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811: How to Lead Positive Change and Grow Your Influence with Alex Budak

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Alex Budak shows you how to initiate change at any level.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need titles to be a leader 
  2. The five influence superpowers
  3. How to build your leadership skills–one moment at a time 

 

About Alex

Alex Budak is a social entrepreneur, faculty member at Berkeley Haas, and the author of Becoming a Changemaker. At UC Berkeley, he created and teaches the transformative course, “Becoming a Changemaker,” and is a Faculty Director for Berkeley Executive Education programs.

As a social entrepreneur, Alex co‐founded StartSomeGood, and held leadership positions at Reach for Change and Change.org.  He has spoken around the world from Cambodia to Ukraine to the Arctic Circle, and received degrees from UCLA and Georgetown. 

Resources Mentioned

Alex Budak Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Alex Budak
Hey, Pete, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting about changemaking, Becoming a Changemaker, your book and expertise. Could you kick us off with a particularly inspiring example of changemaking that you find extra touching personally?

Alex Budak
There are so many. I spend my days surrounded by inspiring changemakers but I’ll tell one story. This is Ibrahim Balde, he was a student of mine in my class at UC Berkeley. He took the class as a freshman. And one of the things I teach in my class is be the ex you wish you had, be the friend you wish you had, be the leader you wish you had, be the mentor you wish you had.

And so, at Berkeley, as a black student, he felt like there wasn’t enough community, not a lot of resources, and so on office hours, we talked about that. And so, in the class, he decided for his changemaker project, he would start a small little pilot program, just a small way to find ways to better support the black community at UC Berkeley.

Over the four years, he was at Cal. The idea grew and grew and grew. And by the time he graduated, it turned into its own standalone startup. It’s called Black Book University. And what I love about it is that we often think that changemaking has to be this big ambitious initiative, and to be clear, Ibrahim was very ambitious, but it all started with a simple idea, leading from where he was, and saying, “Hey, I think that things can be better for myself and for my community.”

He took action and he kept taking action again and again and again, until it got to the point where it’s now a scalable startup that’s gone beyond Berkeley to other universities as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. And so, is he running that startup? Or are other folks at the helm? Or, where is that now?

Alex Budak
Yeah, he’s the co-founder but he’s got a team around him, but he continues to be involved. And I think it’s super inspiring to see the way that he’s taken the idea and scaled it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, so then that’s one discovery right there, is that we can start small and it doesn’t have to be super dramatic, and it’s just one step at a time. It grows. It’s cool. Can you tell me any other noteworthy, counterintuitive, or surprising discoveries you’ve made about changemaking from your work and research?

Alex Budak
Well, here’s the thing, so I, of course, teach at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, but I think the way that we often teach leadership, especially at business schools, is kind of broken. We often like tell the story of the single heroic leader. So, maybe we talk about Lech Walesa scaling the wall, we talk about Steve Jobs pulling the iPhone out of his pocket, and those are important and inspiring moments of leadership to be sure, but so often we see those acts of leadership, and many of us can say, “Well, I’m not actually as outgoing as them. I’m not an extrovert. I’m not charismatic like them. Is leadership for me?”

And what my original research shows and what my experience teaching changemakers around the world shows is that each of us can be changemakers. I think we need to stop thinking of leadership as an act.

Alex Budak
So, here’s a fun one to believe that I found in my research, it’s that leaders might be scarce, but leadership is abundant. There might only be one CEO, only five vice-presidents, but all of us can practice leadership from where we are. We need to start separating acts of leadership from titles of leadership and start seeing that each of us can lead change from wherever we are.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds good. All right. Well, then that kind of sounds like the big idea for the book Becoming a Changemaker: An Actionable, Inclusive Guide to Leading Positive Change at Any Level. Or, is there another core thesis you want to put out there?

Alex Budak
Yes, so the red thread that drives through all, the beating heart of this book is the theme of inclusivity. In the book, I tell the stories of over 50 different changemakers, ranging from a sales associate at Walmart who fought for equal parental leave between both associates and executives. I talk about social entrepreneurs. And I tell the story of a guy who’s just really passionate about composting and wanted his whole team to start composting.

And so, I think that’s the crucial theme, is that changemaking is for all of us. And then, of course, in the subtitle, it’s this idea it’s not change-thinking; it’s changemaking. And so, that each of us can find that sense of agency to lead change from where we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so zooming in to the level of professionals who are looking to make some changes in their workplaces, what are some of your top tips or your do’s and don’ts for how we go about making that happen?

Alex Budak
Yes. So, your listeners might be looking at this, and going, “Cool. Changemaking. Sounds interesting but also sounds a little bit fuzzy.” And I get it. So, I set out to do the first ever longitudinal study looking at, “How do changemakers develop over time? And what are some of the key characteristics that the most effective changemakers have in common?”

And I went into it just with curiosity just to say, “Can people develop as changemakers?” and the data are conclusive. Absolutely, yes. We’ve also started to see themes. Things emerge that the best and most effective changemakers do. Now, the one that stands out above all others is this idea of being able to influence without authority.

We often think leadership is about collecting as much power as you possibly can, and then telling people what to do, but we find that the most effective changemakers are those who practice influence. But, again, I think the way that we teach influence is often not really the right way to go about it. It can often feel kind of sleazy or transactional. It’s like the reciprocity effect. Pete, I do a favor for you, then you feel pressured to do a thing for me.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sure you’d do the same thing for me, Alex.”

Alex Budak
Exactly. And I want to think about how we can influence more sustainably and for the long term. And so, based on the research, based on my experience, coaching, mentoring, advising changemakers, I drew up what I call my five influence superpowers. These are ways of influencing that are sustainable and for the long term, ways of bringing others into your change efforts. And I’ve seen it working with changemakers, middle managers, senior managers. These are ways you can get other people excited about your change efforts. So, I’ll go through them quickly so we can get a sense of what these five influence superpowers are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, let’s do it.

Alex Budak
The first is empathy, so being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Patty Sanchez wrote in Harvard Business Review, finding that one in two C-suite executives, when they’re leading change, they don’t take into account how people on the frontlines will appreciate that change. It’s crucial, before you lead change, that you understand, “How might others appreciate that? Are they new to the job and scared trying to make sense of how things work? Are they overwhelmed and overworked? Where are they coming from when they get this change?”

It’s not enough to just be right. How you influence makes a huge difference. I think empathy starts to unlock your ability to engage people in that change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, we take into account how others are impacted, how they’re feeling it. Can you share with us a tip or two or a tactic or approach to get a better view of that?

Alex Budak
Here’s a super popular one which ties into the second of the superpowers, which is safety, making it safe for others to be part of change with you. So, I’m at UC Berkeley, that’s a big bureaucracy. And, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of people who are a bit hesitant to pursue change efforts. And so, one of the things I’ve learned is to lean into empathy, so understand where they’re coming from and get that maybe they’re a bit more risk-averse than I am.

And so, I go to them and say, “Look, I know that this is a risk you’re taking to come along with me, but here’s my promise. If this works, I promise you will get the praise. And if it doesn’t work, I promise that I will take the blame.” That’s a small way you can make it safe for others to be part of your change efforts. That’s all rooted in, first, empathizing with them and understanding where they’re coming from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And the praise and blame, I suppose we can talk about safety. There’s a number of dimensions. So, one is the social consequences, I guess is the word, associated with how something goes down, if it’s a smashing success or a disappointment. So, there’s the social bits. And then I suppose, to the extent that there is, I don’t know, re-work or extra time, money, effort that has to be applied to fix, to undo, to re-jigger whatever you’re changing, that you’re willing to make it safe for that person by volunteering to be on the hook for all that.

Alex Budak
Yeah, that’s right. You’re finding ways to support them and getting the resources that they need. And that really ties into the third influence superpower, which is vision, which is that when you’re bringing in a lot of different people together along on your work, it’s so crucial that they feel how they’re part of the larger mission.

I like to talk about vision as painting a picture of the future that’s so compelling that people can’t help but want to be part of it with you. And so, part of your job when you try to influence folks is to find ways to help them see how this one little thing that they’re doing, which might feel so tangential, it’s actually core to the overall work the organization is doing. So, leaning into that vision, helping paint that picture, and helping people see that it’s not just busy work. That this busy work is actually leading to something much more meaningful and bigger than themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what’s the fourth?

Alex Budak
The fourth is relationships. So, this is the classic example of something that is a long-term play. You can’t just try to parachute in and build a relationship and then jump out. But if you honestly get to know people over time, you’ll unlock so much ability to influence and bring them into your change efforts. I think about a buddy of mine who was recently raising money, running a race to raise money for a rare disease that had infected a loved one.

And when he asked me to support him, I was very happy to do so. I jumped in at the chance. But if you asked me, “Alex, where would you rank this disease, and you’re ranking the most important diseases to solve?” It wouldn’t be in my top ten, not that it’s not important. Just it’s not on my radar but I was so happy to support him because of our relationship. He’s such a good guy and I wanted to be there with him.

And that’s a good example of where relationships make a big difference. Someone might not be completely sold on your change effort, but if they’ve seen that you’re a hard worker, you’re competent, that you often have great outcomes, you know who they are as a person, you care about them as an individual not just as a worker, that unlocks their ability to come along with you on your change journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And the fifth?

Alex Budak
Fifth is passion, and here’s where authenticity matters because you can’t fake passion. I’m super passionate about helping people become better leaders and stronger changemakers. But imagine I were at Haas and teaching accounting, not that that would ever happen, but if I were trying to teach accounting, my passion just wouldn’t be there because it’s not authentic to who I am. But if you’re truly passionate about a change initiative, lean into that passion.

There’s often pressure at work that we have to sort of be buttoned-up and be very serious all the time, but if we’re truly passionate about a cause, and I find that the best and most effective changemakers often are, sometimes it comes from a personal experience or a vision that they have, but lean into that. Don’t be afraid to share with people why you care so deeply about this, why you’re willing to commit your time, your energy, your resources to investing in it, and other people will feel compelled to be part of something that excites you as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those are great principles. I’m curious about what are some common pitfalls, traps, mistakes, things to not do as we’re trying to provide empathy, safety, vision, work or relationships and passion? What should we not be doing?

Alex Budak
Yes, and this is one of the great tensions of being a changemaker is that we have to hold these multiple polarities at once, that we’ve got to have the sense of urgency because, if you look at our world today, so many things are calling for change. But also recognize that change takes time, that change doesn’t happen overnight.

I love the words of Matthew Kelly who wrote in the book The Long View that we tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, underestimate what we can do in a month, overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can do in a decade. And so, sometimes as changemakers, especially new emerging first-time changemakers, we have this great sense of urgency, which, again, is kind of a helpful instinct, but we tend to want change to happen overnight immediately, and then we tend to give up quickly when it doesn’t come, when we don’t start feeling that traction.

And so, I think it’s crucial as changemakers, when we try to influence others, that we play the long game. You might get a no the first time you try to influence someone. You might have to change direction. You might find that, “Well, hey, I thought that passion is the superpower I would use, but I tested it out and I found, well, actually, vision is really what’s inspiring people to be part of it.”

You’ve got to have a bit of that longer-term view here, I think, especially when it comes to change initiatives, and be willing to test and iterate these superpowers to find the one that works for the right person at the right time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m curious, you have something you call the changemaker index. What is that and how do we use that to help us grow?

Alex Budak
So, the changemaker index is the research that I mentioned just at the beginning of this interview. This is the original longitudinal research looking at, “How do changemakers develop overtime?” If your listeners are curious to take it, you can actually go to ChangemakerBook.com/index and you can see for yourself what the questions are that we asked, and you can see what your greatest strength as a changemaker is. You can be part of the data, part of the research, and get some insight on what you do best as a changemaker.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now I’d love it if we could just hear a couple more examples in terms of going through all five of these principles. Like, someone wanted to make a change, ideally in a professional context, and then we see, “Oh, here’s how they had some empathy. Here’s how they conveyed that things were safe, here’s the vision, etc.”

Alex Budak
So, a favorite case study I talk about in the book is Jon Chu. Jon is the director of the film “Crazy Rich Asians,” a wonderful movie on its own and also important, in many ways, because it’s the first major American motion picture in over 50 years that had an all-Asian American cast. And so, as he’s putting together this film, he said, “Okay, there’s one song that I need for this amazing emotional final scene of the film. It’s got to be the song ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay.”

Yellow, of course, is often used as an anti-Asian slur, and growing up in the Bay Area, he said that that song changed his whole perception, his whole identity on what it meant to be Asian-American, so it’s clear he had to use this song for his film. Only one problem. Coldplay was the biggest band in the world, Jon had his people reach out to their people, and he got a big fat no. So, this is the…

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s like, “It doesn’t matter what kind of licensing or royalty or whatever dollars, we’re just not interested in having our song used in this fashion.”

Alex Budak
Just got a big no. I mean, maybe they were concerned about the implications of the term yellow for a movie, or maybe they just didn’t want to share it with an unknown director at the time. Who knows? So, there Jon Chu was, and he had no authority over Coldplay, to be sure. The only thing he had was influence. And while Jon has never taken my class at Berkeley and, as far as I know, he hasn’t actually read my book, he put into practice all five of these influence superpowers to an amazing end.

So, he had no connection to Coldplay, but he figured what could he do. Well, he could write a letter to them. So, he wrote a letter and it’s the most influential letter I’ve ever seen. So, let’s take a look at how he used those influence superpowers in practice. He starts with empathy, and he started in a counterintuitive way. You could imagine, if you’re trying to convince Coldplay, you come in hot. You come with, “These are all the reasons my movie is amazing. These are all the reasons you should support me.”

He actually goes counterintuitively, he goes, “Look, I’m an artist too, and I get it that you probably get a lot of these requests each day, and you’re probably inclined to say no. I get it. As an artist, you probably are scared of attaching your art to someone else’s. I get it.” What a refreshing way to use empathy. Imagine how many people are pitching Coldplay, and going, “Here’s why I got to use this.” But Jon Chu put himself in Coldplay’s shoes. He understood they must get tens, dozens of these pitches a day, and goes, “Okay, I get where you’re coming from.”

From there, he started building a relationship. Of course, he didn’t have an existing relationship but he used the tool of vulnerability to start sharing a bit about himself. He talked about how, growing up, the song changed his life, changed his outlook, changed the way he thought about what it meant to be Asian-American, talked about the impact that their song had on him as a person. He was revealing a bit of himself, his own personality, his own experiences as a way of building that relationship with the band members.

From there, he pivots into passion. So, he talks about the impact that their song could have on an entire generation of Asian-Americans, saying that he wants all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as Coldplay’s words and melody made Jon feel when he needed it the most. It’s clear he’s not faking it. It’s clear he really, really means it with this song.

And he used his vision. And what I love here is that he makes it clear he’s not just trying to get any Coldplay song or just being able to say, “Hey, look, check out the soundtrack. I’ve got Coldplay on it.” No, he’s got a particular vision. He talks about that final scene in the film and how the song would be used over what he calls an empowering emotional march. He paints the picture for Coldplay so they can understand how he would be using their song, not just so it’s a Coldplay song, but in a very particular artistic fashion.

And then, finally, he ends with safety. So, at the time, of course, he’s an unknown director but he does what he can to make it safe. He mentions how the film had received some early accolades, and also how it’s based on a bestselling book. So, he sends off this letter directly to Coldplay, and less than 24 hours later, he gets the approval. He gets the okay from Coldplay, “Yes, you can use our song.”

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

Alex Budak
So, I want to put forward this idea of micro-leadership. It’s a new concept I put forward in the book. And, like we talked about, where we need to separate acts versus titles. I think it’s crucially important that we, as leaders, break leadership down into its smallest meaningful unit, which I call a leadership moment.

And so, my belief is that we have these leadership moments that appear before us dozens of times per day, little moments when we can step up and serve others in a meaningful way. It might be in a meeting, a colleague has been quiet for the most of the meeting, and you say, “Hey, we haven’t heard your voice here. No pressure, but would you like to share your perspective here?”

Or, maybe it’s having the courage to say no when everyone else on the team is saying yes. Or, maybe it’s been willing to stay late and help a new colleague clean up after their first event. These are all small little leadership moments. And my challenge to you is can you practice what I call micro-leadership? Can you seize these moments that are in front of us?

So often we wait for someone else to give us permission to say, “Okay, now you can go be a leader.” But, instead, the lens of micro-leadership is a lens of agency. It’s your ability to step up and lead from wherever you are, when these moments appear before you, to take them, to seize them, to take that opportunity and to make things better for those around you.

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

Alex Budak
So, my favorite quote and one that’s, I think, inspired me in my career, and I read it when I was eight years old and it stuck with me. So, my favorite changemaker is Jackie Robinson, and he has a quote, which is, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on others’ lives.” And that’s always really stuck with me about, “What could you be doing with your life to have a positive impact on those around you?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Alex Budak
So many of them that I love, but one that I’m a huge fan of is Italian researchers looked at entrepreneurs who are in an incubator in Italy. And so, these are people with startups, people with ventures, and they only did one simple intervention. The only intervention was they took half of them and they taught them the scientific method, so hypothesis testing, and they saw what happens as a result.

Here are the findings. Those that had learned the scientific method were more likely to pivot, so more likely to change directions, make a strategic switch, and also more likely to generate more revenue. So, why is that? The way I teach it in my class at Berkeley is that when leading change, when we’re leading anything new, we tend to put so much of our own identity into it, and when something doesn’t work out, we feel like a failure. It makes us scared to take chances because we know, “If this doesn’t work out, well, that reflects really poorly on me.”

But think about a scientist. A scientist in a lab has a hypothesis. When she tries a test and it doesn’t work, she doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m a bad scientist because it didn’t work out.” No, she goes, “Okay, cool. I learned something from this, and now I’ll try another experiment, and another, and another.” And what we find is that when this is applied to entrepreneurship, or I would say changemaking, more broadly, it helps us take the sting out of failure because we just lean into our curiosity, we say, “I wonder if…” “What would happen if…?” And that allows us to be more creative, to take more risks, and to not take things so personally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Alex Budak
Tons of books but my favorite, I think, one that I just re-read for the first time in a few years is a book called Life Entrepreneurs. It’s by Gregg Vanourek and Christopher Gergen, and it’s all about how you can use the tools of entrepreneurship not to scale a business or a nonprofit but to build a life that you want, to build a meaningful life. I find that really moving, and it’s a book that I read just as I was beginning my own changemaker journey and one I return to every few years for a bit of inspiration.

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

Alex Budak
So, I love the tool Superhuman which is an email client. Complete gamechanger. I think all of us spend more time in our email inbox than we would like, and this app truly lives up to its name. It makes me superhuman when I’m sending tons of emails. You can set reminders. You can delay emails so I’m not sending emails at midnight. Just a super, super tool and well worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Budak
Walks. I’m a big believer in taking walks. My wife and I have a 22-month-old at home, and so you can imagine life is pretty crazy. But she and I both prioritize making sure that each of us get a walk at almost every night. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to a favorite podcast, like this one, or sometimes I just walk without anything in my ears. And it’s an amazing way to get a little bit of physical activity, get a little bit of space, a little bit of fresh air, and a little bit of time to yourself. And so, that’s a habit that I cannot imagine doing without.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you again and again?

Alex Budak
I think the way I start my Berkeley class, the way I start my book Becoming a Changemaker is with the words, “The world has never been more ready for you.” And that’s my fundamental belief, which is that there’s never been a better time than right now to go lead a positive change. When you look at the world today, there’s all too many challenges, all too many barriers, all too many injustices. You look at the work world, there’s all too many things that need to be changed. But I believe there’s never been a better time than right now for each of us to step up and become changemakers.

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

Alex Budak
So, love to connect with you. Find me on LinkedIn, which is my main social network. Check out the book at ChangemakerBook.com, and my personal website AlexBudak.com.

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

Alex Budak
So, here’s my challenge to you. Based on the research I shared with the Italian researchers, go out and fail at something. Go try something. And even if the risks are that it probably won’t succeed, go give it a shot. Use that scientific method and put yourself out there. I think you’ll find that, like lots of my students when I give them this challenge, they’ll find that failure isn’t fatal. And sometimes, even though we’re sure we’ll get rejected, we actually get a yes. So, my challenge to you is to go practice some failure. Go put yourself out there and see what happens as a result.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Alex, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in your changemaking.

Alex Budak
Thanks, Pete. Really enjoyed the conversation.

797: How to Find and Do Your Great Work with Amanda Crowell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Amanda Crowell shares practical wisdom on how to make time and space for the work that matters most to you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get clarity on the work that fulfills you most 
  2. How to say no to the commitments eating up your time
  3. How to stop procrastination from sabotaging your goals

About Amanda

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda’s TEDx talk: Three Reasons You Aren’t Doing What You Say You Will Do has received 1.5 million views and has been featured on TED’s Ideas blog and TED Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPRAl JazeeraThe Wall Street JournalQuartz, and Thrive Global. 

Amanda lives in New Jersey with her husband, two adorable kids, and a remarkable Newfiepoo named Ruthie. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

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Amanda Crowell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amanda, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amanda Crowell
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited as well. I really want to dig into your book Great Work, but, first, I need to hear about clown school in Spain. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
That’s funny. Well, I had finished my master’s degree, this was in between my master’s and my Ph.D., and I had had kind of a rough couple years, which I think probably everyone listening can relate to, and I felt like I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could really talk to me. So, I went to Spain, I went to an island off the coast of Spain. Tenerife, it’s actually off the coast of Africa but it’s a Spanish island, and I did language school for about, I don’t know, maybe it was three weeks of language school.

And then I planted myself in Santiago de Compostela, which is just a little part of Spain above Portugal, and was looking for things to do. So, I saw that one of the local theater companies was offering a clown school, and I thought that would be fun, not really realizing that my maybe minimal understanding of Spanish would sort of get in the way.

And I found that it both did and also didn’t because clowning is very…it can be very physical but there was one experience where I didn’t realize it but we were playing a game where the person who’s the focus of the game stands in front of the room, and everybody else in the class stands on the other side, and as long as you’re funny, they will stand still, but if you stop being funny, they will move forward, like rush you, like an army.

Like, somehow, my mind knew this because I started telling the story of Finding Nemo the movie, which had come out that summer. And they had this very perplexed look on their face the whole time, and then finally they got it together and started rushing me. And later, they told me in our conversational Spanish-English thing that we would do that I was repeating the same thing that the person who came before me had done but I had no idea he also told the Nemo story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, what are the odds?

Amanda Crowell
Well, apparently my brain totally heard it, I was like, “Oh, we’re talking about Nemo, so I’ll just tell that story too,” which they did find funny for at least a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, did you have any clown performances afterwards?

Amanda Crowell
We had a clown performance at the end of the two weeks of clown school, and then the person who was running it invited a friend of mine, and I had to go to a clowning performance, like on the coast, which is like 45 minutes, I guess, west of Santiago de Compostela so we got on a car and went there. and I didn’t perform but I was part of the troupe that was like sort of hanging around backstage and stuff, so that was fun.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you put your clown skills to work in future times?

Amanda Crowell
Well, as a mother, my clown skills are required every day, and as a professor, I think my students do find me to be engaging and funny, and I’m quick on my feet. And the main rule of clowning, much like improv, is that you have to just do what you are invited to do. If you’ve been invited to walk around on your hands then, to the best of your ability, you have to. In improv, they call that “Yes, and.” It’s basically the same in clowning. It just tends to be a little bit more physical. And being forced to do something just because you’ve been asked to do it, because that’s the rule, is very freeing. It creates a different kind of habit of participation that I found very useful in all of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Never would’ve guessed. Okay, clown takeaways. Powerful. All right.

Amanda Crowell
Powerful clown takeaways, yes. I guess we’re done here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m curious to hear some powerful takeaways from your book Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else. Can you start us off with any particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way as you put this together?

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the cornerstone, like the piece of insight or the foundation of the book as a whole is a little bit in reaction to what I would call sort of high-performance productivity hacks, which I, like everyone sort of, love. Like, tell me exactly how Steve Jobs was able to do that. Tell me what Tim Ferriss does in his 4-Hour Workweek.

But there’s a way that that kind of high-performance productivity stuff keeps you always racing against the clock. You could be more productive, more productive, more productive. And that’s how I lived my life and had a couple of sort of full-body rebellions and sort of mental health concerns, feeling anxious. I wasn’t feeling satisfied.

And it wasn’t really until I realized that there’s another way to be powerfully productive that I took on. And then what surprised me, this is the big surprise, is that doing it that other way, that not high-powered doing more like really striving to be busy, striving for more accomplishments, that when you let that go and you do it this other way, then you actually gain access to what you want the most, which is your great work, which is the work you’re being called to do, the work that requires your full capacity in order to break through the human condition and put that work out there – the art, the scientific discoveries, the businesses you want to build. There’s a way to do those things much more quickly, much more powerfully, much more successfully for most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, what is that way?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, that way is what’s outlined in the book. So, it’s got the different pieces of it. On the one hand, it’s about doing much, much less. The sort of high-performance productivity idea is you can do so much more and you won’t be super-stressed, sort of like the promise of it. And, actually, the number one step of this other way is to do tons less, to back out, say no, protect your time so that you are creating space for resilience, because you have to protect your resilience, which is your number one resource, and create a vacuum of space into which your great work can build, and bloom, and like take up space in your life.

People, I find, try to squeeze their great work into the margins of their life, but it’s their most important work. It’s the work that they want to be known for, it’s the work they want to create their legacy, and yet they’re like, “Well, I’m trying to do it on Saturday mornings, and if I had an hour after work, I’d try to do a little of it then,” and that’s very backwards. That’s prioritizing the expectations of others and not being strategic about your time so that you create actual time and actual resilience in yourself to do that work.

And then there’s just figuring out where your great work is, which is a certain amount of visioning, and believing what you hear, and trying to understand the voices in your head and differentiating them from each other. And, honestly, I already said it but I’m going to say it again, like really believing what you hear.

I find that a lot of very creative, innovative people will tell you that the thing they want the most is just not possible for them, “I’ve already got a family so I really can’t be an entrepreneur,” or, “I’m a lawyer, I can’t be an artist, I can’t write a book,” or whatever. And really learning to believe the voice that’s calling you from the inside is a big part of figuring out where your great work is. Often, people know what it is. They just refuse to believe it. They refuse to give it any credence.

Once you know where your great work is, then it’s the steps to turning it into reality. And that piece of it is about understanding the relationship of the ideas, like you feel like, “I want to change the face of medicine,” and you have an hour. How do you change the face of medicine in an hour? And so, there’s filling the space between those two so that you understand what a vision is, and then there’s other levels. Accessible aspiration that you can do in a year, what you can do in 90 days, what you can do this week, and what you can do today.

And then you know that your efforts are accumulating towards your great work, so there’s that practical kind of time management piece of it. And then the last piece is really developing self-expertise, which is also about allowing the productivity advice that you hear to be relevant or not, and putting together your own elixir of what really works for you. And that’s where a lot of the mindset stuff comes in as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, starting with zeroing in on what is the great work and the calling and the vision and stuff, how do we arrive at that and get real clarity on, “This is the thing, and this is not the thing”?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. And there will be multiple things. So, sometimes it’s like, “Well, I love all of these things,” and it’s not a matter of denying parts of yourself. It’s a matter of prioritizing and choosing, and giving one of those things enough time to actually grow into something. So, I think I mentioned, like, sometimes people don’t know what their great work is, and they are really uncertain that they have great work inside of them, “Some people have great work but I’m just not one of them. I’m all over the place, and I’m kind of lazy, this isn’t resonating with me.”

But I have found that in every conversation, truly with people who want to talk it through and figure it out, that great work is in all of us. So, sometimes it’s a matter of doing some sort of searching. So, you can do sort of auditing of your prior experiences, “What’s always true?” One really key indicator that something is part of your great work is when other people do it, you feel really jealous.

So, I remember there is this story of, this is really resonating with the whole clown thing, one of my bosses in the past was Little Mikey on Sesame Street. So, you know how they have kids on Sesame Street who talk to Kermit the Frog. So, my boss was Little Mikey talking about what is love with Kermit the Frog in the ‘70s, which means that the puppeteer doing Kermit the Frog was Jim Henson himself. And I literally could not handle that that had happened to him.

And that feeling of just waves of whatever you want to call it, envy or jealousy or just, “Why didn’t it happen to me?” or like yearning is a real indication that there’s something in that that you really want for yourself. So, looking at the things that you’ve been envious about over time, childhood dreams, like re-invigorating, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I’ve always wanted to be a musician,” or, “I’ve always wanted to cure cancer,” or, “I’ve just always wanted to be a businessman,” like the Warren Buffett of the future.

Those give you the clues. And sometimes you can’t nail it down before you get into action. It’s often the case that taking steps in the direction of what you think you might want quickly clarifies, “I do not want this,” or, “Wow, this is amazing. I light right up. I start to feel satisfied again. I feel excited. I want to find the time to do it. I’m not watching as much Netflix or playing as many video games because I’m called, I’m drawn to do this other thing.”

Once you know what it is, then you have to protect that time, and that’s where saying no and doing less starts to become the game because if you’re good at what you do, people want you to do it for them, and you should. There are lots of opportunities. If it’s a great opportunity that takes you in the direction that you want to go in, I’m all for it, but there’s lots of sort of random one-offs.

In the book, we talk about how to evaluate whether an idea is a good one, whether it moves you towards your great work. And it really just comes down to, like, “Can you see the connection between what you’re doing and your great work, like as you’ve defined it?” And the example we use is, like, building a pergola in your backyard, because this actually happened to us.

We just decided we wanted a pergola in our backyard, which is actually something you can buy off the internet and they send you all the wood, and they say, “Oh, you can do it in a weekend,” but, of course, that’s not true. It’s going to be many weekends of trying to put up this wooden grape arbor thing in your backyard.

And it’s like, whether or not building a pergola in your backyard is your great work depends on how it fits into this larger system of the things you spend your time doing. So, if you’re in the middle of flipping your house and you want to get big return on investment, you feel like you’re going to get more money for your house, then building a pergola is a great use of your time because you can see the connection.

But if it just feels interesting but, really, you don’t spend that much time in the backyard and you only thought it was cool once, then no matter how compelling it is in that moment, you can step in and say, “I need to protect my time so that I have the time to do what I’m really here to do.” It’s a skill. It’s a skill that’s developed over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share an example of a client or someone who found themselves overwhelmed with all the stuff and then trimmed it down and pursued great work to cool results?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, so many. And I’d say that that’s one of the strengths of the book is that it’s just filled with case studies. So, people find themselves in all kinds of situations. Like, we come to our great work when, like today, it’s always just today, and every day is filled with things. So, sometimes people find themselves really stretched very thin around expectations that people have, like they’ve got children. I’m not saying expectations as though those things don’t matter, because they do. You do have to take care of your children.

If you’re in the sandwich generation, where you have both children and parents who need care, that’s a real thing. It takes a lot of time to do that. If you also have a business, and your husband has a business and he wants your help with it, so that’s the example that’s in the introduction of the book, actually. It’s a woman who was in that exact situation. She had heard me speak, and she stayed on the Zoom length until people had left, and then was just like, “I’m hearing everything you’re saying, and you’re absolutely right, but I can’t.”

I think she wanted me to convince her that she could but she was maxed out. She was taking care of her mom. She was helping her husband because he wasn’t very good with the books of his business. She had a coaching business of her own, and that’s what she wasn’t getting to. She wasn’t writing the books she wanted to write and she wasn’t creating the program that she wanted to create, which is like, “I just can’t get to it.” And I’m like, “Of course, you can’t get to it because you’re doing all of these things.”

So, she is an example of somebody who knew what they wanted but couldn’t get to it. That’s very common. And so, that, over the course of a couple of years, talking to her and encouraging her to piecemeal, bit by bit, release herself from all this overcommitment, so, like, she found someone at her church to take her mother a couple of days a week and that released her from it.

And then there was a really big conversation with her husband where she said, “You have to find someone else to do your books because I can’t get to what I need to get to,” and he was very disappointed and felt kind of betrayed, but that was her reality, that she was never going to get to what mattered to her until she was able to put some of his own burden back on him because she had accepted it all, and now she needed to give some of it back. And so, in bits and pieces like that.

A lot of what I do is very, like, as long as you’re doing something today that aligns to what you wanted to do this week, which aligns to what you wanted to do in 90 days, you’re doing it. Because the other thing that I think, for her in particular was really powerful, was knowing she was done because she never ever felt done, just this endless to-do list. And it was the feeling of, like just, “What am I striving for? Like, I’m exhausted. I never exercise. I don’t eat well.”

And so, once you’ve done the things aligned to your great work, and you’ve met the expectations that you’ve drastically pared back, your life changes even before you’re doing the great work. You feel so much better. And I talked a little bit about resilience being your number one resource, this is where that kicks in.

When you start feeling better, the things that are hard – innovation and creativity, problem-solving, collaboration – all the things that are the skills of the 21st century economy, you’re better able to do them when you’re not exhausted, hungry, in pain, and just maxed out and brain dead. So, for her, doing all of those things made it possible to start actually making progress, and she has gotten very far, I would say, in the time since we worked together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have any pro tips on how one goes about exiting burdens, and reducing the load, and saying no and these sorts of things?

Amanda Crowell
I do, yes. Some of it is making a list of the things you’ve agreed to do, the projects, is what David Allen would call them in Getting Things Done, like anything that requires more than one step is a project. So, what projects do you have ongoing? And if you’re, walking your sister’s dog, and you’re planning the school party for your kids, and you’re the person who does birthdays at work, and you sing in the choir, those are all commitments.

And then looking at that list of commitments, some of them will be the obvious elephants in the room, like, “I don’t want to do it. It doesn’t make me happy to do it. I’m just doing it out of obligation. And the person that I’m feeling obligated to is not that really important, it’s not my mother. It’s the woman at church who handed it off to me and refuses to take it back every time I try to give it to her.” Those are the sort of topline things that can create instant relief and make you feel tons better right away.

So, in that case, it’s about having the difficult conversations. And sometimes if you have a coach, going through that, and a roleplaying thing can be really helpful, but, really, it’s about the rubber hits the road. You open your mouth, and say, “I’m really sorry. I know I said I would do it but I can’t.” And what’s interesting about those kinds of conversations is that they cause a lot of edge ahead of time. But the minute they’re done, the relief and the joy and the happiness that you don’t have to do it anymore is so awesome, it sort of drives you forward into the other things. So, that’s one. That’s like literally saying no to things that you’ve committed to, backing out of them.

That’s the hardest and so that’s where we always start. But there are other things that don’t require so much overt acknowledging of what you’re doing. I like to call it doing B-minus work, which is where…like, I was in consulting for a number of years before I started back as a professor at a university, which is what I do now in addition to the coaching and consulting and speaking stuff that I do. But when I was in consulting, which is a very billable hours kind of environment, it was very overwhelming the number of tasks that you had to do, and you felt you had to do all of them really well.

And I noticed that there were a lot of those tasks that, if you look at them in smaller pieces, there were parts of them that you could do just good enough. Now, those particulars are very particular for the job. Every job has them. This is what I’ve learned in coaching all these people over all these years, is, for example, hospice nurses.

They travel around, they get out of their car, they go into the house, they meet with their client, they come back out, they have to write up notes in between…they’re supposed to do it in between the clients but they all do it at night at home because they need to get off to the next client. They’re probably driving their car.

So, the typical advice given to them is to, “Do your notes before you leave the house,” but if you go into that and think, “Which exact pieces of the notes do I need to do, because when I try to think of it later, I’d forgotten a lot of it?” you can figure out that, “There’s just three fields that I should fill in. And then when I come back to do it at night, it’s much faster.”

So, things like that, where you don’t have to do it in this full-trotted, full-throated way, “I’m going to do all my notes as fast as I can, and somehow be this superhuman.” “I’m just going to do just these three because those strategically are the ones that matter.” Every job has little pockets where these things matter and these things matter less.

In consulting, one of the things I noticed was these emails that we would send, we would have these big group meetings, and we would send agendas ahead of time, and we would send notes afterwards. The agendas mattered a lot. People came, we had better meetings when the agendas were good and they got them on time.

Nobody, not a single person, ever opened the notes documents that came afterwards. And so, I started writing those as B-minus work, where it was a description of who was there, because you need that for contract work, and how long it was, the location, and then three bullet points of the topics that were covered, and not a single person noticed it didn’t impact the workflow, “My boss didn’t care.”

And so, instead of 30 minutes, it was 5 minutes, and 25 minutes of my time is back. So, there’s bits and pieces of your workflow, when you look at it in smaller pieces, that can release you from this overwhelming feeling without actually changing anything, or nobody even notices that you’re doing something differently but you experience it really differently, and it can be very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Well, you have a fun turn of a phrase, you mentioned three horsemen of the goalpocalypse. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, I think at one point in this interview, I said something about overcoming the human condition to do your great work. That’s really what I was talking about. We have these things that, when we get tired, we get exhausted, when we get nervous or fearful, they kick in and they’re protective. So, procrastination is one of those horsemen, like, “I want to do it but I don’t want to do it,” “I want to do it, I totally forgot I wanted to do it.”

Perfectionism is one of those, “I’m going to do it perfectly and I’m going to take forever, and I’m never really going to get it out the door because it’s never good enough.” And then overworking is one of those. So, overworking, procrastination, and perfectionism, so like, “I’m going to work myself until I’m a little nub of a person, a little pile of ashes,” and that keeps you from doing your great work, too, because, “I’m so busy. Now is not the time. I have to wait until all these things line up.” These are like sort of things we do to self-sabotage our goals. That’s why they’re the three horsemen of the goalpocalypse.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, is the thought then if we have trimmed out the other stuff and we have a good vacuum to work with, those just disappear? Or, are there particular prescriptions for them?

Amanda Crowell
A lot of it is mindset work, like reframing your thoughts about things. The ability to do that mindset work is much more possible when you’re not maxed out and totally out of resilience, and burned out, or overworking, that kind. So, for example, procrastination, I have this TED Talk, you can put a link to it in your show notes or whatever, and it’s very popular. It has like, I don’t know, maybe close to 2 million views now.

And I think the reason that it’s so powerful, it’s about procrastination, really, and it talks about what the source of procrastination is, which is this thing called defensive failure. And defensive failure is the idea of how, as humans, we defend ourselves against real failure by failing ahead of time, by procrastinating. So, like, why do we procrastinate? Is it just a strategy? It’s a defense mechanism, but what’s underneath it?

And that’s what the TED Talk is about, and it’s the three mindsets that stop you from doing what you say you will do. So, one is, “I don’t believe I can. Like, other people are athletic but I’m not, so no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to be a runner,” for example. And so, you set these exercise goals, you don’t do anything about them because in your own heart and mind, you think you cannot, that there was something granted at birth, you didn’t get it, and all you’re ever going to do is fail at this, and you’re just not up for that. So, that’s one, “I can’t. I cannot. Like, I literally cannot.”

Then there’s, “People like me don’t do things like this,” which is the belonging one, which is like, “If I do this thing, what does it mean about me? And if it’s in conflict with my identity in some way…” My favorite example of this one was when I was learning how to sell my coaching, I was like, “I’m a heart-centered helper type. I’m never going to be pushy.”

So, the thing I wanted to do and how I saw myself clashed. And when that happens, it triggers defensive failure because we never want to be in conflict with ourselves. Our brain really does not allow for it, so you need to resolve that, you need to say, “Oh, there’s room in my identity to be a heart-centered salesperson,” for example.

The solution for the first reason we procrastinate, “I think I can’t,” is to learn all about the brain and understand that everything through effort, over time, with help, anything is possible. Immediately people are like, “You can’t be Einstein.” Fine. Anything normal is possible with effort, over time, with help. Those are the three things. If you’re willing to do those three things, you’re good. So, that’s the resolution to the first.

And then the second is, like, make room in your identity, like resolve it, go meet people, talk to people, read the magazines. Like, learn more about the thing that feels so counter to who you are and find a place for yourself in it, and then procrastination, it does give way. And the final one is, “I don’t want to do it. I just think I should want to do it.”

And this is where everyone tells you, “Oh, you should just…” The world tells you, “You should want to lose weight,” but, actually, you’re like fine with how you look, so you make these goals, “I’m going to go keto,” but you don’t actually care about it. You don’t really want to do it. It just feels like you have to say it because the world says you have to. That’s never going to work because actual real change is very difficult, and if you really don’t want to do it, you’re not going to do it.

So, a lot of that is letting go, like, if you’re happy with how you look, like, let it go. Until the doctor tells you that you are not going to live if you don’t change your behavior, it’s like, follow your own body, whatever. But if you do want to do it but you don’t want to do it, but you do want to do it, like, if you’re stuck in that whole thing, then it’s about building intrinsic interest for it. Find something that interests you. Connect it to your long-term hopes and dreams. Find a way to have actual interests, curiosity, connection, build it up intentionally. Like, go do that work, and that will help the procrastination to go away.

So, those three things are why we procrastinate, so that’s like the resolution, depending on which one it is, for that horseman of the goalpocalypse. And there are similar thoughts and stuff all outlined in the book for the others as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, how does one intentionally build interest and curiosity? I think some folks think, “Hey, you got it or you don’t. Either this thing is interesting to you or it’s not.” If you want more interest and curiosity, how do you build that up?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. Well, I think, as humans, we can kind of be interested in anything. Think about this. When was the last time you watched a movie that was totally outside of your interest but the story was so good and the characters were so real? And I’m experiencing that right now with the book Ready Player One which is about virtual reality video games, and I’m the last person to play a virtual reality video game. But the story is so compelling that I’m like, “Okay, teach me about this so that I can follow this story.”

When you find an angle on something, you can get excited about it. So, the TED Talk is all built around the fact that I was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to exercise, and then I had these two kids and my body was all messed up, and so I decided I better put all my money where my mouth is and figure out how to exercise. And then I did, and I did triathlon and half marathon. That’s like the structure of the TED Talk.

And I remember having the exact same question that you just posed, which is like, “If I don’t like exercise, I just don’t like it.” But I found that thinking about exercise through a scientific lens was an angle in on it for me. And I found out by reading Runners Magazine, and seeing what kinds of interesting things do these people talk about, and I was like, “Oh, well, that’s interesting.”

I learned all kinds of things about the blood vessels in your fingers, like way out in your extremities, the only way to get them to grow is to do intense cardiovascular fitness stuff, and my fingers were always cold, so I was like, “Well, okay, let’s do a six-mile run. Because if that actually grows blood vessels out into the tips of my fingers, like, okay, I’m interested. Tell me more.”

So, it doesn’t always have to be the big doorway people walk through to be interested in something. I don’t have to watch sports, thank God, because I don’t like them. I didn’t have to watch sports, I didn’t have to be competitive, which I’m not, but, like, all the main things that sort of describe athletic people didn’t work for me. But the science of fitness, the physiology of it, the communities that build up around the little group of people I rode my bike with and the little group of people I learned swimming from, like those things, the sort of tangential parts really worked for me, and I developed quite a lot of interest in exercise.

And the same thing happened with nutrition. When I had an autoimmune flareup thing and I needed to discover how to manage my inflammation naturally, and I suddenly had tons of interests and curiosity and talking to people. So, I think believing that you can find something interesting is sort of step one, and then go talk to the people, read the magazines, see what they’re talking about. Something will catch your eye. If it doesn’t, you always have in your back pocket the connection to your long-term hopes and dreams.

So, my favorite example of this is taxes. There are very few people who are going to be super interested in the tax code, and all of them have already become CPAs. The rest of us are not going to be, like, “Ooh, tell me about this particular deduction and the changes between 2020 and 2021.” None of us feel that way. But we can draw a really clear kind of bright line, “Like, a bright line between doing my taxes and keeping my expenses updated and whatever to my long-term hopes and dreams.”

And really building that out can be enough to help with interest and curiosity, like, “I want to have a stable-enough financial system in place for my business, that if I grow quickly, it won’t overwhelm me, or I won’t find myself in a pickle, or I won’t get audited and freak out. Like, those kinds of bright lines, “Now, I’m going to sit down and do this even without the usual interest and curiosity,” because you can’t build it intrinsically.

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

Amanda Crowell
Only that there’s a journal, the Great Work Journals, there’s three of them. One is like The Great Work Journal, and sort of life-based, and then there’s one for entrepreneurs, and there’s one for students. And it can be a really good way to kind of coach yourself through the process of getting started, staying at it, not procrastinating, helps you build a good gratitude practice.

And those are really, I think, great ways to start once you’ve read the book, and you’re like, “How do I do this?” Get the journal and try to follow it because the people who love it, report that it can be very transformational. So, I just want to make sure I mention that.

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

Amanda Crowell
I like the quote, and I’m not entirely sure who said it, maybe Albert Einstein, that’s like in my brain somewhere, but it’s “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”

It’s like do find that if you just show up and then show up again, you don’t get nowhere. You get somewhere. And then that somewhere can hit the hockey puck or the hockey stick, I guess they call, the exponential curve, and there is no way to hit that if you’re not showing up. And I think it takes the drama out of like, “I need to show up and do big things.” No. Just show up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, the one I talk about the most that I think had the biggest impact on me, and my clients and the schools that I worked with when I was a consultant, is the notion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. It’s so fundamental and it gets oversimplified, I think, in the media, into this like, “If you think you can, you can.” And it’s really not about that.

It’s really much more the opposite of that, is much truer, which is if you think you can’t, you won’t. Like, your literal brain will shut you down. If you’re like, “I’m never going to get this math homework done,” your brain is going to reduce all the activation. All the problem-solving centers are going to shut down, like, like you’re not going to do it.

But if you believe that you can, then you get into all the stuff we know about cognitive neuroscience. Like, what does it actually take to learn? What are the skills and strategies? And if you are willing to put in effort, over time, and get help, new strategies, new ideas, new ways, different ways to engage with it, you can learn almost anything.

And it’s incredibly freeing. It takes us all out of this prison of our own making, of like, “I need to do what I’m already good at,” and instead places us in a place of possibility that feels uniquely human, and I think helps us heed the call of our great work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Amanda Crowell
Well, this has nothing to do with cognitive neuroscience, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, what I really like is the DONE app.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s a good one.

Amanda Crowell
It is a good one. I like it and it’s pretty and I feel like looking at it, and I’m so happy to see streaks. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Amanda Crowell
I like time blocking but not in a super intense way, just like blocking the mornings for creative work, and then blocking time around meetings to return to the ideas. Like, that’s very helpful for me. I use my calendar, like I’m dogmatic about it. I can’t imagine not having a very seriously organized calendar for time blocking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the idea that there is another way. Like, you don’t have to hustle and grind to do great work. That’s what people seem to come back and say, “Okay, I need to know how to do that. I’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work for me.”

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

Amanda Crowell
I would point them to AmandaCrowell.com. I have a podcast called Unleashing Your Great Work, and you can find a link to that on the website, and also all the buy links to the book. I really think the book is probably the best place to start to really get a sense of who I am, and then listen to the podcast to hear other people talking about their great work so that you can build the courage to actually pursue your own, which is really what it’s all about.

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

Amanda Crowell
I would say it’s, believe what you’re hearing on the inside. If there’s a piece of your job that you’re sort of want to do more of, listen to that and ask for the opportunity to do more of it. if there’s a part of your job that is not really hitting on all cylinders for you, begin the conversation about offboarding that part of it or replacing it with something that’s more your jam, because the more closely aligned you are with your jam, or your great work, the better the work you’ll do and the more valuable you’ll be to the company as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amanda, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this chat and wish you much luck with all your great work.

Amanda Crowell
Thank you so much.

731: How to Harness Motivation…According to Science with Ayelet Fishbach

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Ayelet Fishbach reveals insights into motivation to help you achieve your goals.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top variable for motivation 
  2. How to find motivation when you’re just not feeling it
  3. How to make incentives really work 

About Ayelet

Ayelet Fishbach is a psychologist and a professor at the University of Chicago. She’s the past president of the Society for the Study of Motivation. She is an expert on motivation and decision making and the author of Get it Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation. Ayelet’s groundbreaking research on human motivation has won her several international awards, including the Society of Experimental Social Psychology’s Best Dissertation Award and Career Trajectory Award, and the Fulbright Educational Foundation Award. 

Resources Mentioned

Ayelet Fishbach Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ayelet, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Ayelet Fishbach
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m excited to talk about motivation with you. First though, I need to hear about your nine-year old calls you an expert on how to fail. Tell us about this.

Ayelet Fishbach
Yeah. So, I’ll share the story with you. Doing my own things at home and my son is playing video games, and this is not when you usually expect parents to do anything, like this is what we let our kids do so that we can do something else. So, he’s playing these video games, and the monster keeps killing him, and he’s getting frustrated. As you know, this monster, they’re terrible. They’re just killing those innocent kids in the video game.

And I can see that he almost has tears in his eyes, so we asked him, like the entire family, like, “Do you want someone to be there with you?” And then my daughter suggested that she will sit with him so that he can better cope with those monsters, and he replied saying that he wants mom to sit with him because I know how to fail better than anybody else. I was proud.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with him in the failure zone, he’s like you were sort of the expert to assist in that territory. Is that the vibe?

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes, I have a lot of experience with learning from failure, and I think I take it to heart but not as much as he does. So, he realizes that if I’m around, we’re probably going to make fun of this and not take it too much to heart.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is kind words and something to remember maybe when in tough times. So, I’m excited to talk about motivation and your book Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation. And maybe to kick us off, one of my favorite questions is to hear, when you’re researching a topic for many years, what’s among the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made about human motivation?

Ayelet Fishbach
We found that giving advice is more motivating than getting great advice from the expert.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if I give advice, I’ll be motivated more so than if I receive advice.

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ayelet Fishbach
And that was kind of cool to us. We predicted that but still it was nice to see that it doesn’t matter what is the domain, whether it’s controlling your finance, or finding a job, or controlling your weight, or studying, those who are struggling are more motivated by giving someone advice than by getting advice back, which was nice.

We found that what predicts adherents to basically any goal, in particular, now we’re looking at New Year’s Resolutions because it’s soon, is how much people are enthusiastic about doing the thing, how much they enjoy doing the thing, and not how important it is, which was surprising for us because you do something, you set a resolution because it is important, not because it is fun to do. Nevertheless, how important that is for you can predict so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s juicy. And Katy Milkman, we had on the show, in her book How to Change, we talked a little bit about some of those principles in terms of being enjoyable, and that’s sort of like old-fashioned exercise advice, “What’s the best exercise? The one you enjoy and you stick with.” It’s like, “Okay, no, but seriously, what’s going to give me faster or big muscles,” or kind of whatever your outcome you’re shooting for, or lose weight, you name it. But there’s something to it, the adherence, you’re telling me that that’s the top variable you found for tracking adherence is how much you enjoy doing the thing?

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes. And I basically think about it as immediate rewards. And it’s interesting that you mentioned Katy Milkman because we did our research independently and we did get to similar conclusions. Yes, it’s how much you get some immediate feedback that this is working, that this is enjoyable, that you are in it. It’s not just enjoyment. It could be something else that is immediate, like, “It immediately makes me feel proud.”

We recently published a paper that found that even if there’s a slight discomfort, if it’s immediate, then that’s better than nothing. So, realizing that, “This is working because I feel like I’m slightly struggling is good. It motivates.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. As opposed to, I’m thinking about supplements, it’s like even if it feels a little weird, it’s like, “Okay. Well, it’s doing something as opposed to just nothing,” so that maybe gives you a dash of hope. And what’s funny, what comes to mind now is, as we speak, I just happen to be in one of my best ever weightlifting grooves of my life, and I think that’s exactly what’s going on here, is that because we got some structural and environmental things working in my favor so I have some consistency, and I’ve got a really lovely app called RepCount, which makes it so easy to track what I’m doing, it’s so exciting, rewarding, fun to see, “Oh, I bench-pressed as much as I could last time, and I could do this weight four times. Oh, but this time, I could do it five times.” So, it’s like, “I am stronger than I’ve ever been before. Yes.” And it just feels fantastic.

And then, of course, exercise in its own endorphin-y, positive, biochemically way does what it does, but then I’ve got that immediate reward. So, I really do, it gets me coming back again and again and again because I want to keep breaking records and feeling awesome each time I do, which, at this stage in the game, thankfully, is almost every time. So, I’m into it. And, yeah, my adherence is high because my immediate positive enjoyable feedback is high.

Ayelet Fishbach
Yeah. You actually mentioned out a bunch of things that all contribute to motivation.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, unpack it for me.

Ayelet Fishbach
So, the one thing that you mentioned is that this is immediate, like you do this and you immediately get the feedback that this is working, that you just broke a record. And we know that whatever is immediate is much more motivating than some delayed outcomes that will happen in a week or a month or in a year.

Then another thing that I like about your example is that you looked back, and you say, “Well, I only did three last week, and four earlier this week, and now I can do five.” And looking back is often the way to keep yourself going. If you always look forward then you might never quite be where you want to be, so that might be hard. We often tell people, like, “Look back. Look at how much you have achieved. That will increase your commitment.”

In studies, like students that look back were more motivated to study in particular when they were unsure whether they want to do the thing. Customers standing in line, when they look back, they appreciated more the thing that they’re waiting for. So, looking back is good. And then the last thing that you mentioned is having a miracle target, like, “I want to be at five or at six,” which is also a very good strategy to motivate yourself. So, you just found a combo.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, it’s working because sometimes I find myself daydreaming, like it’s Tuesday evening as we speak, I was like, “Oh, boy, Wednesday is a day away. I’m already excited for tomorrow morning to go to the gym.” And I find other times in my life where that was not at all the situation with regard to thinking about the gym.

Well, cool. So, we kind of got a little bit of hodgepodge of fun discoveries and practice how they’re working. So, maybe you could share with us sort of the core thesis of your book “Get It Done” and any key principles that we haven’t hit yet?

Ayelet Fishbach
All right, yes. And so, when I looked at the field of motivation, and I’ve been a motivational scientist for a long time, I feel that what is common to all the interventions, all the strategies that we developed is that they change the situation in order to change the behavior. And so, basically, if we wanted to change someone else’s behavior, we would change their situation, we would change how we present the information to them, or whom they’re going to do the thing, or we are going to give them certain incentives to behave in one way, or a punishment for behaving in another way.

We can apply this to ourselves. We can be the person that shapes our own behavior if we systematically think about the situation in which we put ourselves and how we think about these situations. And I started with this, and then I looked at all the strategies that we have been studying for many years, and thinking that they really fall into four buckets.

And so, when we think about changing our situation in order to motivate ourselves, first bucket or first element is setting a goal. How do we set a goal? Is it a motivating goal? Is it a “do” goal as opposed to a “do not” goal, which might seem urgent but is not fun to pursue? Is it an intrinsic goal? Everything on that. The second element is “How do we monitor progress?” Do we get feedback? Do we look back? Do we look forward? How do we learn from setbacks, from negative feedback? So, all these interventions.

The third element is, “What do we do with everything else?” “I might plan to exercise but I also plan for other things for this early hour in the morning when I thought I would exercise, so that doesn’t work.” How people design their environment for everything else. And then the last element is social support and all the interventions that get people to find other people that will help them.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. So, that’s a nice menu there, bits there to work with. And so, boy, it seems like we talked a good bit about the monitoring of progress in our earlier example. Let’s talk a little bit about setting a goal such that it is a motivating one. I’m thinking we recently interviewed Michal Bungay Stanier who was talking about making goals really juicy and epic that get you going or worthy. What does the research suggest makes a goal more motivating versus less motivating?

Ayelet Fishbach
So, yes, I agree that juicy is good, a goal that is enticing. We find that goals that are intrinsic, that feel good to pursue are motivating. We find that goals that are challenging are more motivating. And so, ideally, you should think about setting a goal that you have maybe 80% chance of achieving on a daily basis. You will not always be successful but you will also not be so unsuccessful that you will give up. The error can be on both sides, and the study shows that when people are in this zone, where they are not sure that they can do it, but if they work hard, they will. In this uncertain zone, this is where you see the energy level picks up.

We want people to set “do” goals more than “do not” goals, or approach goals not avoidance. The early research on this actually looked at thought suppression and Wiseman described that the study seemed intuitive. It’s much easier to ask people to think about something than not to think about something.

I can ask you to think about brown bears. You can do this. If I asked you not to think about white bears, that’s impossible. I can ask you to think about your current partner. You can do this. If I asked you not to think about your ex, you think about your ex, I think. It’s really hard not to do that. And, indeed, do-not goals are harder. They seem urgent, so if you want to do something immediately, then avoidance goals are maybe a good fit, but usually try to avoid them.

Pete Mockaitis
Avoiding avoidance goals.

Ayelet Fishbach
And a number, put a number on it is something that is pulling you toward it. One of the nice studies on that looked at marathon runners. A marathon runner tried to run the marathon under four hours, and so there are many more people that finished the marathon in three hours and 59 minutes than in four hours and one minute.

Pete Mockaitis
I bet, yeah.

Ayelet Fishbach
Right? Because it’s just like you really want to do this under four hours, so you just try to push very hard toward the end. It’s such a nice demonstration of the power of goals.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you mentioned four key principles there. One is sort of what do we do with the other stuff, like in the morning example, like there’s other stuff that happens in the morning. What are some of the best practices there?

Ayelet Fishbach
So, we never just want one thing. I would say that, to begin with, we need to realize that we want several things simultaneously. And we can think about identifying activities that achieve several things simultaneously. And so, a good way to pursue a goal is such that you also get something else out of doing it. If you bike to work, you get your commute and your exercise and saving money at the same time.

Some activities help some goals but interfere with other goals. If I make my lunch at home, well, I will be eating healthily and I will save money, but this is going to interfere with my goal to get to work on time because I have a lot to do in the morning and I’m slow.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. We’re socializing when the colleagues go out to Chipotle or wherever.

Ayelet Fishbach
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Oh, well, I just have this, so, sorry.”

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes. And so, thinking about the impact that your action has on multiple goals is important. So, some activities achieve several goals, and they are good. We call them multi-final. Sometimes we fare to the saying, “Feed two birds with one scone,” if you will. Think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
This is very clever. Scone, stone, wow. This is an original. I like it.

Ayelet Fishbach
Thank you. So, other activities are what we call equifinal. This is all roads lead to Rome. So, there are several activities to achieve the same thing and when you think about this superficially, it feels like, “Well, why do I need more than one path to pursue a goal? Why do I need another way of exercising?” given that you just identified this thing that works so well for you. Well, we need that as a backup plan, and we need this to increase our confidence.

And so, when people identify several ways to do the same thing, they are more confident. One of the studies that I like, found that for new gym goers, new people at the gym, learning that there many options to get their exercise increase their motivation. For those that have been there for a while, that doesn’t really matter.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Yeah, I already knew that. Thanks.”

Ayelet Fishbach
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay.

Ayelet Fishbach
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And then social support? I’m all about accountability groups, or people challenging and inspiring and being workout buddies, or whatever. What are some of your top do’s and don’ts when it comes to social support?

Ayelet Fishbach
So, there are a few ways in which we should think about social support. There are some goals that we are doing with others, and many of the important things that we do, we do with others. I do my research with others. I raise children with my spouse. I work with colleagues. We do things with other people. And then we should think about, “How do we make sure that we are efficient in our division of labor, how to combat social loafing?”

And many of the strategies that motivation scientists think about are meant to combat social loafing. How do we make sure that, when several of us are doing something together, we are not doing less? The classic studies found that when you put a few people and ask them to do something, either to pull a rope or just make a lot of noise, more people, less work that everybody is doing. And so, we think about how to make contribution identifiable, how to increase the identity of a person as a group member so that the presence of other people will not make them work less hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, this brings me back to thinking about band in high school because I was pretty mediocre as a saxophonist, not the best, not the worst. But then, boy, when there were times when each person had to individually go into the room and play the piece for the director, the practicing really happened because there was no hiding in the crowd as to the sound. It’s like he knew what you could do and what you couldn’t do, not that he was going to scream at you but you just didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t know how to play the stuff. That’s just not a pleasant feeling.

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes, as long as you remember that you need to listen to these kids individually sometimes, then you could keep the motivation high. If it’s hard to identify who’s doing what, then we tend to procrastinate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Ayelet Fishbach
Then the other aspect of social support is just the people that are helping you with your own goals. So, they are there, they want more of the real estate, they want you to do well. You really need those people to keep going. It is actually impossible to adhere to any goal when the people around you think this is fully so unnecessary.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so these are some great principles. And I’d love it if you could help me get creative about applying them into some career situations. I guess I’m thinking about the stuff that tends to get left behind. And maybe it’s the email inboxes that never seems to hit zero, or maybe there are some strategic thinking and things I want to run after, or maybe there are some goals that show up in my annual review and I never seem to find the time to actually advance them until it’s a bit of a scramble towards before the next annual review.

So, in these sorts of fuzzy things that might be hard to put a number on, etc., and might not even be things we are interested in intrinsically, how do we work some magic to tap into an extra level of motivation on the tricky ones?

Ayelet Fishbach
So, these are ongoing goals. The problem with email is exactly as you mentioned. It never ends.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ayelet Fishbach
You might get to zero emails at some time in your life. It will probably last till like 30 seconds, so it’s really just keep doing it. It’s not reaching the end of it. And when goals don’t have a clear beginning or end, they are much harder to pursue. I talk in the book about the middle problem, which happens for goals that do have a beginning and end. But in the middle, motivation is not great, like, “I started the project. I was all into it. I’m about to submit the project. I’m super energized, but in the months in between, I can’t bring myself to work on that thing. This is hard.”

In our studies, we found that people relax their performance standards, they even relax their ethical standards. In one study, like, we found the people literally cut corners in the middle. That is we gave people five shapes, like drawn on paper, and a pair of scissors, and they had to cut them. And the first shape looked great. The last shape was pretty decent. In the middle, they literally cut corners. They were not good at their job.

And I think that this is a bit with like the problem with email, “It’s just that it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I’m just like on the treadmill, keep going.” It helps to find some markers, some beginnings, some ends, that sets your daily goal to answer a certain number of emails or address a certain aspect of the work so that you can achieve it and get to something that you can accomplish, to some end.

I also want to add that we ran a study a few years back in an advertising company where we asked people that was in Seoul, in South Korea, and we asked half of the people to reflect back on what they achieved, and the other half to reflect on what they have yet to achieve. So, either look at what you’ve done or what you still have to do.

And what we found is that those who look back were happier with their job, and those who looked ahead were more motivated to move forward. They had a higher level of aspiration. And so, yes, they were more thrusted with their current position but they were also more eager to do something else that’s even better. And I thought that that was good.

Pete Mockaitis
So, they’re both getting some good vibes. Can we recap? So, with people looking back, felt more what?

Ayelet Fishbach
Felt better about what they do. They liked what they do more.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so maybe more satisfied with where things stand. And then those who looked forward were more hungry to get after it. Is that fair to say?

Ayelet Fishbach
Yeah, they wanted to be on the next level already. They wanted to progress.

Pete Mockaitis
interesting. Well, I guess now I want to know in terms of their behaviors afterwards because, in some ways, feeling good sometimes results in us taking care of business. In other times, feeling good results in us chilling out and not pushing it as much.

Ayelet Fishbach
Exactly. And we can predict when we will see each one of them. The less committed people tend to work harder when they feel good about what they do, when they look back, and they say, “Well, I already did some,” they work harder. The fully committed people are more motivated when they get feedback on what they have not yet done. Although, in this study that I told you, we didn’t really look at commitment. Everybody was pretty committed. We really just wanted to see how high is their level of aspiration, how much they want to already be doing the next thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is great. So, we got a lot of nice foundational fundamental principles to bear in mind as we’re designing goals and chasing after them and how we pursue them. I’m curious about sort of in the heat of battle, in the moment, it’s like, “Aah, I just don’t feel like it.” Any tips, tools, stuff to do then and there?

Ayelet Fishbach
I would ask why you feel like this.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I didn’t get a great night’s sleep. Oh, I’ve just been going at it for a while. I’m just kind of tired of it.”

Ayelet Fishbach
Yeah. Well, so you say that you didn’t get enough sleep, but the way you were, pretending to be that person that’s unmotivated, it sounded like you’re just not excited about what’s ahead of you. You look at your day and it seems kind of boring. It’s not intrinsically motivating. And if that would be my diagnosis, now, notice that I encourage people to run their own diagnosis. But in our play here, I’m diagnosing that what you do is just not exciting for you, so either you bring excitement to what you do or you do something else. You find another path to be successful at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, so how does one bring excitement to what you do when it’s not there naturally?

Ayelet Fishbach
Something that you can do, actually, pretty easy, you can try to listen to music while you work. You can try to make your environment more enticing, so put around you images of things that make it more fun. In one of our studies, we encouraged students in a math class to listen to music while they were working on their problems.

The teachers were unhappy with us but the students were doing more math problems. I don’t think that they were more excited about the math. They were more excited about the music, or some support, some color of pencils, so it kind of made it a party. So, you can make your office more like a party without changing the actual work that you need to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true. I guess I’m thinking about there are times when I’ll take a phone call while walking, and so that’s kind of more interesting. Or, if I don’t need much brain power, like while organizing an area, a space, tidying up so it’s sort of like, “This call, I’m not looking forward to, but there is something that I can feel better about in doing that that works for me.” So, that’s cool. Thank you.

Ayelet Fishbach
And if you think about it, many people go to work to be with other people that they like, so it’s really not about the task. I’m not saying that you should not do something interesting. I think that everybody should try to find something interesting to do that the work in itself is rewarding. But in terms of an immediate change that you could do, you could do it with people that you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. What colors you like, colored pencils for the math problems. I think a great pencil makes an impact. Sure. Okay. And then do you have some thoughts when it comes to when we’re motivating ourselves versus trying to motivate others? Do kind of like the same rules and principles apply or are there some distinctions and ways we want to play the game a bit differently based on the target?

Ayelet Fishbach
That’s an interesting question. The main difference is when we look at incentives. Research on incentives, it’s easier to think about how to incentivize others than to incentivize yourself. Of course, you can use the wrong incentives for others as well as for yourself. In the book, I give the story of French colonials in Hanoi. They were trying to get rid of the rats that were all over the city, which was partially because the way that the French colonials built the city but, anyways, there are rats everywhere, and they decided to have a bounty system by which they give people a cent for a dead rat, actually for the tail of the rat.

Terrible incentive systems because the way to make money is by bringing dead rats, and the way to have dead rats is by, first, having live rats, and so the residents of Hanoi were breeding rats in order to get the money from the government. So, incentives can backfire and cannot do what we intended them to do, whether we incentivize others or ourselves. But when we incentivize ourselves, that’s, in particular, hard because we often find it hard to think how will we do that. And this is where often we see people struggling, like, “What do I give myself? And how do I make sure that I don’t give it to myself when I don’t deserve it?” Not impossible, but harder. And the other end, self-control is much more when incentivizing ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. It’s almost sounds like you need a referee in terms of like, “I’m going to have some chocolate when I accomplish this thing.” But if you have the chocolate in the corner, it’s like, “Well, it’s right. I guess I can just have it now regardless of whether I do the thing.” So, I don’t have any clever ideas other than having a referee, a gatekeeper, holder of the chocolate or whatever, monitoring things. Are there any other tricks?

Ayelet Fishbach
I think that you are referring to having another person helping you, and absolutely having other people is always helpful. Giving gifts to yourself, a thing that you would not afford on a daily basis, like this coffee that’s way too expensive so you only give it to yourself when you feel that you have done something special, or going to the spa because you exercised a certain number of days this month, which, again, might be something that you, well, you can afford every week but is a reward. That’s harder.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, if it’s indulgent and kind of inaccessible, then that just sort of makes sense in terms of you’re less likely to say, “Well, I’m just taking a spa day here on Tuesday. Just that what’s happening.” That, of course, requires a little bit of thinking and planning in terms of like the obligations of the day and, yeah, I guess you’d feel more lame if you just took the incentive prematurely as opposed to chocolate which is something you might do anyway.

Ayelet Fishbach
Yes, exactly. Yes.

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

Ayelet Fishbach
Gosh, so you already realized that I am thinking about many things that people can do to keep themselves motivated. I will follow your question because if you just let me talk, we are going to just like, “Aargh.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ayelet Fishbach
Oh, a favorite quote. Let me go with Gramsci, “History teaches but it has no pupils.” The way I take it is that there is a lot of feedback out there but we often don’t learn. And I am particularly reminded of this when I look at how much people learn from negative feedback and from setbacks. And we often think about negative feedback and setbacks as something that you should just ignore and keep going. And I say, “Well, there was some interesting important lesson there. Have you learned that? Maybe not.” So, I will go with “History teaches but it has no pupils.”

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

Ayelet Fishbach
We did a study in which we wanted to explore people’s aversion to investing in means, like people want to invest their resources in this thing itself, not in a means to the thing.

And so, we auctioned a signed by a University of Chicago economist to some people, and they told us how much they’re willing to pay, and the highest bid is going to get the book. Then we took another group of people from the same population, and we auctioned a tote bag, actually a fancy tote bag that contained the same book.

And so, we asked these people, “How much are you willing to pay for the bag that contains this book?” People were willing to pay around $25 for the book and around $12 or $13 for the bag and the book. In economic terms, the value of the bag was negative. And so, that was a very cool illustration of how much we don’t like to invest our resources with a thing that is not the thing itself, that is a way to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m just going to chew on that for a while. Thank you. Whew, that just makes me think about so many businesses in terms of you can buy a virtual assistant, that’s another business I run. You can pay for a virtual assistant, or you can pay for a podcast production. And that person is doing that thing, and yet how you present it can have wildly different implications for willingness to pay and such. And that’s kind of mind-blowing. Thank you. Whew!

All right. And how about a favorite book?

Ayelet Fishbach
I read a lot of novels so I would say my favorite book, anything by Elena Ferrante – how does it work? – “The Lying Life of Adults.”

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

Ayelet Fishbach
So, that was an important question. Go to my webpage AyeletFishbach.com. Everything is there, information on my book, on my social media, on my research, my publications, my teaching, this podcast hopefully soon. Everything is on AyeletFishbach.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Ayelet Fishbach
Okay. So, how can you work better with other people? How can you bring someone to help you, bring someone who is your role model, do something in order to connect to a person? Your challenge will be to do something with another person either in order to do it better or to connect better to that person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Ayelet, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and motivation in all your pursuits.

Ayelet Fishbach
Thank you very much. I hope so and I very much enjoyed talking to you.

723: The Crucial Perspectives of Effective Leaders with Daniel Harkavy

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Daniel Harkavy walks through his proven framework for elevating your leadership.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The seven perspectives of effective leaders 
  2. The critical first step to elevating your leadership
  3. Three questions to help you build your compelling vision 

About Daniel

Over the past twenty-five years, Daniel Harkavy has coached thousands of business leaders to peak levels of performance, efficacy, and fulfillment. In 1996, he harnessed his passion for coaching teams and leaders to found Building Champions where he serves as CEO and Executive Coach. Today the company has over 30 employees, with a team of 20 executive and leadership coaches who provide guidance to thousands of clients and organizations. His previous best-selling books include Living Forward, a simple framework for prioritizing your self-leadership, and Becoming a Coaching Leader, a step-by-step guide to moving from manager to coaching leader. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 
  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow 

Daniel Harkavy Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Daniel, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Daniel Harkavy
Thank you very much for having me. Looking forward to our conversation, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Me, too. Me, too. And I want to kick us off by getting right for the good stuff, Daniel. Don’t want to risk it. Can you tell us one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made about leadership, having spent over 25 years coaching business leaders?

Daniel Harkavy
That’s a good question. All right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you got front-row seat coaching these folks.

Daniel Harkavy
Crazy seat. Yeah, crazy seat.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to hear some of these insights from your book, The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders. But, yeah, I imagine some of the couple aha moments in which you’ve discovered some patterns, like, “Wow, these high performers across the board, they all got this sort of thing going on.”

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, and I would, you know, Pete, it’s a great question. I want to start off by saying that they’re really comfortable in their own skin, and they’re humans. I remember in my younger years, Pete, I was so intimidated as a result of the privilege I had. I earn some sort of privilege. It was this unmerited favor, where if you looked at my CV or my resume, if you looked at accomplishments in previous years, I would’ve questioned whether or not I would’ve allowed me into the room to sit as an executive coach to this leader.

And I find myself in that situation still. I’m 57. I find myself in that situation constantly. But I remember coming to a place, and it was mid-40s, where I just said, “You know what, I have a unique gift, and the leaders that I get to work with, they’re really comfortable with who they are and who they’re not, and they don’t need to fake it, they don’t need to act like the smartest person in the room,” which is going to lead me to another big aha, and I want to just add value to your listeners.

The best leaders, I said this on a podcast just a while ago, the best leaders don’t feel the need to have all the right answers. The best leaders feel the need to ask all of the right questions. You can tell a man is wise not by the answers that he gives but by the questions he asks. They’re intentionally curious. There’s just this insatiable appetite to learn and to understand so that they can make better decisions. And, in so doing, they gain influence. And that’s the premise of my last book, so it was a big one for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And I appreciate that they know who they are and they know who they’re not. And I’m finding more and more of that lately, just in terms of, “You know what, real estate investing, probably not for me.”

Daniel Harkavy
Good to figure that out.

Pete Mockaitis
It seems really cool, and my hat’s off to people, but it’s sort of like there’s only a very tiny sliver of what happens in real estate investing that I’m really good at and love, and there’s a whole lot of stuff that I’m not so great at. So, there’s that. But teaching, oh, yeah, game on. Let’s do more of that.

Daniel Harkavy
Oh, that’s great. What you do is, when you figure out which few lanes you’ve just got a lot of passion for, and you seem to win, and they create momentum for you in other areas of your life, they’re life-giving, stay in those lanes. And then if there are some adjacencies or different lanes that are just interesting to you, don’t hold back from trying. You have to try that real estate investing. If there’s something in you that says, “You know, I’m curious. I’m going to try it,” try it and don’t let failure do anything other than teach you.

If you come to a place where it’s like, “All right, I learned. I learned I don’t like that. I learned that that energy is not worth the result so I’m going to place the energy elsewhere,” – great. Keep taking           risks but really know where you can make that difference. For you teaching, you get to invest your time into making a difference and elevating thinking and belief and performance of all those that sit and who have curiosity and the desire to learn. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. All right. So, you mentioned in your book The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders: A Proven Framework for Improving Decisions and Increasing Your Influence you kind of mentioned the big idea. Could you expand upon it? What’s your core message or thesis here?

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, a leader’s effectiveness is determined by just, only, just two things – your decision-making and your influence. And I have been having conversations with leaders of organizations here in the US, as well as leaders around the globe, and said, “Just challenge me. Like, tell me I’m wrong.” And I’ve had one in particular said, “No, Daniel, you have to have integrity. It’s not just decision-making and influence.”

And I said, “No, no, no, having integrity is what’s required in order for you to be a good leader. But if you want to then move from being a good leader to an effective leader, an effective leader makes fantastic decisions and they have maximum influence because leadership is all about mobilizing a group of people, leading them from a place today to a better place tomorrow. So, you have to make great decisions in order to create strategies and to align yourself with the right people, and then to empower those people, equip those people, and allow those people to do what they need to be doing, which is where influence comes into play.”

So, I take leadership, which is a huge topic, and I just say, “Hey, here’s kind of the connect-the-dots and let’s make it easy – decision-making and influence.” So, how do you elevate your decision-making and your influence? That’s where the seven perspectives come in.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I was, indeed, just about to ask that. And so, you made a distinction there. I guess integrity, a good leader, as in one who is ethical and moral, versus an effective leader, one who gets the job done to bring in folks to improved destination. Is that kind of the contrast you’re making there?

Daniel Harkavy
Well, you can’t be an effective leader without being a good leader. So, it’s almost like the next rung on the ladder, so, yeah, you could be a good leader. You could be a good leader, meaning you’re a good person, and you do good, and maybe people like you and you’re respected. But to be truly effective, you may be investing a lot of energy and time in areas of the business that are not…they’re not leading to the results that you want. So, how do you continue to finetune your thinking, belief, and behavior so that you get the best results and you’re effective?

So, in 2014, I was so curious about leadership efficacy that I started doing a lot of intentional observation because, at that time, I was approaching two decades doing what I was doing, and that was following a decade in business prior to in leadership, and I just wanted to try to make it simple. So, the seven perspectives used to be five, and I started using them in organizations. And I started to bring executive teams around together for two-day retreats to focus on five, which then grew to seven, and they became communication and execution models in businesses.

So, the seven perspectives are current reality, long-term vision, strategic bets, the perspective of the team, the perspective of the customer, the perspective of your role, and the perspective of the outsider. If you have intentional curiosity and then you exercise discipline and place time and energy into those seven, really, six of the seven, the sixth perspective, your role, elevates as does your efficacy. So, that’s it at a very high level, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, when it comes to the perspectives, I guess the word perspective means just that, “I’m sort of stepping into the shoes, or trying on the glasses of a different party or view of things.” And that makes sense that when you think about things from each of those seven different perspectives, you see different things, like, “Hey, my current reality is this, and maybe there are some things I don’t like so much. And then my long-term vision is that, which is different from my current reality. And what my customer thinks is probably, ‘I don’t care at all about all those operational things you’ve got going on behind the scenes. Just give me my burrito on time, or whatever, your business is.’”

So, I like that just in terms of thinking about, “Hey, let’s hop into a different perspective and see what bubbles up.” So, once I know the perspectives, what do I do with them to get better at decision-making and influencing?

Daniel Harkavy
Well, knowing the perspectives does you jack. Doing the seven perspectives is where you see the meter move.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how do I do a perspective?

Daniel Harkavy
You allocate time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Daniel Harkavy
You allocate time. There are probably some principles, Pete, that have to be unpacked. One principle is that “Better humans make for better leaders.” So, a leader’s job is to surround himself with really good humans who are both wicked smart and have high potential. When you, as a leader, do that, well, then you actually know that the people around you are the best ones to make the majority of the decisions.

So, what you’re doing is, a great leader is really curious. In current reality, perspective one, you’re spending time understanding the mechanics of the business. There’s this old saying that’s probably before your time, but you may have heard it. You’ve heard of the ivory tower leader?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Daniel Harkavy
Where’s that come from? What’s an ivory tower leader, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the idea is it’s someone who is aloft, removed from the day-to-day kind of operational realities of how things really are, and instead up in a fancy ivory tower, just sort of thinking or pontificating and sharing theoretically how things ought to be. That’s kind of the picture that comes to mind.

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, and you’re spot on, my man. So, think about working in an organization where you have an ivory tower leader. Is that leader making decisions that are leading to great results? And do those that are several rungs below in the organization, is that leader winning influence?

Pete Mockaitis
No. You know, as I chuckled, I was thinking, it’s like, “No, but I hope they’re writing good pieces for the Harvard Business Review that are giving us credibility and leads.”

Daniel Harkavy
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, that’s about all I could hope for from the ivory tower leader. Just a thought leadership in PR.

Daniel Harkavy
And you know what, you get great case studies. You do. So, that’s why I say current reality is your starting point because you get it. If you don’t have both feet firmly planted in current reality, if you don’t understand the operational realities, the levers to pull, the inputs to look at, if you don’t understand the mechanics of the business, well, then you impede your ability to make great decisions because you don’t understand what it’s like to do the business today. And then, as a result of that, you lose influence.

So, perspective one is foundation; both feet firmly planted. If you don’t have that, okay, starting point on your way is GPS, or your Google Maps is screwed up. So, good luck getting to a better tomorrow. You’re lost already.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we got to get a really clear picture on what is current reality. And I think I recall from – is it the book 1776 – that was like a theme that I came to over and over again, “George Washington’s greatest trait was that he saw reality as it was as opposed to how he would like it to be.” Really hammered that thesis home.

And so, how do we get there? We talk to people. Any sort of key questions or activities that help us get a really clear true picture of the actual current reality?

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, we understand the historical, we know which reports to look at, we know which dashboard, we know the content of the dashboard, we understand what the plans are for the year ahead, that’s all part of current reality. And then we invest time in some of the other perspectives which help to inform current reality. So, let’s camp on that current reality. And I will tell you, the best leaders spend time where they’re looking at the health of the business. They do a report review. They do a dashboard review.

Depending on the health of the business, that can be hour-by-hour if in crisis, and I’ve been there before. Or, if the business is running really, really well, it’s weekly or monthly, depending upon where you are in the business. But you understand you never get away from the workings of the business. The best CEOs, Pete, I don’t care if they’re like 70,000 employees, they’re still spending time on the frontlines, they’re in the factory, they’re in the restaurant, they’re in the hospital room floor, they’re in where the product or service is being experienced.

And it’s so important, Pete, that perspective is actually the perspective when you’re on the floor, and you’re in the restaurant, when you’re in the factory. There are a few things you’re looking for and you’re gaining perspective from the team and from the customer. And I used to have all of that combined into one perspective, and I was like, “No, it’s so important that you need to parse it out.” So, it went from five perspectives to seven. And one of the reasons it went from five to seven was because I added the perspective of the customer. All of that informs current reality.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then in terms of the seven perspectives, so knowing them and saying that you want to get a clear view of each of them is swell. I love it in terms of hanging out where the product or service is experienced is great for getting a view of what’s the true current reality, spending some time, getting up in there and not hanging out far away in an ivory tower, are great.

I’m curious if there are any particular all-time fave approaches that tend to yield boatloads of insight and surprise for folks, like, “I think walking around and talking to people is wise and should be done, and is often not.” So, it’s valuable just to remind people to go ahead and do that. What are some things that really open eyes? Is it a survey or is it a demo? Is it being an undercover boss, like the reality TV show? What are some of the, I guess, research approaches that really illuminate these perspectives super well?

Daniel Harkavy
So, there’s not a one instrument or process response for all of the different perspectives. They all require different energy, different discipline, different time. So, you say survey or an undercover boss. If you want the perspective of the team, the best leaders place such a high value in meeting with the team. You don’t need to overcomplicate it.

One of the guys in the book is Frank Blake. And Frank Blake is the non-executive chairman of Delta Airlines. He was the CEO of Home Depot for eight years and he’s part of our roundtable. We do a CEO roundtable in probably, let’s just call it July of last year. Yeah, probably either July or September. Frank serves as non-exec chair for Delta, plus he serves for several other, on other boards.

And what he was realizing, as he was talking to executive teams, was the leaders, when the pandemic first started, were doing a great job with a megaphone, “This is what’s happening. This is where we’re headed. This is the vision that we’re reporting out.” But with everyone going home, what was being missed was the one-on-one conversations that would take place over a lunch break, or, “Hey, let’s go for a walk,” or, “We have scheduled one-on-ones in the office.” That was being missed.

So, Frank was with this other group of CEOs, or a group of our clients and peers, and he said, “You guys, I’m having people over to my house, executive team members for Delta and other organizations that I serve on. I’m having them over on my porch for tea. If you want the perspective of the team, you have people over, sit outside in today’s times, and you have tea. This stuff may seem simple but I’m talking to you about Fortune One companies, and where are the pain points.”

Relationship is what suffered. And looking somebody in the eyes, and going, “Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on? What do you need to win? What are you seeing that I need to see?” There’s no instrument that will help you to see what’s not being said or to hear what’s not being said in the conversation. So, this one-on-one piece is the most effective.

Now, you use surveys to help guide your questions. Surveys are fantastic, but you don’t stop. That’s for the perspective of the team. And then you look at the perspective of the customer. I think of Martin Daum, who’s the chairman of Daimler, and Martin, again in the book, a client for seven, eight years, Martin and his organization, or Tim Tassopoulos and his organization over at Chick-fil-A, two radically different businesses.

Mercedes Benz, Daimler, trucks and buses, the largest organization in that space in the world, market share is more than 40%, Chick-fil-A, they outperform their restaurant-type peers in ridiculous ways, their leaders spend time in the restaurants or in the trucks with the drivers, talking to the customer, or in the restaurant with the people eating the food, talking to the customer.

So, you can look at surveys and you can glean insights but the best leaders are sitting down with the customers, saying, “What’s it like to do business with us? What do you like? What don’t you like? What would you like us to add? What would you like us to take away? What works well? What doesn’t? What would cause you to leave us and go to a competitor?” They just ask really great questions, but they invest the time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, I’m curious then, as I think about the seven perspectives, strategic bets seem to stand out in terms of it’s like current reality, the customer, the role, the outsider, the team, I hear like, “Oh, yeah, those are perspectives.” How do I take the perspective of the strategic bet?

Daniel Harkavy
All right. So, the perspective of the strategic bet is perspective three, and it comes after perspective two, which is vision. See, perspective one, current reality, allows you to manage the business but that doesn’t guarantee leadership efficacy. You’re managing well if you understand current reality. Vision has to be clear and compelling. You and your team need to see a better tomorrow if you’re going to engage the heads and the hearts of your people, so you have to see a better tomorrow.

And if you have that perspective two, long-term vision, then you create a gap from where we are today in 2021 to where we’d like to be in 2025 or 2030. That gap is where you build strategy. Seventy-five percent of organizations fail in execution of strategy because they don’t have the right starting point, current reality, they lack the resources, whether that be people, time, money, expertise, or they lack that strong anchor of long-term vision so that when the going gets tough, they don’t stick with it.

If you’ve got current reality and you have long-term vision, then there’s a higher probability of you picking the right strategic bets that will move you from current reality to that long-term vision. So, strategic bets are strategies that are grounded in current reality and anchored in long-term vision. Good, you’ve got your two waypoints on your GPS. Then those strategic bets, you can’t have too many of them or the risk of failure is great, the strategic bets are the result of the team giving input, understanding what the customer needs, those other perspectives, and you stack the odds in your favor so the bets pay off.

You make sure you’ve got the resources. You make sure you’ve got the leader. You make sure you’ve got the team. You make sure you have the right people and the rhythms. You set the gates so you know whether you’re on track to hit the destination or off track, then you pivot and you adjust. They’re not guarantees; they’re dynamic. Then you know when to kill them. Some bets just need to, you know, know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Sometimes you just let them go. But if you win on two or three over a long period of time, they can change the game for your business, but they’re not guarantees, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then I’m curious, could you maybe give us a story in which we tie it all together in terms of there’s a leader who apparently didn’t have the fullest picture on one or more of the perspectives, and he or she did some things to get that perspective, and what unfolded?

Daniel Harkavy
So, I can think of a gentleman by the name of Hartmut Schick.

Hartmut Schick works for Daimler Trucks Asia, he’s the CEO. And one of my fellow CEO mentors on my Building Champions team, Tom Brewer and I did a two-day retreat with them, and we’ve been doing executive team work with the organization in their different op-coms, their different leadership teams around the world for seven years. But he was newer to doing it with his team. He served at the board level, which I’d work with for a while, but we did it with his team in Tokyo.

What we did was we structured two days to look at the overall business from six perspectives. We wanted to, well, excuse me, from the first five perspectives – current reality all the way through the customer. Then we had a session around how that impacts your role. Tom and I were the outsiders that spoke into questions and challenged. At the end of two days, they said it was the most effective meeting they’ve had. And then what he did was he communicated throughout the entire organization, thousands of people, as to what the leadership team, their op-com, had been through and how they saw the business.

So, he architected all of his communication from that point forward, all of their meetings from that point forward, around the different perspectives. It takes the complicated and it makes it simple. Because if you talk about a matrix organization that’s global, that gets parts from Detroit, that has manufacturing in South Africa, that is relying on chips coming from India, that has the frames built in Germany, that is delivering a product that is going to be driven in the streets of Sephora, with a customer base that can be everywhere, it’s so complicated.

What you do is you take that complicated and you put it into thinking buckets or perspectives, and it helps everybody to think better, which is a leader’s greatest responsibility. So, Hartmut is just one where I was so pleased because it was pretty neat to see years ago them adopt the model, the framework, then send the notes out to the entire organization around it, and now leading the organization as they do all of their exec retreats where they focus on each of the primary five, with the help of the seventh, then it impacts their role so they know how to function quarter by quarter.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m intrigued, so most effective meeting ever, that’s awesome. Good job. And having the seven perspectives enables some more simplicity and clarity as opposed to, “Ahh, I’m just kind of confused and overwhelmed by all this stuff.” Could you maybe dig in a little bit in terms of, and we can protect their confidentiality and use other examples if you want to, but I would love it if you could give us a demonstration before our eyes, to see, “Oh, yeah, sure enough. I was kind of stuck and fuzzy in a realm of complexity before I kind of segmented into some perspectives, and now I see how, yeah, that’s a lot easier”?

Daniel Harkavy
Every organization, when you look at how their executive team, and then the teams that move through the organization as you move down, if you look at their meeting notes and agendas, the agendas for their meetings, and then you look at the output of their meetings, you’ll see for most a lot of frustration. And the reason for the frustration is because there’s too much on the agenda for the time, or the agenda items aren’t the right agenda items, or there’s not the right information or clarity around, “What we’re supposed to be doing in those meetings.”

So, what will happen often is people, they don’t think in parallel. There’s a book that I would recommend to you, Pete, if you haven’t read it, and to your listeners if they’re interested in how to help people think better. And it is the Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono.

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, yes.

Daniel Harkavy
Parallel thinking. Awesome, right? You say, “Ah, yes,” because you know him or know of his work, right? Awesome. Well, his whole deal is, get people to think in parallel. So, how the seven perspectives help is you label what we’re going to talk about, “For the first 45 minutes, what we’re going to do is we’re going to do an update on the current reality of the business. What are the key metrics that we need to be looking at so that everybody in the organization gets up to speed? The accountants don’t see the same things that the salespeople see, the marketers don’t see the same things that supply chain sees, the CTOs don’t see the same things that the customer-experience people see.”

So, when you’re going to bring people together, you need to elevate awareness so they’re all seeing it and thinking it because they’re responsible for the global success, the organizational success, not just their department. You with me?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Daniel Harkavy
Current reality gets us on that level of playing field so everyone understands. Even though I’m the CFO, I need to understand what’s happening on the customer front. Even though I’m marketing, I need to understand what’s happening on the technology front. Even though I’m technology, I need to understand what’s happening on the customer experience front.

So, we spend time getting everybody to current reality, starting point on the GPS, “Everybody have all the white hat, all the information you need to have? Good. That will inform the next conversation.” We talk vision, “All right. This is where we’re still headed. Are we messaging it correctly? Does everybody on the team understand how their job is contributing to the bigger picture?”

Oftentimes, people get stuck in their four-by-four cubicle or, in today’s times, they get stuck in their home office and Zoom and they’ve forgotten that the function they’re doing day in and day out, Monday through Friday, is equating to a greater impact. They just see it as role-specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. So, Daniel, that’s how we get the picture of current reality. So, then tell us, how do we go about getting a great understanding of the perspective on long-term vision?

Daniel Harkavy
And as I’ve mentioned, you think about the first three perspectives as components to a GPS. So, if you’ve got your starting point, that’s current reality, without that destination of having a clear compelling vision, then it’s really difficult for leaders to lead themselves and their teams and their organizations well.

And most great leaders have the gift of making the invisible visible. They can see who they want the organization to become and how they want the organization to basically serve or function in the future. They don’t see it with absolute 20/20 clarity, but they see enough to where it’s like, “All right, that’s exciting, so it’s compelling. I’ll take risks. We, as an organization, will take risks.” It’s compelling and then it’s clear. It’s got to be clear so that you can build that third component, those strategic bets, to move you from where you are to where you want to go.

So, Pete, we’ve got a model for how we help organizations and leaders build vision, and if you want me to unpack that, I’m more than happy to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, what are the components there?

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah. So, years ago, we said that all teammates, they’re spending the majority of their waking hours at this thing called work, and they’ve got questions, either consciously or subconsciously. And the questions are around these three Bs. We call it 3B vision. What do we belong to? Who we’re going to become? And what are we going to build?

And if your vision can answer those questions, belonging in today’s time is being really valuable. And then, “Who are we going to become?” like, if I hitched to your wagon, tell me how I grow, we grow, because most people don’t go to work and just want to be average. They want to win and they want to create something special, so, “Who are we going to become?” And then, very specifically, “What are we going to build? If this thing all works right, and if we sacrifice for another 10 years, 5 years, 20 years, whatever it may be, what is it that we will have built that will be significant and will make a meaningful difference in the community or the world?”

And if you can answer those three questions from a vision perspective, between you, the leader, and your leadership team, and you really start to build a compelling picture, like I said, you paint something that you can begin repeating over and over again, well, then you start to engage not only the heads but the hearts of your people.

When people actually come together in really healthy ways, and they will be more selfless to pursue a greater purpose, a greater mission, because they want to see that happen, instead of just coming to work today, and going, “Yup, just doing my job. Got to count 17 widgets. Counted 17 widgets. Built 17 widgets. Oh, well, ho-hum. Clock out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then when we think about a long-term vision, could you share with us a really excellent articulation of that in terms of the belonging, the becoming, and the building versus a not-so excellent articulation of that?

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah. So, here’s the thing, if I were to show you the Building Champions vision, it’s about eight pages long because the belong piece is answered by your convictions and the behaviors that go along with those convictions. Those behaviors are what begin to establish guardrails and build culture in an organization.

And then the second piece of belong is purpose. So, what’s your organization’s purpose? So, in the last several weeks, I’ve been with two organizations where one of them, being a global organization, we just got back from Germany a couple weeks ago, and they were putting together convictions, the things they’ll fight for, and then the correlating behaviors. And that exercise takes a day, but when you’re done with it, you come away with like five or six convictions. And an organization like them, some 20 plus behaviors that they want to hold one another accountable to so that they know how leaders and teammates should behave in order for that culture to be healthy and dynamic.

So, for me to share a healthy, or for me to share a good example of that, that’s me reading me through five or six convictions and a purpose, and then 20 some behaviors. And then you move to “Who are we going to become?” and that’s paragraph by paragraph, “Who are we going to become in the community? Who are we going to become from a technological perspective? Who are we going to become as a team? Who are we going to become in the vertical? Really, what are we going to be known for?” And that can just be paragraph by paragraph.

The more clear you are in painting that picture, then it’s easier to begin executing on tactics and strategies to go there. And then, on the final, “What are we going to build?” that can be just some Herculean compelling and vision. If you studied Collins and Porras years back, they called that the big hairy audacious goal. For Nike, it was, “Crush Adidas.” It’s something that’s so big that everyone is going to work for it. It’s going to probably be a career’s worth of energy. So, that’s me telling you, “Do you want me to spend 15 minutes and read you through a vision?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that just understanding that that’s what it looks like, and if you could maybe share with us some links, we’ll include in the show notes, that’d be cool. But maybe, for now, could you give us an example or two of a conviction and some associated behaviors that flow from them?

Daniel Harkavy
Oh, you bet. You bet.

Daniel Harkavy
So, here’s some real good work that was done by one of our clients. They did some work with our team to go through these convictions to behaviors exercise. And this organization is in the financial services industry, and their convictions are integrity, creativity, family, and fun. So, let’s take creativity and we’ll use that one to riff on. They have creativity, “We embrace and drive positive change and innovation.”

This is in an industry where technology is really transforming and disrupting how people have done work and how the consumer interacts with the financial services firm. Now, the behaviors that they’ve identified are, “We empower our associates to find creative ways to fix problems quickly in order to meet the needs of our clients, both internal and external. We intentionally create space to brainstorm solutions without judgment, and believe that great ideas come from anywhere in the organization.”

The next is, “We never stop asking ourselves how we can improve.” And the final behavior for creativity is, “We regularly share ideas and successful processes between departments to spark creative ideas across the company.” So, Pete, you think about an organization where your highest-paid leaders come together and, usually when it’s strategy, they’ll spend anywhere from a half day to two days together, anywhere from once a month to every quarter, those are in your higher-performing organizations, and what they will do is they will pre-game.

So, just like an athlete who’s getting ready to go out and compete when it’s game time, they go through that mental exercise. We’ve got a competitive rower who’s one of our clients. She tells us how she would walk around the boat and the exercises, she would do the breathing, etc. We train corporate athletes to do the same.

So, when you’ve got a team that’s coming together for a half day, full day, two days, every month, or every quarter, we have them pre-game by reading these documents, these guiding tools that they’ve used, so that their heads and their hearts are ready to engage in productive conversations instead of coming in, reactive answering the email, and then moving to the crisis du jour. They stay at that higher level, and reviewing these helps them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s clever in terms of because you know, as they do that, they’re like, “I’ve read this before,” and maybe if it’s quarterly or monthly, perhaps many, many times, and yet it’s like, “Ah, and here that elevates me to a different vantage point. This is what we’re up to, what we’re doing here,” as opposed to the immediate cross off a task for the day.

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, it’s fascinating if you do any research on kind of brain science or neuroscience with regards to how people transform and elevate behavior. What the brain needs to do is it needs to focus on what matters most. And if it attends to, or focuses on what matters most, then it’s better equipped to prevent the noise and the distraction, but you need a system for working memory. And we humans, the best system we have for working memory is to repeat looking at or listening to something.

So, the more we read this, the more it becomes us, we attend to, and then manifest these behaviors because we’re reminding ourselves, “This is what we did together. This is who we said we would be. This is what we said was most important, and how I said I would show up as a highest-level servant or leader in the organization. And I have to hold myself accountable to this, and then healthy teams hold one another accountable, not just to the results but to these behaviors.” That’s where you see real lift with teams.

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

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, I would just say with regards to vision, it’s not a one and done, Pete. Great leaders are reminding their teammates of a vision and how everybody’s job connects to the purpose or the vision, and they’re doing it over and over again. My organization, Building Champions, is now 25 years old, and every single Monday, with the exception of holidays, at 7:30 a.m., Pacific Time, the entire team comes together on the screen, and we were doing this long before COVID and all that.

We’ve been coming together on the screen because we’ve got teammates spread throughout the country, but every Monday, 7:30 a.m. Pacific, for half an hour, the team comes together, we talk about business at hand, and then we always do a remind on the vision, which is some aspect of it. You have to be the chief reminding officer, as my buddy Pat Lencioni says. So, it’s something you live, it’s something you repeat, it’s something you’re always doing.

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

Daniel Harkavy
You know, I love one that has really impacted me, and it’s just as a result of the privilege of getting to walk side by side with so many humans in my business. And it’s an old Hebrew proverb, scripture, and it says, “So, teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Pete, the reason I love that is because our heads are so easily deceived. We believe we can always get to what matters most tomorrow, “Oh, if I could just get through this one project, or through this busy season, then I can give my best to my best, then I’ll attend to my health, then I’ll start to focus more on that partner, spouse, friend, or whatever it may be.”

And that passage, “Teach me to number my days,” because every one of us have a finite number, “so that I may gain a heart of wisdom,” that conviction, so that I focus more on the here and now, and I’m more present, makes me a better human. And I’m now 57, but that thing really became meaningful to me when I was in my young 30s and I lost a couple friends who were young, and I realized, “Shoot, there’s no guarantee of 82 years on this planet.” So, it’s a guider for me, bud. Thanks for asking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Daniel Harkavy
Lately, if I were just to show you the books that are here that I’ve been diving into, new and old, it’s more of a theme. So, The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul, or the new Think Again by Adam Grant, or the old, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. And now I just jumped into this one The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

I’m fascinated by transformation and how our brains work. So, that’s been the area of extreme interest for me lately.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, this will sound so self-promoting and quite possibly arrogant. But I will tell you that I wrote a book with a co-author and longtime client and friend, Michael Hyatt. I wrote a book in 2016 called Living Forward. And it’s all about a life-planning format, a life-planning framework, that helps you to figure out who you want to be in all areas of your life. And it has a profound impact on leaders, and the majority of our executive client leaders are all in their 50s.

And so many, over the last 25 years, have said, “Okay, huge gamechanger. I wish somebody would’ve walked me through that in my 20s.” So, it’s such an effective tool that we’ve just launched a not-for-profit to help America’s young adults, it’s called Set Path. SetPath.org, where we’re giving life-planning and mentorship, gratis, to young adults to help them to fight the drift, and to bring more intentionality and focus to their lives. That tool or framework is one of the most powerful that I’ve watched people experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite habit?

Daniel Harkavy
Dating my wife. I got a lot of habits but married for 33 years. We’ve been in each other’s lives for 46 and I got all sorts of crazy addictions, as you can see behind me. But dating my wife is the profitable one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that you’re really known for, and people quote you often?

Daniel Harkavy
I think a lot of it has to do with a few beliefs that I have, “Better humans make for better leaders.” I think I’m known for really instilling that. I think I’m known for being one that listens and does everything I can to instill meaning into conversations so that you felt heard. Then I believe self-leadership always precedes team effectiveness. And team effectiveness always precedes organizational impact.

So, just with the theme of your podcast and what you’re hoping to help people with, I would say I have a deep belief around that “Better humans make for better leaders,” and how you lead yourself is always something you’re working on because it impacts how you lead your team, and how you lead your team ultimately impacts how you impact the overall organization. So, if you can figure out how to make progress in each of those three domains – self, team, and org – what you can be doing to advance and make a greater difference on all three of those, you’ll do well. And that is a core belief of mine.

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

Daniel Harkavy
BuildingChampions.com, SetPath.org, and Daniel Harkavy on all of the social channels. As of late, I’m not as active but I do have a team that’s always pumping out content that our collective group puts out there, everything in the way of podcasts, to blog posts, to thoughts. And you can find this wherever you’re doing your social stalking and engagement.

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

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, I do.

Daniel Harkavy
For many of you in their young 30s, you’ve recently purchased a home, many of you have made a life commitment decision with a partner or spouse, some of you now are starting to have little ones crawling up your legs and all around you and they’re fun and they’re crazy, and you’re trying to build your careers.

The book, Living Forward, I’m going to continue to sell for as long as I can because it’s all around building a life plan. But you can get the life-planning tool for free at Building Champions, costs you nothing. And I would tell you, if you want to figure out how to be awesome at work, you figure out how you can be awesome in life because work is only one aspect of who you are.

And the better you’re doing and the more value you’re adding in all areas of your life, you’ll actually be better at work. Absolutely true. So, you want to accumulate net worth in all aspects of your life, not just your career and your finances. You want to attend to all the areas of your life that bring you happiness and joy. And if you do that intentionally over the long haul, well, then you’re just going to be a heck of a better teammate and a better leader.

Living Forward, you can check that out. There’s a Living Forward book, website, you can see it on the Building Champions website. It’s wherever you buy books, but you can get the tool for free.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Daniel, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you tons of luck and success in your effective leading.

Daniel Harkavy
Pete, thanks for allowing me to join you and your tribe. I love your questions. I love your depth. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and I wish you great success and happy holidays as well.

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.