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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

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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.

641: How to Inspire Sustained Change with Richard Boyatzis

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Richard

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Boyatzis Interview Transcript

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

Richard Boyatzis
Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Boyatzis
It’s huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that changes everything.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Worse than nothing. Speaking up, right?

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

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

Richard Boyatzis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Richard Boyatzis
Listening. Listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Boyatzis
Thanks, Pete.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

1) The three kinds of fights that inspire

2) A simple trick to greatly boost motivation and efficiency

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

About David:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Burkus Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Blackbelt equals not terrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s take them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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