nice to have, but you already committed to what it takes to be a top performer. Now you are a top performer, you should be compensated as a top performer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Well, we talked about Bob Cialdini a moment ago. Like, the reciprocity is just power is just so huge there. Like, if I were that hiring manager, I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk, if I was that boss, if I said anything but “Yes, of course. Thank you.” I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk. Now, you might still get some bureaucratic hierarchical corporate whatever, like, “Well, unfortunately, Ramit, the budget doesn’t really allow for…” If you get one of those meritocracy busters, hey, how do you respond?

Ramit Sethi
Well, we have counter arguments for all those. Here are the common ones you get, “We have a standard compensation policy,” “Times are tough right now,” “Maybe next year,” “The budget doesn’t allow it.” So, look, sometimes that is true and it is critical…we have a framework we suggest about how to know whether it’s an employee’s market or an employer’s market.

So, for example, if you’re going through a deep recession, and you walk in and say, “Give me $10,000 more,” that’s unlikely to happen. Your power is diminished at that point. However, just like seasons, things change and it can be an employee’s market. You need to know that because if you don’t, you walk in blind and you just don’t look very intelligent when you ask for something that just doesn’t fit the marketplace.

But let’s say you do and they give you the sort of standard thing. There are responses which we show you in our negotiating section. And here’s what I want you to know. I want you to know that your boss or your hiring manager has a budget, and their job is to try to get you to work, and they want to save as much as they can so they can deliver all the extra money to the top performer on their team. So, you will often find this is that the top performer on the team gets the lion’s share of the budget and everyone else fights over those 1% cost of living increases.

If you have demonstrated you are a top performer, if you have extracted micro commitments and you’ve delivered, then you need to make it really clear that you’re worth it. If not, you need to ask them what’s it going to take to change this. And if they have no clear answer, then you may need to start considering switching to find your dream job.

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

Ramit Sethi
Just a dream job is something that you can do once, twice, three times. It shifts over the course of your lifetime. So, I asked somebody on Twitter, I ask a lot of people on Twitter, “What is a dream job to you?” And one of the most common responses I got back was, “It doesn’t exist.” So, I reached out to a few of these people, I said, “Do you know anyone around you who has a dream job?” And they said, “No.”

Well, of course, if you and your friends all hate your jobs then, of course, you think a dream job doesn’t exist. The fact that they’re listening to this podcast means, of course, they do know that a dream job does exist. But I want to emphasize it because it’s so uncommon in our culture. You ask people, “How is work going?” And some of their common responses are, “Work is work,” or, “Just waiting until Friday,” I hate that. I want us to go to a place where we’re excited, where we’re challenged, where we’re compensated, where we can work remotely. So, that is why I’m so fired up about a dream job as a core part of your rich life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. A favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I love the Asch experiments in conformity. I love so many of Elliot Aronson’s studies as described in his book The Social Animal, and Lee Ross on the Fundamental Attribution Error, who I studied under in college. It just blew my mind in social psychology.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ramit Sethi
I got to say The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool that you use to be awesome at your job?

Ramit Sethi
A favorite tool. My calendar. It’s simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Ramit Sethi
My favorite habit is having a leisurely morning. That’s my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s dig in. What’s going down in this leisurely morning?

Ramit Sethi
Well, I think the best mornings are decided the night before, the week before, the year before. So, when I wake up, everything, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

And, by the time I get to start working, this is my favorite part, I double-click into my calendar and I have all the links are perfectly placed in the same place every time so I can click it. The link takes me to the perfect place in the document to just begin typing. Now, I know I sound like a psycho to everyone listening, you’re like, “This guy is crazy. Why is he talking about this?” But I want everything to be in its perfect place. And so, it gives me a lot of joy to know that all these things have been properly arranged so I can just click one link and everything is just right in front of me.

Pete Mockaitis
It is a beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, really? Oh, my God, I found a kindred spirit here. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share, a Ramit quote that you’re known for, and people cite over and over again?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I believe in spending extravagantly on the things you love as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

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

Ramit Sethi
You can go to iwt.com/podcastdj or you can find me on Instagram @ramit.

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

Ramit Sethi
Okay. Thank you for asking. I would love it for anyone listening, find me on Twitter, Instagram, my newsletter, and send me a note telling me you listened to this podcast, and tell me what your dream job is. That’s what I want to know. I’m going to leave it as broad as that but I want to hear your specifics. Get down to the details. What is your dream job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ramit, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks. This is just best.

Ramit Sethi
Thanks. This was a blast.

641: How to Inspire Sustained Change with Richard Boyatzis

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Richard Boyatzis shares compelling research on how to open others up to change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why goals don’t motivate us to change—and what does
  2. The biological key that opens people up to change
  3. Four principles for making change stick

About Richard

Richard E. Boyatzis is Distinguished University Professor of Case Western Reserve University, Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science, and HR Horvitz Professor of Family Business. He has a BS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, a MS and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. Using his Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he studies sustained, desired change of individuals, teams, organizations, communities and countries since 1967. 

He is the author of more than 200 articles and 9 books on leadership, competencies, emotional intelligence, competency development, coaching, neuroscience and management education, including the international best-seller, Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee and the recent Helping People Change with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten. His Coursera MOOCs, including Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has over a million enrolled from 215 countries. He is Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the American Psychological Association.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Boyatzis Interview Transcript

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

Richard Boyatzis
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you’ve got to say. You’ve got your doctorate on social psychology from Harvard and, in my personal opinion, social psychology experiments are among the most fascinating of them all. Could you share with us a particularly intriguing experiment that either you’ve run or just ran across?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, it’s worth it to know that I’m basically a scientist. My first career was designing control systems in interplanetary vehicles. It was after I did that for six and a half months, I found it boring so I left and turned to psychology. But I don’t mostly do experiments. Mostly what I do is help people change. So, I started out, when I turned to the light side of the force of psychology, I started working on how graduate students at MIT helped each other or didn’t, and then I expanded that to working with alcoholics and drug addicts, and training therapists. And then shifted back to something a little less depressing which was how to help people develop as leaders and managers.

And since ’87, most of my work has really focused on “How do you help 25- to 75-year-olds grow and develop?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love doing just that here and most of us are in that age zone. So, tell us, what’s perhaps the most surprising discovery you’ve made along the way about how people change and can help others change?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, for the longest time, I thought that the real motivator for people was the discrepancy between where they wanted to be and where they were. And, in my theory, it’s called the real ideal self, and other people had started to write about it years afterwards. But what I discovered in the last 20 years, and part of that came about through a series of fMRI studies I did, you know, imaging studies and some hormonal studies, is that the real motivator for learning and change is not the discrepancy; it’s your dream. That, in fact, when you dream, not goals, but when you dream, when you think about, “What’s my deep purpose? What do I would love my life to be in 15 years?” and you start to let yourself go, you actually activate neural circuits that allow you to be open to new ideas and other people.

When you focus on goals at the beginning of a process like this, you actually close down that circuitry, that network, because you activate a different network, an analytic network, that suppresses your openness to new ideas and other people. So, I would say the power of a person’s dream, and a lot of people have talked about that, and, hell, Tony Robbins gets 20 million a day for talking about, but what happened to me was, as a scientist, I’m skeptical about all this stuff and I’m plotting away doing all my longitude and the research in the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and then, all of a sudden, I started to look at the psycho-physiological interactions.

We did some fMRI studies and found out that when you talk to people about their dreams, they light up, like I said, this network that allows you to be open. And when you talk to them about solving problems, they close that down. And that’s counterintuitive because a lot of people think, “Oh, give me another goal. Give me another metric. Add another thing to my dashboard,” and it turns out all of that stuff works the opposite way. It doesn’t motivate people to be open to change or adapt or innovate.

And now we have dozens and dozens of actual behavioral studies in organizations, public sector, private sector, nonprofit, showing that when you engage this, what I call a positive emotional attractor, it’s a certain neural network, a certain hormonal system, and feeling positive about things, you actually increase leadership effectiveness, professional effectiveness, engineering effectiveness, innovation, engagement, and organizational citizenship which is a variable that measures how much you do beyond your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! Richard, this is exciting and that’s a big idea.

Richard Boyatzis
It’s huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that changes everything.

Richard Boyatzis
Well, look, how many people listening right now are kind of doing their job but kind of looking for the next thing? Which means that they’re not doing their job well. So, what happens is we have engagement numbers pre-COVID, it’s at 76% of the people in the United States with full-time jobs, pre-COVID, were not engaged in their work, 83% in Europe, 81% in Japan. That is a worldwide motivational crisis. That means four out of five people aren’t bringing their stuff to work and they’re not using their discretionary time to create new ways to serve their customers or create new ideas.

I ran into this decades ago when I’d be couch coaching as a part of leadership programs. The CFO of a Fortune 500 company, and I discovered that his eyes would light up when he talked about the body shop that he and a friend started that now has five outlets. I mean, he was the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, you’d think he’d be somewhat excited about that, and it turns out he wasn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Richard Boyatzis
So, the question that we all face is not just as a leader, as a manager, as a parent, as a teacher, “How do I motivate other people to be interested in learning and change?” but, “How do I keep myself motivated?”

Because we know from the neuroscience studies about this that our brains are hardwired to pick up on the emotions of others, literally. This is not kind of Betazoid empaths. This is real human adult brains. We actually pick up from the emotions of others around us in 8 to 40 thousandths of a second, milliseconds, deeply unconscious. And even if people are masking what they are feeling, we’re picking up the real feelings.

So, if you are kind of a bit bored or a bit humdrum, you might not say it at work because you got to show the bravado of performance and this and that, but if you’re really feeling that inside, guess what, everybody around you is getting infected with this thing.

So, one of the dilemmas is, boy, if you aren’t inspired about your life and work, there’s no way you’re going to be inspiring other people, and that’s what we have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, so let’s really drill into this distinction between a dream and a goal. Like, lay it out for us. Like, what are the fundamental differences between a dream and a goal?

Richard Boyatzis
Sure, here’s the question. The single question that we ask that we now know, if we spent 20 or 30 minutes talking about it, you’re lighting up. If your life were fantastic 10 to 15 years from now, if it was absolutely perfect, what would it be like? So, first, we say life not just work because work is a subset of life. Secondly, we go out 10 to 15 years because we don’t want to do three years because people forecast, and when they forecast, they put blinders on and say, “Well, I can’t get there.” And we have to emphasize absolutely perfect. So, you actually want people to break with reality.

And, very often, some people have trouble, especially if they come from economies or political entities or nations that are under a lot of repression, they can’t dream.

So, the dilemma is, “How do we break out of that?” And that’s where what we need to do is to not let ourselves have these blinders on that other people have imposed. It does not mean that it automatically can come true but it may be the pursuit of it that’s the most important because the one thing we know, neurologically and psychologically, is that when you dream, you actually feel hopeful about the future. It’s one of the reasons why I tell people, “Do not watch the news on TV today, these days. If you want to get news, read something. It’s less emotionally affective. The news is bound to make you either angry or throw you on an emotional rollercoaster.”

So, the key, I think, ends up, “How do you feel hope? How do you feel hopeful about the future?” And part of that is you start to dream. And, for many people, once you start to dream, things open up. And, literally, it seems like ideas come to people and they start to notice things. Goals are very useful when you want to focus and you want to get something very specific done.

I published a research study in 1970 showing that if you set specific goals, you’ll achieve your behavior changes two-thirds, three times more likely than if you don’t. The problem is, today if we set a goal, we actually stimulate a part of our psyche that says, “We should be working toward it.” I mean, why do you think most people can’t lose weight? Most people can’t lose weight because it’s a negatively framed goal and almost everybody who seeks to lose weight will lose and then will gain it back. Treatment adherence, that’s doing what your physician or nurse says you should do after surgery or a diagnosis. It’s about 50% in most cases. People do about half of what they’re supposed to do. And if it’s really serious, like coronary bypass surgery, it’s about 20%.

Pete Mockaitis
They do it less when it’s more serious, huh. Okay.

Richard Boyatzis
Yes. And the same thing, we could say, most of us, with regard to what we eat or what we drink. So, one of the things that you start to realize is that there’s something insidious about the way we get our messages about how we should change, not how we want to change but how we should change. And, in fact, that’s what a lot of my research has been focusing on, and mine and others, you know, other professors.

Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, who co-authored a recent book with me, at Harvard Business Review Press, published a lot of other academic articles and things, so it’s not just me alone. But one of the things that’s very clear is most of the time when we want to help someone, we try to fix them, we give them a tip, “Okay, here’s what you should do. You want to stick to it. You want to get more drive. Do you want to make your podcast be listened to by millions not just a few hundred thousand? Here’s what you should do.” And as soon as people do that, even if it’s well-intended, even if it might be a good idea, you feel like you’re being bullied and you close down. And that’s the thing that goals do.

Now, there is a time in the change process when you want to focus and you want to close down, you want to eliminate extraneous noise because you want to keep your eyes really focused. And, quite literally, there was one study done in England where they used endocrines that are a part of stress, like epinephrine, and there are endocrines that are a part of renewal, which is where the body rebuilds itself, like oxytocin, and they sprayed, either epinephrine or oxytocin, in a person’s nostrils.

And what they were able to show was that peripheral vision, which for most of us is about 180 degrees.  If you’re not a pilot you wouldn’t know this. But if you want to measure your peripheral vision, look straight ahead at a dot on the wall and move your hands, start moving them about a hand’s length away from your shoulders, and keep moving them back until you just lose sight of them, while you’re just focusing forward. Mine is about there, a little less than yours, Pete, but you’re younger, so I’m like 175, 170 degrees. You’re closer to 180, you’re 200. Under epinephrine spray, which is the stress, mild stress, not acute, it goes down to 30 degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Richard Boyatzis
No kidding. So, what happens is, when you set a goal, you focus. The benefit of setting a goal is to focus. And when you focus, you’re not paying attention to all that. You don’t know that your dog wants to go out, you don’t know that your spouse or partner wants you to go to the grocery store, you forget all that. But that’s also what allows you to get something done. So, goals are useful around the change process later on. Unfortunately, too many people today think by being specific early on or giving people negative feedback, you can get them motivated to change, and all you do is just make people feel like you’re a helping bully.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s talk about the helping side of this. So, individually, got it, dreaming activates hope, activates new possibilities, it gets things moving in some really cool directions, and it gets engagement and juice and energy flowing. And then later on, a goal will focus in our efforts. Whereas, if we jump the gun and get a goal too early, oops, we’re running into trouble, we feel some should, we feel some bullying, and we don’t get that motivation engaged.

Richard Boyatzis
You’ve got it. You should teach an MBA course.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, so then tell us, if we’re in a role where we’re trying to help somebody, be it a friend or a peer or a colleague or a direct report that we manage, what are some of the tops do’s and don’ts using this knowledge?

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. Yeah, here’s one that’s counterintuitive. Constructive criticism is criticism. The receiver doesn’t really necessarily differentiate your intent. Ask any teenager about stuff their parents are saying. Ask any older mother or father when their in-laws are giving them tips on how to dress their kids.

So, the challenge that we have is that when we see how somebody else could do something better, we want to help them, and in helping them, we often do it by telling them what to do. And we now have the evidence that says, that tell us, that this closes people down, and it’s too early. So, if you see something that somebody is doing wrong, keep it to yourself because telling them that they’re doing wrong will not be better than nothing. In fact, it’s worse than nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Worse than nothing. Speaking up, right?

Richard Boyatzis
Now, if you ask somebody how it’s going, and they start to critique it, and they get to a point where they say, “You know, this part of my interaction with these customers didn’t go the way I wanted to,” and you nod your head. And if they turn to you and say, “Can you see something that I might’ve done differently?” Now, at that point, the person is open. So, the key is actually it has a lot to do with listening to others. It sounds silly, it’s so simple but it isn’t simple. It’s hard to listen to others. We’re too busy pushing our own thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you keep your mouth shut until they ask for it.

Richard Boyatzis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
And, like I said, it’s counterintuitive. Everybody thinks you can push people to change. You can’t. Now, look, just to be careful, with children or with people who suffer from various cognitive disorders or emotional disorders, they may need more structure so you don’t want to wait till a child burns themselves in a fire to try to get them to realize that they shouldn’t put their hands on a fire.

So, I’m not saying this for every situation. But as soon as we become sentient adults, now we have a built-in defensive reaction to somebody telling us what we should do. That’s why performance improvement plans are a waste of time. Performance reviews might be useful but usually they have to be done in a certain way if they’re going to be useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in our daily interactions, if we’re not, or even in the performance review, within our daily interactions, if we’re, most of the time, not being asked about how we can improve, which, by the way, there’s probably one tip right there is to, if professionally want to grow, dream, be open, and ask and you’ll get the goods and be open to actually working with the goods. So, there’s one implication.

Richard Boyatzis
That’s right. Well, that’s two. Two implications. Dream and then ask.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, if we’re not the asker but rather the influencer, what are we doing? So, we’re listening. What else are we doing when we’re not asking and we’re trying to steer things in a direction?

Richard Boyatzis
One of the things you want to do is try to move people into this zone, this physiological psychological zone that I call the positive emotional attractor. And the question is, “How do you get people into that?” Because any degree of even mild stress, like your cellphone drops a call, or somebody cuts you off in traffic, impairs you cognitively. The data is very clear on this. Cognitively impairs you, perceptionally, emotionally.

So, how do you get into some of these positive spaces? Well, one idea is to periodically feel hopeful. This is one of the reasons why playing around with ideas, when the Powerball, what was it last week, hit a billion or something, it’s fun to say, okay, you’d get 736 million and you kiss off 300 million of that to taxes, but you’re left with $400 million, which, if you invest in a diversified portfolio is going to kick off 20, 30 million a year. I mean, you could buy a plane a year kind of with that if you wanted to. You could eliminate hunger in entire communities if you wanted to. So, the question ends up being fanciful about something like that is not the devil’s playground. It’s actually you being open.

Here’s another tip or another way to do it, I should say. Hope is one these core emotions that is very, very strong and helps us open up. Another one is compassion, gratitude. And one of the questions we often do, it’s an exercise. Let’s do it right now with your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
What I’d like you to do, and the audience, is I’d like you to think of the people in your life who have helped you the most, become who you are, or get to where you are. In your whole life, who would you say, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for X. I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for Y.” Just pause a minute, jot down a few names.

Now, go back to the first name you put down and remember a moment with them in which you learned something important, and just think about or write down a word or phrase that captures what they said or did in that moment. In other words, you’re replaying the YouTube video of that moment. I do this in all my speeches and lectures and courses. I usually give people more time. We’re a little time constrained so I’ll rush it.

Now, what I’m asking you now is how did it feel when you remembered these people and you remembered that moment? I’ve done this exercise in all seven continents, something like 50 countries, and people usually say, “Huh, I felt really grateful. I felt loved. I felt appreciated. I was really moved. I felt energized. I felt excited. I felt serene.” All of these, excuse me, each of these emotions are indicators, are biomarkers, of activating the parasympathetic nervous system which is the body’s only antidote to stress, mild or extreme.

And that is the physiological, hormonal thing that gets you into this more positive state. So, what ends up happening is feeling gratitude and caring for others is one of those things. So, being in a loving relationship is really good for you in this way. Spending time laughing with your children or close friends is really good. Helping people who are less fortunate is really good having a dog or cat, or in some places, a horse or a monkey, something you can stroke because when you pet them…I have two Golden Retrievers. When one of them comes out to me, I stop what I’m doing, I pet her for a while, she goes into a parasympathetic response. Because of the emotional contagion, I pick it up, I’m going into this good zone. She picks it up back. We’re having a moment here. But we’re both allowing our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, quite literally, to rebuild themselves.

So, what happens is moments of hope, moments of caring and compassion, moments of mindfulness or centeredness, all really help. So, I know folks who are coaching others during this COVID crisis so they’re doing it on Zoom or video, and they start, because of all the stress in our lives, they start their session, not talking about, “How are you feeling?” They start by doing about five minutes of deep breathing exercises, and it’s not woo-woo land. This is helping your body reset itself. It’s amazing how powerful it is.

Now, if somebody is a practiced, experienced, meditator, they meditate a lot, or do yoga or martial arts or prayer, these are things that allow somebody to learn the skill of how to reset your body’s internal processes, and that’s what you want do for yourself. But you asked me the question, “How do you help somebody else?” That’s how. You help them get into that zone.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get them into that zone. And I guess, Richard, one of the implications of this is that we’re not necessarily going to steer someone else’s behavior in the direction that we want them to if it’s not in conformity with their dreams and it ain’t just going to happen.

Richard Boyatzis
Right. I used to have top executives ask me in the ‘90s, you know, “Well, wait a minute. If I start focusing on all these dreams and vision, what if the people’s dream isn’t to work in my company anymore?” And my response was, “Then they don’t now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
So, yes, I think part of it is you’re being more trusting, and it involves risk, but that’s where people bring their juice, that’s where they bring their talent. Now, look, I’m not talking about rainbows, kittens, and unicorns here. I have a study, it’s coming out, I think, this month in an academic journal. Dan Goleman and I developed a new measure of personal sustainability about five years ago. And then Udi Andar and John O’Seery helped us to run a whole series of studies about it.

And one of the things that we finally have data on, which I’ve been saying since the ‘70s but I was saying it more clinically, but now we got the data, it’s really important for you to enter this positive emotional attractor zone, this renewal zone, in short bursts. Brief is better than long. Doing a number of 10- to 15-minute moments throughout the day is much better for you than to take a whole hour or an hour and a half. Why? Because you’re interrupting all the negative stuff, neural activations, hormones, etc., and, quite literally, you’re letting your body reset itself.

So, briefer moments help. That’s why when somebody started talking about a year, two years ago, about eliminating coffee breaks and eliminating lunch and letting people work three days and then be home four would be deadly, absolutely deadly, because we need the coffee breaks, we need the lunch, we need the chats, we need the going out for drinks or coffee with colleagues. We need them to help our bodies and minds reset themselves so we can perform.

So, more briefer moments during each day are key. And then, here’s the thing we also just proved, is that the variety of things you do to get yourself into that zone also is highly predictive of more engagement, more sense of wellbeing, more career satisfaction, more empathy, less tension and distress, all the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. And it works the same way when you help somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love it. Well, so let’s hear, you’ve got five key components to an Intentional Change Theory model and we’ve gotten some of the goods already. But could you maybe just walk us through briefly that process from beginning to end?

Richard Boyatzis
I’ve been studying since 1967 how people change. And although I have been studying it, not just for individuals and dyads, pairs, couples, but also teams, organizations, communities, and countries, let me focus right now on individuals and pairs, dyadic interaction. First of all, sustained desired change is almost never continuous. It happens in fits and starts.

If you tried to stop smoking, you just don’t stop cold. Few people do and stay off it. Some days you don’t smoke anything, and some days you smoke two cigarettes. If you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t lose a pound a day. Some days you lose two pounds, some days you gain a pound. So, it’s discontinuous and it’s nonlinear. And if we accept that, we’re a little more patient with ourselves and other people, and this becomes important. Because if you feel tense about it, you’re sending out all this stuff, people are picking it up in their brains and it’s making them crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminds me, BJ Fogg says, “People change better by feeling good not by feeling bad.” And it rings true, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
Yup, that’s right. We have the data to prove that now. So, with that notion, what I started discovering decades ago, and, as I told you, it surprised me 20, 25 years ago when we really zeroed in on it is that the real motivator of this is the dream, is the personal vision, or sense of purpose, or sometimes people call it their calling.

If you have that, you’re eligible for the second discovery which is, “How do you come across to others?” And that’s where, if you don’t have part of the dream, it turns out you’re not open enough to notice. So, there’s like a 5% chance you’ll actually change in some sustained way. But if you are open to it, you start to pick up and you start to identify things that you do that are strengths and things that you do that are weaknesses.

You’re doing it like if the end result of the first discovery is a personal vision, and the end result of the second is a personal balance sheet, then you decide, “How do I get closer to my dream using my strengths and maybe work on a weakness? Nothing more, just one.” That’s where you identify an agenda or a plan. This is where the goals come in that’s helpful. Because, at this stage, you’re making choices as to how you’ll spend your time and you’re going to explore something, but it has to be joyful. If you do it because you should, it’s exhausting and you’ll atrophy.

Then you go into a thing where you experiment with some new thoughts or feelings or behavior and then pick the ones that work and practice it. And all of that happens in the context of trusting, caring relationships. And if any of those ingredients aren’t there, your process stops short. The majority, and this is really sad, but when I and others have done a lot of research on how much do people change in their abilities, their emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence after four years of college. And when we were doing these studies for various federal agencies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we found that, on the whole, people statistically significantly changed on one, which means you could babysit for four years and you might learn more than going to college.

Now, not every college has such bad results and not every person has them because a lot of it has to do with intentionality. But then we started to realize that certain programs, certain schools, taught you in a way that upped that a lot, and those desired outcomes were powerful. But I remember reading a study in the ‘90s in an MBA program, 28-year-olds, and the question was, “How long did they remember what they had ‘learned’ put on the final exam in their required intro accounting course?” Six and a half weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
That was the half-life of knowledge. Now, there are things we can do that help us retain our learning, and that’s why I talk about the sustainability a lot. And part of it is this idea of helping people go into this positive more open state on a regular basis. It’s why when people think they’re going to do a lot and maybe even learn a lot by really knuckling down and working 80-hour weeks, what they’re doing, on the whole, is inelastic damage and they, literally, compromise their innovation and ability to see things in the environment for the sake of getting a task done. Most of us have to balance those things. And a lot of this is around the issue of balance of being able to go back and forth with a lot of these different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Richard, I’m kind of curious, what approaches to learning delivered the goods? Apparently, they were pretty rare.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. It turns out that one issue is where you somehow want to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. And some people would say, “Well, I don’t know what I don’t know.” Of course, but the question is, “Why are you taking it?” And if you go back to any of your own courses, Pete, that you took in high school or college or graduate school, when you had to take Spanish, you might’ve taken two semesters, you might’ve taken four, and do you still remember any Spanish? Probably not. But if you did a semester in a Spanish country, Spanish-speaking country, if you started spending time going to South America regularly, like every few months, you actually might decide you want to learn Spanish and you might hold onto it. So, a lot of it has to do with desire.

Then the issue is, “How does the learning fit into your whole life experience?” There’s so much that we can just memorize but cognitive psychology has proven that we hold things in our mind when we attach them to a context or a structure. And the question is, “What’s that structure?” Well, when you involve people pedagogically in terms of the learning methods, in more projects, teamwork, field work, people hang onto stuff.

In medical school, they used to have people go through courses for several years before they saw a patient. And somebody started noticing that if they started working with patients, obviously, they’re not going to just prescribe them drugs or do anything that they don’t understand. But if they started seeing human beings in the first month, they hang onto things, they increase their learning durability or sustainability a lot because it’s an emotional experience.

So, we’re holistic beings, and if you learn something just with your head, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. If you learn it just with your feelings, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. You need both. And so, learning things with others. I was just on a call trying to help a group in Buenos Aires that has hundreds of thousands of 18- to 23-year-olds learn skills on how to get jobs. These are mostly unemployed people. And one of the things we talked about was if they don’t learn to develop peer coaching relationships, relationships where they help each other, they have a lot of recidivism.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Richard Boyatzis
These are a few of my favorite things. But, anyway, okay. No, that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

Richard Boyatzis
Maya Angelou, “I have observed that in the future, they will not remember what you did, they will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Richard Boyatzis
Kind of splits into different genres. One of the books that absolutely blew me away early in my studying of about psychology was Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther, and then later he wrote Gandhi’s Truth about their kind of psycho-analytic history. And then there was David McClelland’s The Achieving Society and Power: The inner experience because he took things from different things, from social psychology and experiments, to anthropology, to sociology, and even history, and blended it all together to come up with insights about how humans are motivated. Those, to me, are just absolutely phenomenal books.

Now, on the fiction side, I love some of the classics, you know, Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. But these days, if I want to relax, there’s nothing like a Grisham book.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Listening. Listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Which means asking people questions. Now, my wife would say I don’t do that as much as I should.

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

Richard Boyatzis
I would say, even today, a couple faculty at different universities around the world who I was on meetings with were quoting back some of the stuff that I used to say, and still say, about the fact that the most powerful thing we can do is to help people liberate their energy, their sense of freedom. Because, when we do that, when we help people open up, there is no limit to what people can do in helping others, in creating new products and ideas, and solving some of these seemingly intractable social problems that we have.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Well, let’s see. We have a set of books that are more practitioner-oriented, so, i.e., normal people can read them and enjoy them. The recent one is Helping People Change with Professors Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, Harvard Business Review Press did it. An earlier one was Primal Leadership with Dan Goleman and then Resonant Leadership. So, those are a couple books and there are some Harvard Business Review articles that went along with each of the books.

Then there are several MOOCs, massive open online courses, I’ve done on Coursera. One I did on Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has, two weeks ago I checked, I think, 1.25 million people have taken this course from over 215 countries.

And then there are all sorts of programs, whether it’s listening to podcasts and people interviewing me, or actually coming to Case Western Reserve where that’s my main job, my full-time job, and coming in to some of our programs, like our master’s in positive organization development that’s all of these were done as residencies even before COVID. So, people would fly in once every few months, the rest is online, executive MBA. We have an executive doctorate program that’s great for people who have a master’s and want to do something more.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Focus on others. Your job isn’t to manage a strategic plan or to manage money or to create a product. If you’re in a leadership or management role, your job is to inspire others who will inspire others, who will inspire others, who will actually do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your dreams.

Richard Boyatzis
Thanks, Pete.

559: How to Unify, Motivate, and Direct Any Team by Picking a Fight with David Burkus

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David Burkus says: "Put to words the vision that's already in people's hearts and minds."

David Burkus discusses how crafting a compelling vision in terms of a fight can inspire your team to action.

You’ll Learn:

1) The three kinds of fights that inspire

2) A simple trick to greatly boost motivation and efficiency

3) The secret to getting along with the coworker you dislike

About David:

One of the world’s leading business thinkers, David Burkus’ forward-thinking ideas and bestselling books are changing how companies approach innovation, collaboration, and leadership.

As a skilled researcher and inspiring communicator, Burkus’ award-winning books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and his TED Talk has been viewed over 2 million times.

A renowned expert, Burkus’ writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, USAToday, Fast Company, and more. He’s been interviewed by NPR, the BBC, CNN, and CBS This Morning. Since 2017, Burkus has been ranked as one of the world’s top business thought leaders by Thinkers50.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Burkus Interview Transcript

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

David Burkus
Oh, thanks so much for having me. Great title for a show, by the way. I just need to say that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, well, I like it clear. So, that’s what you’re getting here. I understand one thing that you’re awesome at is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and you got a blackbelt. What’s the story here?

David Burkus
Yeah, so I have been doing Jiu-Jitsu since probably 2016. Like a lot of people, I have that exact same story of college student, etc., go to Blockbuster when it’s still around and rent one of those old UFC DVDs and watch this guy named Royce Gracie destroy everybody. And, suddenly, you’re going, “What is this weird art from Brazil that everyone is talking about?” So, you go to the first class and get just like beaten to a pulp, but you go, “That was so much fun.” And if you keep doing it for 13 years, eventually the hand you a blackbelt. You get to be not terrible which is about what I would rate myself now.

Pete Mockaitis
Blackbelt equals not terrible.

David Burkus
Yeah, yeah. There are some people, like one of our coaches has been doing it for, let’s see, he’s probably 50 so 40 years and he’s still pretty fit. So, you’d think that you could beat up an old man, but you really can’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, David, do you have any pro tips if, let’s say, someone is at a grocery store and they’re buying the last roll of toilet paper or hand sanitizer, and then someone attacks you, what do you advise?

David Burkus
Well, the first thing would be to not get in that situation, right? Distance is your friend. So, the more that you can, I think, have situation awareness about who that guy that’s been eyeing the toilet paper awkwardly is and realize, “This is a situation I need to walk further away from,” that’s really your friend. That should be the biggest goal. I think a lot of people end up jumping. I mean, you watch it now but you also watch it during Black Friday shopping and things like that. People jump into confrontation way too quick. Keeping space from people is your friend.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, that’s advice for personal safety. Now, when it comes to rallying a group of folks, you advocate that people pick a fight. What do you mean by this phrase?

David Burkus
Yeah. So, pick a fight, referring to… it’s a bit of a double meaning, right? So, I believe that, fundamentally, we’ve had these conversations about purpose for probably two decades now and, yet, a lot of people are still really bad at saying what the purpose of a company is. We do mission statements or we try and start with why. We try and do all those things and it doesn’t really rally people the way it should.

And so, I believe, fundamentally, when you look at the research that one of the best ways to give a clear and concise and motivating statement, a purpose, is if you can frame it as the answer to the question, “What are we fighting for?” As a leader, if you can do that, and individually if you can do that, it just seems to, like you said, rally and motivate people a bit more.

But here’s the key, you have to choose your fight wisely. So, that’s the secondary meaning, you also have to pick the right fight which is almost never competitors. For the average employee, you’re almost never motivated by, “I work for Coke, and I want to destroy Pepsi.” “I’m probably going to go to work for Pepsi one day,” or something similar. So, you have to pick what is that higher purpose, that bigger thing that you’re striving for, that’s what the right fight looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s interesting. So, we’re fighting for something as opposed to against something. I guess maybe you could fight against something if it’s like intrinsically evil, like poverty or disease.

David Burkus
Yeah. The way that I phrase it is, “What are we fighting for?” not “Who are we fighting?” right? It’s not about the other because, again, you see. I mean, we’re seeing it right now as we’re recording this. This was totally unintentional, by the way, but we’re seeing it right now. This is arguably the first time in world history that every country in the world is fighting for the same thing and we’re all fighting against the same thing, and it’s sort of that proof of concept. There’s not time and situations like this for little squabbles over which country is right and all this sort of stuff.

And the same thing happens organizationally when you have that true sort of purpose worth fighting for. Those little silos, politics, turf wars, they all get squashed to that larger purpose. So, that’s why I really emphasized, it’s, “What are we fighting for?” not “Who are we fighting?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you’re picking what you’re fighting for, we got some pro tips and pointers already in terms of not who we are fighting against. And so, maybe paint a picture for us with an example in terms of maybe if you’ve seen some cool transformation stories or some contrasts like, “Here’s an example of an organization that’s fighting for something and it works great. By contrast, here’s an organization that’s not quite doing that, it’s not working so great.”

David Burkus
Yeah. So, my favorite example, and one we talk about in the book, of changing that fight midstream, because it’s easy to see, “Okay, this startup has this sort of big fight-based mission,” but it’s a lot harder to do with an established organization. But in the late 1980s and throughout the entirety of the ‘90s, a gentleman by the name of Paul O’Neill took the reins at Alcoa, which is an aluminum-manufacturing plant. They make a lot of different types of aluminum. Fun fact, they make the aluminum foil that goes around Hershey’s Kisses, or they did for a really long time.

And what they were running into when Paul O’Neill took over, stock price was declining, their efficiencies were declining, I mean, it’s a normal 1980s, 1990s story of losing out to offshoring and manufacturing in developing countries and that sort of thing, and a lot of people were wondering, “What are you going to do to turn this company around?” And the way O’Neill describes it, he says, “Part of leadership is to create the crisis,” but he knows the crisis of a declining stock price isn’t going to rally anybody. The crisis of “We need to be more efficient” isn’t going to rally anybody.

So, he chooses, as his fight, safety. He gets up on the very first day of his tenure at this press conference and says instead of, “Here’s how we’re going to increase profitability or shareholder value, etc.” We’re in this era where CEOs basically go right to buy-backs and try and back stock as a cheap way to raise the stock price. He doesn’t do any of that. He says, “I’d like to talk to you about worker safety. I’d like to talk to you about the number of people that lose a day of work because of preventable accidents and I intend in my time at the leadership of Alcoa to go for a zero-accident company.”

Now that’s unheard of in manufacturing but that’s something worth fighting for. It speaks to that sacred value of who’s to the left and to the right of you. And, ironically, if you make a plant more safe, you make it more efficient anyway, so he knows that there’s still this goal, “We’re going to turn the company around,” but just turning the company around doesn’t rally anybody. He chooses to name the enemy. And in this case, the enemy is safety, because if we beat that enemy, we’ll find a lot more things that we accomplish along the way as well.

In his time, by the time he retired in the late 1990s, the stock price had increased fivefold. The company ran more efficiently. Alcoa now is like a pinnacle of safety. There are other manufacturing plants that go to Alcoa to learn how to be much more safe. But, before he came, that was never a concern. It was an acceptable cost of doing business. It hints at the first of like the three templates of fights that I outline in the book. I call it the revolutionary fight, which is when you say, “This has been a norm or a standard that the industry does, and we refuse to accept it as normal any longer. We don’t find it acceptable.” In Paul O’Neill’s case it was safety, “We don’t find some level of acceptable loss acceptable anymore. We’re going for zero.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, that’s a revolution. While we’re at it, what are the other two?

David Burkus
Yeah. So, the other two, the underdog fight, my personal favorite fight because I’m from Philadelphia and we’re the city of underdogs, is about not necessarily about what the industry is doing but how you’re perceived by the industry. Sometimes it’s by competitors, other times it’s by critics, etc. You leverage the underdog fight when you can point to a way that people are disrespecting your team, disrespecting your company, or underrating it, and you can point to why they’re wrong. And this is really key, you need two things. It’s not enough just to be criticized because they might be right. You also need a rebuttal. You need rejection but also rebuttal for this one to work.

And it turns out, I mean, this is, like I said, I’m from Philadelphia. We know the Rocky story. Our favorite sports hero is a fictional character who lost a boxing match. New England gets Tom Brady. We get a fictional character who loses a boxing match. But it turns out, more modern research has shown that that really, that desire to prove the critics wrong, even in a business context with the way people frame their careers, the way people frame whether or not going into negotiations, like salary negotiations, etc., the more that you can frame that narrative, that this is about proving the haters wrong, the more you can actually inspire and motivate somebody. So, that’s the underdog fight.

And the ally fight is, I think, one that a lot of organizations look at because if they’re really a customer-centric organization, this is an easy one for them because the ally fight is not about our fight at all. It’s not about what we’re fighting for but we can point to a customer or some other stakeholder who is engaged in a fight every day, and we exist to help them. We exist to provide them what they need to win that fight.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, so I’m picking up what you’re putting down here in terms of these are kind of visceral, emotional, maybe even primal human things here in terms of like, “No more,” for the revolution or, “We’re going to prove them wrong,” like the Rocky story, or, “We are going to help someone who’s in need of our help,” and you sort of tap into that heroic action there. So, yeah, I’m digging this. So, then can you give us some examples? So, we got Alcoa in terms of, “Hey, efficiency in plants and let’s lower costs and stuff,” doesn’t do it as the way safety does. Can you lay out a few more to make it all click into place?

David Burkus
Yeah, a few more from the revolution or from the underdog or the ally?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s take them all.

David Burkus
So, my favorite revolution story, this isn’t actually in the book, so this is new for you, is I have this around my phone, and you can see it but everyone else is just going to have to like Google it. There’s a company based out of Vancouver called Pela Case, they make cellphone cases. The difference between them and every other cellphone case is theirs don’t sit in a landfill for 10,000 years when you get a new phone. If you throw it in a compost pile, it will decompose within 10 years. It’s totally biodegradable if you compost it.

So, their revolution is there’s this whole consumer goods company that finds using petrochemicals and creating plastics totally acceptable because we need to lower cost or whatever. It’s an acceptable norm that they’re using this thing that’s destroying the environment. They refuse to accept that. You ask anyone who works for Pela, “What are you fighting for?” they’ll tell you they’re fighting for a waste-free future. They’re never going to change consumerism. We’re not going to get people to, it’s not like a plastic bag, you can’t reuse it, right? As soon as there’s a new cellphone with a different design, it’s hard to reuse that case. But we can change what’s consumed to itself be waste-free.

And what I think is really telling, they just did this about six months ago, they launched their second product which proves that their focus is on this waste-free revolution idea, because their second product has nothing to do with cellphone cases, which no strategic advisor would ever say. You have this little niche inside of electronics, inside of smartphone case, the next thing you do is make an iPad case or something else. No. Their next thing was sunglasses because that’s the next thing that’s consumable that they could tackle, right? We buy sunglasses in May. We’ve lost them by September. So, if we can trust that they’re biodegradable, somebody finds them, they get put in that landfill, they’ll decompose, they’ll biodegrade eventually, then at least we’re making it waste-free even that. We’re never going to change consumerism but we can change what’s consumed to make it waste-free. That’s my other favorite revolution story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that reminds me. You talk about it doesn’t seem like a strategic adjacency from the classic strategy matrices type of thinking, but from that fight, that purpose perspective, that makes total sense. And I’m reminded of Pat Lencioni who we had recently, talked about a company and their purpose, why they were founded, was to provide good work opportunities for people in the community, and so they did roofing, but they’re like, “Hey, man, if people didn’t want roofs, we could shift to landscaping or concrete, that’s fine.”

And so, that might not seem like, I don’t know, the same skillset or whatever, but it fits in from that perspective and it continues to be inspiring even when there’s a shift afoot. So, that’s pretty handy. Well, so then how do we, let’s say, I’m thinking if we zoom into maybe an individual contributor or someone who has a small team, how would you recommend…I’m just going to throw you into the fire here. Let’s just say, “Hey, you know, we’re a marketing team, and what we try to do is get a lot of impressions, and conversions, and brand awareness, and our story out there.” And so, these are the kinds of the things that we measure and so maybe that’s a little bit flat from a fight perspective. How might we go about tapping into the power of the fight?

David Burkus
Yeah. So, the first thing, like if you’re running a small team, for example, the first thing you got to do is figure out which of these fights will most resonate with your existing people. This is actually the big misconception with a lot of the leaders that I work with is that you, as the leader, get to declare and cast the vision. It doesn’t work that way and it never really has. You get to put to words the vision that’s already in people’s hearts and minds but they haven’t really thought about enough. And so, there’s that idea. What’s going to resonate the most with you?

If you’re an individual, again, I think it’s thinking about each of these in turn and figuring out which of these narratives. I know a joke that I’m from Philly, but the truth is, the way that I’m wired, that underdog fight is actually what inspires me, motivates me to get to work, etc. And then you got to choose what stories you need to be exposing yourself to, to keep that up.

So, let’s say you choose the ally fight, for example. You’re that marketing team, you find out what the ally fight, meaning it’s, “Yeah, we’re measuring progress with impressions,” but what the larger company does can be framed inside that ally fight, then you have to figure out, “How can I make sure that I’m seeing evidence of that finished product?” This is, I think, the big problem in a lot of motivational research inside of organizations is that very few people inside the organization actually get to experience what, in psychology, we call task significance. They actually get to see the end-product of their labor and get to see how it helps people.

Adam Grant sort of did a lot of research on this about 10 years ago and reframed it. It’s what he called prosocial motivation, the idea that if you’re working to help people, you’re more motivated. But even task significance, even if it’s one of the other types of fights I think is hugely important. So, I think the biggest thing you can do, once you figure out what resonates with you, is, “How do I make sure that I’m catching that material, that I’m catching success stories from clients? If it’s the ally fight, how do I catch stories about what’s going on in the industry and why we’re doing differently so that I’m seeing that on a regular basis?”

Because most of us in the day-in, day-out, especially if our performance metrics and things like that, or how many impressions we get on random websites, we lose sight of that larger thing. And so, if you’re the only one that can do it for you, do it for you. If you’re running even a small team, that becomes one of your job, it’s how do you curate those stories. It’s not your job to cast the vision. It’s your job to curate those stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Well, that reminds me of right now is, hey, we’re speaking on the podcast and all I really see is you, and then I see impressions, downloads, etc. in my platform. So, we had a 10 million downloads celebration in Chicago, which is informal, we had some folks over for dinner. And then I’ll just give a shoutout here, we had a couple from Alabama, and Andrew told me that they started listening to the show on the way back from a funeral, and they were listening to kind of a heavy audiobook, like Tom Clancy, I think terrorists and stuff, it’s like, “You know what, let’s just mix this up and change it to something,” and then heard the show, it was really upbeat and it was useful and inspiring, and it keeps coming back. And so, I thought that was super awesome that, one, they valued it enough to drive from Alabama to Chicago just to have dinner. So, that was super cool.

And to remember that, these numbers, we talk about impressions, translate into human beings who are having an experience that is empowering and worthwhile and, boy, that can resonate hugely if it’s in sort of medical care. But even in smaller matters in terms of, boy, I’m just looking around my desk, a candle that makes for a nice intimate, positive experience for someone who’s having dinner or praying or just setting a mood that’s more pleasant for everyone there. And if you’re marketing candles, I think that does connect and resonate a whole lot more than, hey, 12,400 people saw our Facebook ad about our candles.

David Burkus
Yeah. You know, I totally agree. A lot of organizations, too, will rather than even create impressions, will just label growth, “This is how we’re growing and therefore that.” But growth isn’t a sense of purpose, right? That’s like saying, “Hey, we’re driving 65 miles an hour. Now we’re driving 70. We should all be excited.” Where’s the car going? Tell me more about that. And I think that’s incumbent on if you’re in any leadership role, even if it’s a small team, but it’s also incumbent upon us.

One of the practices I’ve had, admittedly it’s easier to do when you’re an author, but one of the practices I’ve had is to develop what I used to call the win folder. I don’t know what it’s currently called. I should look on my desktop. But it’s basically when people really do send you those thank you emails. I drag them into a folder so that when I need them, I can pull them back. We get those for any of our work.

Even if our work is the impressions and somebody elsewhere in the company said, “Hey, thank you so much for this. I know this project was rough. And look at this success.” When they give you that sort of thank you email or that success email, find a way to keep that because that’s going to be the easiest way to give yourself that reminder is to keep looking back on those sort of things because those are…I mean, we like to think that an organization’s customer are just the people that spend money with them. But your customers are everyone in the organization who benefits from the work that you do. So, finding ways to capture stories from all of them is hugely important.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. Well, why don’t you go ahead and tell us about a win that keeps you inspired?

David Burkus
Yeah. So, I have a bunch of them. So, I was a full-time business school professor for seven years, and this started as a non-digital, right? We taught business, and I taught a couple of the sales classes. We taught about thank you notes, and people actually listened to me and started sending them. So, I had a little box that was full of those thank you notes. Now, it’s been electronic. Probably my favorite one in the last six months or so, and this is why it comes to the top of my mind, is my prior book was called Friend of a Friend, which is a book about how networks inside organizations but also if you’re looking for a job,  or you’re in sales and trying to find more clients, networking works as well.

And I got an email from a woman who was totally dissatisfied with her job in PR and moved to New York thinking, “I was a PR major, this is where I’m supposed to go to get into film and television and news and media and all that sort of stuff,” and just hated it, loath it. Walked through Barnes & Noble, found the book, which is great but also a little depressing because I wish people like that would already know I exist, but that’s a whole other dilemma. Found the book, read it, and sort of started to develop a plan of action for moving into that world of fashion. And now that’s the world that she’s in. I have no idea why fashion appealed to her, but if you’re already in New York, it’s not a bad place to transition from media over to because it’s also based there.

And, literally, it was two emails. She sent one, I sent one, and then I think she sent one back. I have those two emails in my computer about her job transition over time. I look at it, especially when I look at the sales numbers for Friend of a Friend and we have an off week. I go back and I pull emails like that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.
Okay. So, then by contrast you say that it’s not so effective for the leaders to go offsite and go figure out and cast a vision or a mission statement. You say that they’re often terrible. What’s the story here?

David Burkus
Yeah. I mean, I think they all start well-meaning. The process that we use to develop a lot of them is really flawed. So, we go off to an offsite, usually we start with sort of a draft, we start with what we do which is just not necessarily why we do it but just what we do. Like your example of the roofing company, it’s not really why we do it, it just happens to be this is the business that worked best for the people we have. But we start with that description of what we do, and then everybody turns into like college English professors or parliamentarians and starts debating the specific wording, where this comma goes.

The first thing we need to do, because we care about everybody, is we need to make sure that everybody gets represented. And so, we talk about shareholders, and customers, and stakeholders, and the community, and a ton of different people. And then it’s not enough to say what we do, we also have to say how we do it, so we throw in buzzwords like synergy and excellence and innovation and all of that sort of stuff. And the end result is a phrase that ends up, and it’s way longer than the answer to the question, “What are we fighting for?” part of the reason for the question is just cut through the crap of a mission statement and tell me what you’re fighting for. But it also becomes incredibly difficult to even remember.

I have literally been in the room with CEOs of companies, and said, “What is your mission statement?” and seen them like look under the table, at their phone, or they have to look up their investors, or About Us page of their website to find it because we’re all excited when it came out two years ago and we put it on a glass plaque. But if it doesn’t actually inspire people, using one of the three levers that we were talking about, it gets very easily forgotten.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, now I’m intrigued. So, some people might say, “Well, you know, that’s really great for any number of those examples, safety with aluminum, candles, writing books.” Have you seen some folks do a bit of connection to a fight in maybe an industry or a set of activities that would seem like the opposite of inspiring? Like, “It’s really hard to find a purpose here but, by golly, these guys did it and it worked for them.”

David Burkus
Yeah, there’s a couple different there. One of the big things we’re seeing is, like you said, I, after I wrote the book, became aware of a company in Cincinnati called Jancoa that is very similar, they’re a janitorial company, but their whole thing is to help people get settled. Usually, folks that are trying to climb the socio-economic ladder, or immigrants, etc., trying to find and get them settled and move on, so there’s that idea that what we actually do isn’t necessarily all that important, so there’s that idea.

But then there’s other things that people do or sometimes it’s supplied to you from the business model that makes what you do not necessarily all that important. Now, if I’m getting it, something that might be behind your question, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody properly leverage a fight and say, “We’re going to do evil,” right? “But we’re going to call it the revolution because the rest of the industry does good.” And this actually is an example that’s coming into my head but it reminds me of we were just talking about mission statements. Sometimes if you’ve got a good fight that you’ve adopted, the mission statement isn’t actually all that important.

So, there’s a little company, you may have never heard of them, they’re called Hershey, the Hershey Company, they make this candy. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. And for a long time, actually, they had the worst mission statement I’ve ever seen. Their mission statement was literally “undisputed marketplace leadership. That’s our mission. In this industry, we aspire to that.” And, thankfully, they changed it over time mostly because people, like me, criticized them for a really long time. But the truth is they didn’t need that mission because their fight has been a part of the company DNA for a lot longer than that. Not a lot of people know this, but if you work at Hershey you definitely do.

Milton Hershey, before he died, set up a school for biological and societal orphans, the Milton Hershey School. It’s literally almost across the street. You basically, if you go to Hershey Pennsylvania, you have the headquarters of Hershey, Hersheypark, which is an amusement park, and then on the other side of Hersheypark is the school right there, all sort of laid out. Almost along the same street. And this isn’t like a corporate social responsibility, “We give some of our profits to this school that Milton started.” When Milton was preparing his estate, when he was getting ready to die, he set up a trust for the school and willed his shares to the trust. So, the trust and the school is still the majority shareholder of the school. It’s not the profits that fund the school. The trust owns the school. Milton Hershey School owns Hershey Foods.

And so, they could get into any industry they want at this point as a company, and there’s a lot of different divisions now, they’re in entertainment, they make a lot more than just chocolate, all of that sort of thing. So, I think they’re probably my favorite example of a company that you could go into any business, and as long as the trust still owns the primary business, you could change your mission statement to whatever you want to because the sense of purpose that people are going to feel is that ally fight, “What are we fighting for? We’re fighting to give those kids an education.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so we talked about the fight a lot. I’d love it, adjacent to that or complementary to that, do you have any other best practices that make a world of difference when it comes to motivating a team?

David Burkus
Yeah. So, the task significance piece, I think, is a huge one. I think the biggest one that we are probably in dire need of in this world of virtual work that we’re about to face is, I think, we don’t often tell people how best to interact with us. Like, if you think about the majority of research that you read on people inside of teams, how you interact with your coworkers, etc., most of it is like, and I’m guilty of this, most of is content about how to deal with that coworker that disagrees with you, how to deal with this coworker that you can’t get along with, etc.

I think we’d be a lot better if we thought about us as the problem, and we actually presented to our team, “Hey, here are my little idiosyncrasies.” So, like mine is I’m very easily distracted not by little shiny things, but you’ll say something and then I’ll think about the ramifications of it, and you’ll keep talking but I’ll be over here thinking about how that affects some downstream issue. Like, it’s just I’m a systems thinker like that, and you may have to catch me up at times. You may also find me super excited about an idea that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about but it sparked in that meeting.

So, I try and present to people, “These are the little idiosyncrasies of how I work.” I’ve sometimes heard this described as an owner’s manual for yourself. What if you created an owner’s manual for yourself and gave it out to the rest of your team, and said, “Hey, based on people that used to work with me in the past and my own introspection, these are the things you can expect, strengths and weaknesses, so that we can get a little more clear”? I think that goes a whole lot further than just reading a bunch of listicles about, “How do I deal with a coworker that we disagree with?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And it’s so powerful in terms of that display example of vulnerability invites others to do the same and just can go so far in building trust and camaraderie and all kinds of good things.

David Burkus
Yeah. Oh, no, I totally agree. I had this situation, in the spirit of trust and vulnerability, I’ll actually share this from two days ago. I was in a back-and-forth, more chat-based debate with somebody that’s, we’ll call him a colleague. Like a lot of the work that I do now is we don’t work for the same company but we’re working for the same mission, be it getting the book out or whatever, and we’re arguing back and forth.

We’re saying something, and he said, “Sorry, this was harsh, whatever,” and I said, “No, I wasn’t offended,” and then I immediately hit him back with, “No, actually, that’s a lie. I was but then I reminded myself of this.” And I forget what the this was but it was basically like, “No, in that moment, I really was angry at you for like 45 seconds but I got over it and here’s why.” And I don’t think he had ever had somebody actually say, “Yeah, you made me angry and I got over it because I care more about this project,” right?

So, those little, I think, displays of vulnerability, I think, are hugely important. I do want to caution here around vulnerability and authenticity that it’s also not an excuse to be a jerk. Like, this owner’s manual is not, “Here’s all the things you can expect about how I tell it like it is.” Right, this is not what we’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes I’m going to scream at you.

David Burkus
“Sometimes I’ll just throw things and walk off.” No, that’s not what we’re talking about. But we are talking about, “Hey, here are the things I know about what it’s like to work with me, and some ways that I found are easiest. Here are my flaws so that we can work around them.” And, hopefully, that inspires a conversation. That works a whole lot better than like, “Let’s all do a book club, or let’s all take a personality test and talk about our differences.” I don’t know that those go all that far but that vulnerability and open sharing definitely does.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the tools whether it’s Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder, any number of things out there, can be a fantastic starting point in terms of like, “Yes, this is highly resonant for me, and so I will share it.” And it’s interesting, you mentioned that that person had never had anybody admit that they were upset or offended. I think that’s a whole other ballgame. But there have been some times where people have said that they did this thing, and they said they’re sorry, and I really was kind of ticked off, and I said, “Oh, I forgive you.” It’s like people are used to hearing that, and they’re like, “Actually, that feels more intense.”

David Burkus
Right. You’re supposed to respond with, “No worries,” or, “Oh, it’s no problem,” or whatever. Like, “No, it really was a problem, but I forgive you because I care about you.” Yeah, and it’s the same deal with like I learned this from my kids and like parenting books, which is, ironically, more relevant. Most of them are more relevant to the workplace than they are to parenting. But one of the other things around emotions is it’s always okay to say your emotion. It’s never okay to blame somebody else.

So, when we work on with our kids, you can never say, “Mom, you’re making me mad.” You can say, “I’m mad.” You can say you’re mad at me as much as you want, but you got to take responsibility for your emotion. And then when you say you’re mad, I’ll help you. That might be because I have to apologize, or that might be I need to help you calm down, whatever. It’s totally cool to label your emotions. But I think we’re in this game where we only got half of that in the corporate world where we were talking about you’re not suppose to use you-statements, use I-statements. We ended up just saying nothing instead, and we just kind of mask those emotions. So, people say, “I’m sorry,” and we say, “No worries,” and that’s a lie on both counts because they’re not sorry and we’re still angry.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true. Well, hey, man, labelling emotions when we’re working out with our two-year old who’s been doing a lot of screaming, maybe you heard some, and so we got these emotion flashcards which are really helpful in terms of the different happy, disappointed, sad, angry, and that’s been going far. We also say, “Johnny, can you please stop screaming?” And then when he does, we clap, and he likes being applauded.

David Burkus
Oh, I like that. I like that. Mine are not two but I might still steal that. For my coworkers, I mean, not for my…

Pete Mockaitis
“Will you stop screaming?” All right. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

David Burkus
No, I think to bring it all together, I think emotions, again, are a powerful thing in the workplace, and we’re just sort of realizing that. And that’s one of the reasons I think this purpose thing, like you said, it’s almost primal, this idea of a fight because it taps into that emotional level. Purpose is great but if it’s just logically apparent, we see how AB equals C, and C is a good thing in the world. That’s not as motivating as let’s tap into that actual emotion of, “Here’s an injustice I need to fix,” or, “Here’s a critic I need to prove wrong,” etc. So, ironically, we hit from both angles, that power of sort of emotions that work used properly.

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

David Burkus
Yeah, one of my favorite quotes. I mean, I’m trained as an organizational psychologist, even though I always wanted to be a writer. And one of my favorite quotes from that world is W. Edwards Deming, “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

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

David Burkus
So, I talked about it a bit in the pro social motivation piece around, and some of Adam Grant’s studies. You probably heard these, because I know you and you’re smart, around the doctors and handwashing, very timely study for right now but also the call center workers and spieling the beneficiaries. But I feel like we need to shine more attention on a lot of those studies because one of the things you realize right off the bat is that organizations are pretty terrible at sharing those stories, at sharing those wins and those people who benefit from work. So, it’s a popular study already but it’s not popular enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And for those who have not heard it, now is your chance to popularize it. What should they know about it?

David Burkus
Oh, yes. Sorry, we’re all getting nerdy here. I apologize. I shouldn’t assume. So, Grant, while he was a Ph. D. researcher at the University of Michigan, the first study of this was a call center study looking at…especially if you’re going to a state school. I went to grad school at OU, and the very first thing I got in terms of any communication from the University of Oklahoma was a call from a student trying to raise money for scholarships. Every large school has these call centers where we’re just calling alumni asking for money all the time. And I appreciate him because they’re trying, they’re working, these are kids who were trying to pay their own way through school. Talking to them is a bit like talking to the Cat in the Hat, or the Green Eggs and Ham guy. I forget it. It’s Sam. It’s a bit like talking to Sam-I-Am because it’s like, “No, I don’t want to donate a thousand. No, I don’t want to donate in a box. No, I don’t want to donate $20 worth of fox.”

So, Grant looked at this, I mean, it’s incredibly sort of draining job, and Grant looked at it and thought, “How can we increase that task significance piece, leverage the pro social motivation?” is the term that he would use. And so, he designed this study where, basically, everybody in the call center got put into three groups. One group got an extra 10-minute break one day, another group, during that 10-minute break got to read letters from students saying how much they appreciated the scholarship that they earned because of these call center efforts, and the third group got to meet an actual student. So, they went to the breakroom for the normal break and there is a student who describes how the scholarship helped him, how he wouldn’t be able to afford to go to the University of Michigan without it, etc.

Interestingly enough, there’s no effect in group one or two. Obviously, there’s no group in group one because they just got an extra break. But group three made more phone calls afterwards for a number of weeks, raised more money per phone call. None of these groups received any training on how to be a better salesperson, anything like that. It was just the sheer motivation to, “I can put a face and a person to who I’m helping. I know what I’m fighting for at this point. I know it just feels like I’m on a phone call but I’m fighting to help keep those kids who would otherwise not have it, stay educated,” had a dramatic effect on their motivation with no other interventions.

So, Grant wrote all this up in a series of follow-up studies, too, and kind of labeled this term pro social motivation, which I think, personally, like I said, I think it needs to be more popular, talking about extrinsic motivation at all time, we’re talking about intrinsic. I think we’re going to start talking about pro social motivation like it’s a third lever of that level of motivation, that it goes alongside these other two.

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

David Burkus
One of my favorite books is by an intellectual hero of mine named Roger Martin, it’s called The Opposable Mind, and it’s about how, especially in business, but even in life, his thing was when we look at a lot of different mental models of how a business should operate, for example, it’s low cost or differentiation, or we look at how you interact with customers, either speed of service or quality of service, a lot of times those models that seem opposed are not actually opposed. And it’s the leader or even the individual contributor that can find a way to integrate those two models and leverage the strengths of both, that’s why it’s called The Opposable Mind, that can really thrive and create something new.

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

David Burkus
This is going to sound super, super low-fi, my absolute favorite tool is Facebook Messenger. I don’t know why. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff you can do in iMessages or Slack, but there’s a little bit more you can do inside of Facebook Messenger, but then there’s not all the other disruptions. And what I like about it is I probably could figure out how to do this better on my computer. But what I like about it is I can get at it from just about anywhere. I’m on my tablet, it’s auto-installed there. I’m on my phone, it’s there. I’m on my desktop, it’s sort of a click away. So, I never could get messages to work the way it should. I know that seems weird but that’s probably how I interact with more colleagues and that sort of stuff. And I don’t use Facebook for anything else. I literally only have Messenger on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome?

David Burkus
So, we talked about kids already so I’ll tell you this one and yours is at the age where you could start this. My wife brought this into our daily kind of shutdown routines. So, apparently, when she was growing up, it was a common question they asked on the dinner table. Our life is such that we have more family breakfast than we have family dinners, so we didn’t ask it there. But before we go to bed, we ask both of our kids, “What was the favorite part of your day?”

And when the oldest was about three, maybe three and a half, he started asking it back to us and wouldn’t let us put him to bed until we gave him an answer too. And so, that little, now we’d call it a gratitude practice and all of this sort of fluffed-up stuff, but I really just like that question, “What was the favorite part of your day?” Let’s spend 30 seconds and go, “What was the favorite part of today? What went absolute best today?” And so, we still do it. Now, they’re eight and six, but we still do it almost every night. We probably don’t remember every night but we still do it pretty much every night.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s a particular nugget you share that you’re known for?

David Burkus
I like to say that I’m trying to make the experience of work suck a little bit less, and I do that in a variety of ways. Pick A Fight is one of them, a lot of the other books that I’ve written, but we also put out a lot of content, just like you said, about how to interact better with coworkers and show motivation. I think work, the big grand overarching theme, or my personal fight, is that work is far more important to think about work-life balance as just the number hours because toxic work will drag itself home, and positive work will make homelife better as well. So, we need to be talking about the experience of work in a way where people leave it more energized than they came.

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

David Burkus
I would point them to the show notes for this episode because you do an awesome job of writing up all those show notes with all of these little lightning-round questions. And if you’re listening to this, you already know where that is. And, let’s be honest, both of our names are a little hard to spell so no one is going to remember that. I’d send you to DavidBurkus.com but you’re already listening to the show. You know where the show notes are. Find me there.

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

David Burkus
Find your fight. Look at the tasks that you do and the story that would resonate the most with you, and find a way to frame it, and remind yourself of that story all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Thank you and good luck in your fights.

David Burkus
Oh, thank you. Thanks so much. Thanks for fighting for people to have a more awesome job.