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360: Five Principles for Accelerating Your Career with G2 Crowd’s Ryan Bonnici

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G2 Crowd Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Bonnici shares his five steps for figuring out and advancing along your career path.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two core principles for mastering your craft
  2. How to get good at giving and receiving feedback
  3. Two LinkedIn tricks that make all the difference

About Ryan

Ryan Bonnici is the Chief Marketing Officer of G2 Crowd, where he’s driving growth of the world’s leading B2B technology review platform that’s helping more than 1.5 million business professionals make informed purchasing decisions every single month. Prior to G2 Crowd, Ryan held several leadership roles in some of the most well-recognized companies in the tech industry. He served as the senior director of global marketing at HubSpot, where his efforts led to triple-digit growth for the company’s marketing related sales.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ryan Bonnici Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into both your story and your tactics. Maybe you could orient us a little bit to your career journey as it started as a flight attendant and then how that kind of progressed to a really cool trajectory.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I was kind of one of those kids going through school that was just always told that “He has real potential. He just needs to work harder.” For some reason, I’m not sure what it was exactly, but in kind of year nine, back in Australia, something just flicked in my head and so years ten, eleven and twelve I worked really, really hard, got a really good GPA, a 4.0, worked my ass off.

Then I started doing university in Sydney, Australia and I was just super not interested in it. I, over the holidays, applied for a job at Qantas Airways because they were taking on international flight attendants. There’s huge interviews. It’s a really long process. Long story short, I got the job.

I did that for a couple years. It was always a short term thing for me because I ultimately just wanted to travel. I wanted to save up money, which allowed me to buy my first investment property when I was like 19. I was kind of really focused on traveling and just starting to make savings.

Always knew I’d get back to university and get back to my marketing degree. I had always kind of known weirdly from the age of maybe 18 that I wanted to be a CMO before the age of 30. Just after my 29th birthday, I actually joined G2 Crowd as the CMO, so it was really timely. I’ve been really lucky. Everything has gone to plan fortunately.

But, yeah, that’s kind of the background really on the flight attendant thing, bit of an odd job. Then I then went back to university and did flying on the weekends and did university throughout the week. It was kind of hard to juggle it, but it was fun. I learnt a lot. I’m someone that gets bored easily, so I need to be doing lots of different things, so it worked well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. While working as a flight attendant, did you form some connections or some skills or some insights that helped lay some good ground work for your future success?

Ryan Bonnici
I think I did. Qantas – for anyone listening – Qantas is actually the world’s oldest and most experienced airline. They had the first kind of commercial airline up and running. It was set in Queensland in the Northern Territory, which is what Qantas stands for.

I think one thing I learned that Qantas does incredibly well is customer service and just how your customers are the life blood of your business. Qantas did a really amazing job at training their staff and their flight attendants because at the end of the day, they’re really the main people that the consumers are interacting with.

I think I learned a lot about customer services and I learned a lot about word-of-mouth marketing and just the importance of having a cohesive message. That was one thing I think I learned from that early experience.

But then I also was able to eventually start to move and work more in our business class and first class cabins. I just started having fascinating conversations with different executives that were travelling different places for work. I had the CEO of Qantas on at one point in time. I had different celebrities on. I just had different executives and learned a lot from them.

Actually, I moved then from Qantas to Microsoft into my first kind of marketing role offer, kind of the insight from a marketing executive at Microsoft that mentioned to me that they were hiring. I learnt about that and then went through the hiring process and stuff and started my marketing career at Microsoft. It all worked out really, really well.

I’m just one of those business geeks that just loves to chat with executives and business people and learn ultimately about what gets them up in the morning, what they love about their business, what are they doing. I’m just innately fascinated by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. I’m imagining when you say you picked up some insights from these executives, during the course of those interviews, you probably had some real smart things to say, like, “Whoa, we weren’t expecting that level of strategic insight from this kid.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, maybe. I’ve kind of always been one of those kids that I’m an only child. I think I was always around adults from a really young age. I’m not afraid kind of I guess to share my opinion. I have lots of opinions on different things and I’m really passionate about those opinions and those thoughts. I equally love to discourse and learn about other people’s opinions and kind of argue about our opinions.

I think that’s a little bit of an Australian cultural paradigm. That’s just something that’s kind of been in me from the get go. I think that’s probably helped me throughout my career, but definitely back then I was quite a bit younger and as I was getting to know these people.

I think it kind of made me a little bit more memorable and also it allowed me to stand out from everyone else because most other maybe flight attendants that were speaking to these executives probably felt like it was too personal maybe to ask them about their work or what they were doing for business, whereas I was just genuinely interested.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That’s cool. Well, so one of your other passions beyond business and strategy and marketing is helping young professionals figure out their path and move forward and progress. You did a real nice job as I reviewed your slides of crystallizing some key principles and perspectives on that at the Drift HYPERGROWTH 2018 event.

I’d love it if you could kind of just walk us through some of the greatest hits with regard to the five steps you shared there.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, sure thing Pete. The five kind of I guess high-level things that I talked through at Drift conference – I’ll just run you through them quickly first. The first one was mastering your craft. The second was solving big problems. The third was building your brand. The fourth was getting good at feedback. The fifth was just some advance hacks that I have kind of learned throughout the years that I wanted to kind of give folks as takeaways.

I think it’s worth maybe mentioning that I’m a big believer and I think you and your audience are fans of this too, but I’m just a big believer in really practical advice, so things that are really tactical that someone can immediately go and do themselves straight after listening to this.

That’s how I guess I built out my presentation for Drift conference, that’s how I build out all my presentations regardless of what the topic is because I think there’s so many people that can talk about the fluffy strategy. I really like to kind of marry that with really tactical things that anyone can do right now.

If we get to jump into a few of those, I think some of the things that I try and teach my team at G2 Crowd, and I have a team of about 30 marketers at G2, is that every single person on my team really needs to own a number and it needs to be an important number for the business.

It’s really my job and my leadership team’s job to help those team members actually know what their numbers are and to help them understand how those numbers actually roll out to the bigger business.

An example here might be if you’re a social media marketer and you might have been given a number of “Grow our followers from 10,000 followers to 20,000 followers a year.” A lot of social media marketers will be given a target like that.

It’s a pretty normal kind of thing, “Grow your followers,” and they will never ask for understanding of “Okay, cool. Yeah, I can grow my followers from 10,000 to 20,000, but how is this going to help the business?” A lot of people just do what they’re told and they never kind of stop and question why.

In an ideal world if they asked their boss, their boss would say, “Hey, look, we find for every 10 followers we have, every time we post that increases the number of likes that we get on those posts by 10% and that increases the number of people clicking through then to our site, which helps us drive more leads and MQL. By doubling the followers, we’re doubling the amount of traffic we’re going to get from social referral traffic over the course of the year, which will help us.”

Now, that’s just an example. But that’s, again, helping that social media marketer understand how their follower count ties into traffic count and that traffic count ties into leads and leads ties into MQLs and MQLs ties into sales revenue. I think it’s just really, really crystal important that everyone actually be able to know what their number is and how it rolls out.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of some additional numbers? I’m thinking maybe outside the marketing function, particularly I think a lot of time we think about “Oh man, owning a number, that’s for directors and vice presidents,” in order to sort of own that sort of thing.

But I like it sort of the social media follower count is an example of a number that someone maybe in the first few years of their career might have ownership of. Can you give us some other examples of numbers that aren’t too senior and are different functions?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Everyone in every role can have these numbers. I think that’s the key is to work out what they are.

You might be a junior recruiter and you just joined a company as a recruiting associate and it’s your job to run into these for example, right? Or to maybe source candidates for roles that you’re hiring, whether you’re an intern or whatnot.

The company’s role or the recruiting team might have a goal of say, “We have 50 open roles that we need to get filled by the end of this quarter.” Then they might divvy out all of those jobs across say their recruiters. Regardless of how senior you are or how junior you are, you kind of need to chat with your boss and work out “Okay of that big team number, what portion am I responsible for.”

If you’re really junior maybe you’re not responsible for that high level number, but you might be responsible for a leading metric that ties into that. An example might be-

Pete Mockaitis
Number of applications.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. Number of applications or the number of calls that you run with people or the number of kind of approved candidates that you hand through to the recruiting manager or anything like that. If you’re a BDR, so business development rep, your numbers might be the number of calls you do a day, the number of meetings you set for sales.

I’m just trying to think on the fly what different roles are in our team. If you’re in accounting and you’re a junior in the team, the accounting team’s metric might be, “Hey, we need to close out all of our invoices by the end of the month and get payment on 90% of them.”

You might have a metric of “Okay, I’m going to send three emails over the course of four weeks before the accounting payments are due so that we increase the number of people that pay us.” I would be monitoring “Okay, last month 80% of people paid us on time. Let’s change it and do a few more activities to try and get 85% this month and then 90%.”

It doesn’t really matter. There’s a number that you can apply and connect to everything. I think that really connects in with kind of the second big kind of core thing that I talked about with regard to mastering their craft and that was reverse engineering your funnel.

We just talked through some funnels then, like the number of people that apply for a job, the number of people that then do interviews, the number of those interviews that make it through to stage one, two, and three, and then other people you hire. Everyone has a funnel in every element of the business.

What I think most people don’t do a good job of is actually knowing what are the average conversion rates for my funnel and then working backwards. Let’s say your boss says, “For next month, hey little Jesse who does recruiting or is our recruiting intern, next month you need to generate five times as many people into jobs.”

Then when you would say, “Okay, well if I need to generate five times as many job fillings, then I probably need to run through five times as many different LinkedIn profiles at the top of the funnel.”

I kind of gave a lot of different examples of how you can think about reverse engineering your funnel, whether you’re an email marketer or a PR person or a sales rep. Everything can be reverse engineered. That’s just one of those tactics that not enough people in business do.

It sets them up for failure by not doing that because you might be trying to achieve something, like that 50 different heads to fill in a month might be really unrealistic, but you’ll just accept it and go after it and then you’ll fail.

But if you would have reversed engineered from the get go, you might able to then say to your boss, “Hey, I just ran the numbers for this and if we want to hit that number, we’re going to do 5X the number of applications. How are we going to get that? We might need help.” Does that kind of make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. What’s really nifty is – I’m taking a look at your funnels right now, and, I’m curious, you’ve sort of laid them out in the world of the email and PR and social media. How would you recommend – what would be some good sources that we might go to in order to identify what are some appropriate benchmark ratios in other fields?

Ryan Bonnici
I’m a big believer in there’s no such thing accurate benchmarks

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
Just because I think every single business is different. Every single role is different. If you’re a recruiter and you’re trying to recruit C-level executives, that’s going to take a lot longer. The funnel is going to be very different to if you’re trying to recruit junior entry level positions. If we change industries and look at a finance executive versus a marketing exec, it might be different again.

Those funnels in my deck that I ran through are more so kind of the methodology for how someone should think about … this for their own business. They would need to input their own metrics and then look at what their conversion rates are for themselves because I think you really just can’t apply standards here because a lot of these funnels, they’re purpose built for very specific things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s interesting if we’re talking about solving big problems here, one big problem could be “Wait a second, we’re converting at half of the rate somewhere that we should. This is broken and it needs to get fixed.”

I’m wondering if you have any intuition on how you might get a sense for if – you can know the way sort of that the ratios have unfolded historically. That’s very helpful in terms of kind of planning out, “All right, well then just how much activity do we need at each of these phases to get our end goal,” so that’s really cool. But I’m wondering further, any pro tips for zeroing in on, “Hm, this part is broken and needs to get fixed.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I definitely think you can zero in once you’ve laid out the numbers for your funnel for whatever it is, whether it’s a recruiting funnel or an email marketing campaign funnel or it’s an anything funnel ultimately. It could even be literally a simple funnel of generating employees completing the monthly net promoter score.

Every month I send out a survey to my team. It asks them a really simple question from one to ten, how happy are you at work? I know if I send four reminder emails to them versus two, I’ll get probably double the amount of people that fill it out at the end of the month.

Regardless of whatever the funnel is that you’re building, I think you need to just map out what are the different activities throughout it and what are the conversion rates. Then you need to start to look at some of the drop-offs.

If it’s that employee net promoter score survey and you’re sending lots of emails and only five percent of people are opening, but then of those people struggling that open you have like 50% of people completing it, then you’d probably say, “Okay, well the message in the email obviously is engaging people because anyone that opens is completing it, but we’re to get people to open it in the first place.”

Then we have to look at is it the time of day that we’re sending it, is it the subject line? What factors could be affecting that? Are we sending it on a busy day when they’re doing other things? That’s really how you then start to work out “Okay, where is my funnel leaking?” is how I would think about it. Where is water falling out of the funnel?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s just sort of the absolute number ratios can give you some hints. Then in some ways I guess you might think for like a cold email, you can be like, “Well, hey, we don’t really expect a whole lot of opens on a totally cold email to strangers.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But, in the context you presented there, it is internal and that might get you thinking about having some sort of benchmark ratio in terms of “Well, hey, when you look at the other emails that get sent around our company, the open rates are triple this. What’s wrong?” It’s like, “Oh.” I think that’s where things get interesting.

Ryan Bonnici
100%, 100%. I think whenever you’re comparing funnels to marketing funnels, which there’s been lots of research done into them and you have a high volume of data that you can look at. Emails is a really easy example. Web traffic conversions is an easy example. Yes, you can definitely find some benchmarks. Again, I don’t know how important I would be leaning on those. I’d still be looking at your own data.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Ryan Bonnici
But once you start to get – most people aren’t marketers. That’s just one role in a company. Once you get out of those roles, the methodology and what I’m trying to help teach people to understand is you should just be reverse engineering whatever it is that you’ve been asked to do to work out how you can most successfully do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I think that within your own data, you can grab some good stuff. It’s like, “Hey, the other emails we sent internally, how do those compare here?” I think that gets really exciting when you discover, “Oh wait, this tiny little thing we’re doing is dumb. Let’s fix it. It turns out we’re using a tiny font that is really hard and obnoxious to look through. Let’s cut that out right away,” and boom, there you have it. It’s pretty thrilling, at least for me.

Ryan Bonnici
Absolutely. I think it’s when you actually stop and actually start to analyze the impact of the different things that you’re doing in a business that things get really interesting.

I find so often that businesses and employees never actually stop and properly analyze their activities to look at the impact. Everyone is running around. Everyone says they’re busy. No doubt they are, but being busy and working on unimportant things is very different than being busy and working on important, critical projects.

An example that I can think of that comes to mind from when I joined G2 Crowd is I noticed when I first joined that the company placed a lot of emphasis on having every employee do social sharing of content that we were creating as a company. Let’s say there was a news article about G2 Crowd or we created our own content, a lot of people would post it to Slack and everyone – every manager would say, “Hey, John, Jesse, everyone, please share this to your social channels. We want to get this news out there.”

I was doing some analysis when I joined and I basically was seeing that there was all of this activity being done. Everyone was taking out people’s time on their team to have them just share content on social. I understood why. Naturally you want to share happy news about your business. That makes your employees feel good. It’s an exciting thing.

But because most people at a company don’t really have many followers on Twitter or on LinkedIn, we were getting a very insignificant amount of net new traffic and engagement on this content purely because most employees are junior, most employees don’t have big networks. No one is clicking on their content.

It was just an interesting thing that I saw when I came in and I noticed wow, we spend so much time getting everyone to do this and no one has actually stopped and looked at how much traffic does it actually drive for us and it’s driving nothing, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s great. All right, so you mastered the craft, solving big problems. How does one build a brand?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah. I think this is a really interesting one that a lot of people sort of don’t really think enough about. I think to build your own personal brand at work is really, really key because that personal brand that you build, it doesn’t just help you today and in the future, it helps the company that you’re working for.

I always try and preface this hack or this tip with people on the basis of there’s no point trying to build a strong personal brand if you don’t actually have a unique point of view because if you don’t have a unique point of view, you’re not going to develop a strong brand. You’re just going to be sharing your opinion.

If your opinion isn’t unique or different or interesting or complex or has something unique about it, you’re just adding to the noise. No reason why you maybe shouldn’t do that if you want to and get that out there, but it’s probably not going to give you the effect that you’re hoping for.

I’d say that’s the key thing is to work out what is it that’s a unique angle that you have a unique perspective or insight into that you can share content of authentically. Once you know what that is, I think for people that are junior in their career or even more senior, the easiest place to start is with your company blog.

Most companies are doing content marketing or inbound marketing today, most of those content and inbound marketing teams don’t have enough time to create enough content, so they always welcome someone willing to create some content for the company blog.

My step one recommendation is reach out to your content team or your blogging team or your marketing team, if it’s a team of one, and literally say, “Hey, what’s a topic that you’ve been wanting to write content for on the blog that I maybe could create for you.”

Go ahead, do that, write it really well, have them edit it, and start to get some content up and live on the internet from your company because that’s automatically then starting to help you build your reputation and build a bit of an online footprint for who you are.

Then what I recommend people do is after they’ve done that a little bit, I’d suggest they start to reach out to maybe very kind of junior or small tier, low tier kind of press and media outlets in their city or in their industry and write a guest post for them.

In my slides – which if you head over to my Twitter account, it’s Twitter.com/RyanBonnici, just my name, you can download the slides that I’m running through because I have some templates … emails that I recommend sending to the editor of the different publications and what my follow-up emails look like.

But basically once you get a piece mentioned in one of those publications, then you reference that. Then you reach out to a tier two publication. Then once you get a few of those published, you mention those and then you reach out to a tier one publication.

I have done this myself over the last few years and worked my way up from small industry press in Sydney that no one in the US would probably know about to then being a regular contributor for Entrepreneur and now more recently I’m writing for The Telegraph and for Harvard Business Review and I think I have a post coming up for MIT’s journal tomorrow.

I’ve only done that through just working my way up and creating content. I wouldn’t have been able to work my way up if a) I didn’t start small, but b) most importantly, I had a unique opinion on different things. I think building your brand is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us a bit of an example in terms of what does it look, sound, feel like to have a unique point of view versus just to be everything else. Could you give us a couple examples of “Hey, not unique sounds like this, whereas unique sounds like that?”

Ryan Bonnici
Sure. I mean, look, I did an interview recently for The Telegraph. Basically it was all about how I kind of network on planes. An example of a boring article that The Telegraph wouldn’t have written is if I wrote them a piece of content that said “Here’s what you should do on a plane: go to sleep and watch a movie.” Everyone does that.

Instead I said to them, “Hey, I do something that’s different that no one else does on planes. I have a set of questions that I like to ask my neighbor. I’m good at gauging if they’re interested or not. I work out who they are. I research them on LinkedIn if I can see their name from their boarding pass,” blah, blah, blah, a little bit stalky. That’s different. That’s unique. Naturally now they want to write about that.

That was a flight example with regard to networking, but similarly I write a lot about marketing. A boring article that is not unique and no one would write would be an article for me saying digital marketing is important. No marketing industry press is going to publish that because obviously everyone that follows them knows that.

But if I wrote an article about how digital marketing is dying and here are some data points to back that up or digital marketing is transforming and here’s why, etcetera. Now we’re talking about something a little bit more interesting.

A unique angle really comes down to just building out what is the interest with the story and are you sharing something that’s new that people don’t know or is a different take on something.

If you look at the way Trump does media, he’s obviously very good at trying to have a unique angles for things that are very different, very I guess confrontational. That’s kind of a big part of what hooks press and gets them interested. You need to try and adapt that in the same way if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I think in many ways it’s almost like you know it when you see it at the onset. It’s almost sort of just refusing to write something just because you should, like, “Oh, I write a blog post every month,” as opposed to, “Oh, now that’s something. Okay.”

Ryan Bonnici
Totally. Exactly. I take – throughout – I didn’t have a regular cadence because just to exactly your point, these ideas come up throughout the day, throughout the week. I find the best way to start for people that are new to this that are still trying to get their heads around what’s their unique angle is I always say the best place to start is think about what frustrates you the most at work.

You might do a regular meeting – you might be in a meeting and you might just be frustrated because meetings are always unproductive. That could be a unique angle, like saying, “Hey, most meetings are horribly unproductive and these are the five reasons why they’re unproductive. Here are the three easiest things that you can do right now to make your meetings at work more productive and to help you be better at your job.

Those things are a) require that there’s always an agenda written into the meeting invite, 2) if it doesn’t need to be a brainstorm and they’re just sharing content, it doesn’t need to be a meeting, and 3) blah.” That could be one example of the way you kind of find an idea through that frustration at work.

Or you might just have a regular meeting where you’re told in that meeting, “Oh, that’s a really good idea. You have a good viewpoint on this topic.” Whatever that topic might be, you then need to kind of quantify and kind of build out what that view is outside of just an opinion and formalize it and share it with people.

If we use just my presentation form HYPERGROWTH last week, I’ve been told by lots of people that I’ve moved up in my career pretty quickly to become a CMO by 30. I just thought about what has made me successful. That was what I got to kind of these five kind of key things that work for me.

A lot of that came from me just reflecting and working out what actually was it. What are some things that I do that most people don’t do? I think everyone can do that for their own domain, their own part of the business or their own skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that that that when it comes to the frustration, it means it’s resonating for you in the sense that your frustration kind of equals something is happening and it’s wrong.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. If you’re getting frustrated, then other people probably are too in those similar situations. You know you’ve got a hook, an interesting topic that’s going to be relevant most likely.

Then I think the next step is – this actually ties funnily enough really nicely into my fourth tip that is like get good at feedback is one thing that I always try and teach my team is it’s one thing to get frustrated with something, but if you’re just getting frustrated and you’re complaining, you’re not doing your job. You’re failing and you should be fired.

Great employees and people that get good at their career and move up is they give very good constructive feedback.

Instead of someone being frustrated because the meeting is unproductive, a really amazing employee would say – they might send an email around to everyone after the meeting and say, “Hey gang, I’ve been thinking about the agenda for our regular weekly meetings and I wanted to put together a potential draft agenda that we can use moving forward that I used maybe with a previous team that worked really, really well. Here is the agenda that I was thinking. What do people thing? Should we try this? Would it be worth doing or not?”

I’ve been in those meetings before where someone on my team has stepped up and been a leader and actually created a new agenda. It’s been brilliant.

A) that’s kind of a little bit of a meta example, but being able to kind of pull yourself out of the frustration and work out what could be done to fix it and then to drive that change is really key to moving up in your career and being a leader and just key for life really.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s part of the feedback equation is delivering it, stepping up, finding some actionable improvement nuggets and courageously putting it forth in a kind of an appropriate, diplomatic way. How about on the receiving feedback side of things?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I’d say this is probably where most people struggle. Everyone says they want feedback, but it’s like until they get it about something that they weren’t expecting it for that they really struggle to accept it and then they push back and then it defeats the purpose because the person giving you feedback now can see that you’re defensive and just breaks the relationship down.

The first thing that I like to try and help my team kind of be more aware of is that when someone’s giving you feedback, you need to remember that they’re taking a risk in giving you feedback because people typically don’t like to receive feedback, but feedback is the only way we grow. We need to kind of a) remember that, but b) just like stop the first reaction that you have.

The first reaction that 99.9% of people have is to disagree or to give an example for why you did that or just to start to rationalize what happened. I think what people don’t realize is whoever is often giving the feedback doesn’t really care for why you’re doing it. They probably already know why themselves, but they’re giving it to you just so that you can be clear that this is something that needs to be improved on.

Let’s say as an example you give someone – someone gives you feedback that “Hey, you talked to fast in that meeting and that made it hard for people to follow, which meant that people left the meeting without really understanding what the goal of the meeting was.” A typical person might say, “Well, I had to rush because we had limited time.”

That’s not the point. The point isn’t that you had limited time. The point is that “Well, because you rushed because there was limited time, now the message was lost. The people don’t know what it is.”

Instead of refuting the feedback and arguing with it, the lesson there is “Oh, great. Thanks so much for that feedback, boss. What I might do next time is that if I see that we’re running out of time, I might just say ‘Hey guys, let’s take the 20 minutes back in your day and I’m going to schedule a new meeting to run through what I was going to run you through because we need more time.’” That’s how you respond in a proactive way and you learn from something.

Anyway, back on track, first thing to do I guess is stop that reaction. The second thing I recommend people do is remember that you asked for feedback. Feedback is something that you want. Third or fourth thing is just to say thank you. Thank the person for the feedback.

If it’s complex feedback that you really need time to deconstruct, then I always recommend my team just say to the person, “Hey, I really appreciate your feedback. I’ve taken down notes,” and actually write them down, say, “Hey, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to get back to you maybe tomorrow because I would love to really digest this info and get back to you with a full response. I hope that’s okay.”

No one’s going to say to you, “No, it’s not okay. You need to respond to my feedback immediately right now.” That will give you time to cool down, to think about it more properly and to realize that actually this is helpful, this is good.

Once you start to get into the good habit of doing that, a few ways I recommend people get better at this and get better at getting more feedback so they grow faster in their careers is just telling them that they need to ask for feedback regularly.

Some of my best employees, after every single one of our one-on-ones, they’ll just say to me, “Hey Ryan, thanks for this. This is really helpful today. What’s one more thing that you would like to see me doing more or less of?” Notice the open ended question there.

I’d say, “I can’t think of anything this week. You’ve done a really good job.” Or I might say, “Hey, yeah, you did this thing really well this week, although I felt like when you did this thing it kind of slowed you down and maybe next time you can do this.” Just teaching team members to not be afraid to ask for feedback is key.

Even if you’re meeting with like an executive or you’re in the elevator with the boss or someone more senior, maybe don’t ask them for feedback on yourself because they probably don’t know who you are or they probably haven’t been working really closely with you and so they can’t give you really helpful feedback.

But for those sorts of people what I would recommend asking is saying something to them like, “Hey, you obviously have an amazing leadership team. I’m curious when you’re building that leadership team, what qualities do you look for in those leaders or what are your best direct reports, what do they differently than everyone else?” At least that way now you can get insight from an executive that maybe can’t give you specific feedback. Does that make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. What you said about that – just note that the person who is give you feedback is taking a risk is excellent in terms of reframing the whole thing because your first reaction indeed can be like, “That jerk. Oh, spare me. Does this guy have a clue,” whatever, insert the defensive reaction or whatever as opposed to note that – unless of course, there’s a few sociopaths out there.

But for the most part, for the most part, when someone shares an observation about how you could improve, that is a kind act. I went to a leadership conference, it was called LeaderShape. They said feedback is love. I thought that was well said.

It’s a kind gesture. It does require risk because the person on the other end may very well think less of you for having provided it. If you start there, that just kind of puts you in I think a much more receptive place like, “This person cares enough about me to take the risk that I’m going to be mad at them. That’s pretty cool even if I don’t really like or agree with what they’re saying to me right now. I’m going to chew on it a little more.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly. Trying to think I think about the intentions behind the feedback is key. If it’s feedback that’s coming from your direct boss, out of everyone that gives you feedback, that’s the one person that you just shouldn’t push back on most likely because they know you intimately, they probably work with you very closely. If they’re giving you feedback, they’re only giving you feedback to try and help you, otherwise what’s the point?

But I’d say if you get feedback from someone else in the business and you disagree with it or something like that, maybe you chat with your boss about it. But also at the same time, I still don’t think you change the way you respond to it. I think the response is still, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I really appreciate it. I’ll be sure to think about that and think about how I can respond differently next time.”

Whether or not you actually do it or not if you think it’s a load of crap, doesn’t matter. The way you respond is key. If you respond in a defensive way, you’re basically kind of voiding that relationship growth opportunity with that person.

If you respond in a really good way, regardless of whether you actually implement the feedback or not, you kind of by doing so showing and telling the person that you’re benefiting from the feedback and it was helpful. That will only help you in terms of your relationship with them and what’s the point in calling out to them that their feedback sucks or it’s inaccurate. Is it going to really help you? Sometimes you have to think about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And just that notion that if you make it really difficult, they’re like, “All right, not worth it. I’ll just keep my mouth shut and not share any useful tips in the future.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, Exactly. Then that person might also think that you disagree with them or now you don’t like them because they took that risk and gave you that feedback or a bunch of different things. Yeah, I’d say that’s kind of how I think about that.

Then I think to wrap it up, I guess, Pete, with my presentation where I then went to kind of towards the end was really I wanted people to better understand what are some really small hacks that you can do really quickly. One of the things that I mentioned was helping people grow their network.

Something that I always do on LinkedIn and some people will probably disagree and don’t think this is the best strategy, but it works for me and I’m a big fan is whenever someone kind of looks at my profile on LinkedIn, I always add them to my network.

I just basically on my commute home or if I’m on the boss or if I’m doing – I’m bored and I’m somewhere, I’ll open up LinkedIn and I’ll just look at who has looked at my profile. Every single person that looked at my profile that I’m not connected with, I just tap the Connect button on them. All of those people always connect with you because they’re looked at you first.

Pete Mockaitis
They started it.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. They started it and they were interested in you.

The reason why that’s important is it helps you grow your network so the next time you change jobs or you share an article about yourself on LinkedIn or share anything, there’s more eyeballs that can potentially see your posts to then help like it and help perpetuate more people seeing it. That’s one thing I always recommend.

That’s worked well for me to the point where now I think I have something like 33,000 followers and connections on LinkedIn. …

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular message that you send them when you click, like “Hey, saw you looking at me,” or what is it?

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t send anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t have time for that to be honest. Also, if that – yeah, some people do that and I think if you have the time to send a message, awesome, more power to you. I just haven’t gone down that path.

That would be the one thing I recommend. The other thing with regard to LinkedIn is what I’ve always done in my career is I always kind of work out what’s the company that I want to work for next. What I’ll do is I will basically do a search on the LinkedIn app and I’ll search maybe recruiter and then I’ll tag the companies that I want to work for.

Let’s say if you want to work at Facebook and Amazon and Snapchat, you would search for recruiter. Then you would search those companies in LinkedIn. Then I would then tap on the plus to all those people.

Now, what that’s doing is a) recruiters never say no to people that add them on LinkedIn because naturally their network is what makes them good at their job. The bigger the network, the better they are typically. They’ll always accept.

But the other great thing is not only have they accepted and you’ll probably get their email address and potentially their phone number through their LinkedIn profile, but they will now also be seeing your content.

As you do that tactic I mentioned about building your personal brand, where you’re creating that unique content for your company blog and for other articles, when you start to share that on LinkedIn, you’ll start to become more known as a thought-leader in whatever your space is.

Now recruiters that might in the future see you and recruit you for a job will start to recognize your name and know that you’re good at marketing or accounting or recruiting or whatever it is that you do. That’s just a very easy way to build your network.

That’s helped me now get to the point where I probably receive three to five different in-mails a day maybe on a good day from recruiters offering me board roles or interesting CMO roles at different companies. I don’t need to engage with them if I don’t want to, but it’s nice knowing that there’s options available if the time should ever arise where I need that.

There, yeah, I think it would be kind of broad set of really – some of those lessons that I think I’ve learned, Pete, over the last decade or so of my career. As you kind of mentioned as we’ve been talking about, I just think there’s so many things that you can do in your career to help you move faster and by doing so it helps your company move faster.

I think those two can always be aligned. That’s really the sweet spot. You shouldn’t be doing stuff that’s just good for your company and not good for you, like try and do stuff that’s good for both sides.

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

Ryan Bonnici
Gosh, no, I think that’s good background. For anyone that wants to connect with me obviously, my details I’m sure are listed in the podcast. Feel free to just search my name online. I’m very accessible via any social network really.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ryan Bonnici
I think something that I find really inspiring is just leaders that aren’t afraid to fill leadership voids. I don’t know if this is necessarily like a quote, but it could be.

I think of businesses as just being these organizations with holes within them kind of like Swiss cheese. I think a really strong leader starts to see those different deficits in a business and isn’t afraid sometimes to actually fill the gap and maybe step on someone’s toes that wasn’t filling the gap, which would have been filling the gap.

I think that’s been something that’s been an important thing that’s helped me grow in my career. It’s not easy to always do, but it’s worked for me. I’d say filling the leadership voids within the business is the fastest way to move up in a business and drive impact in the business would maybe by my self-created quote right now on the fly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing. How about a favorite book?

Ryan Bonnici
The first one that I’d say probably, let’s focus on business, but I think there’s impacts that to me from a business perspective is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Absolutely love it. I think it’s a really good book. I try and reread it at least once a year if not more than that.

But it just kind of helps you really focus on what you can do right now and what’s important in the moment. Really good book I think for folks that sometimes suffer with feelings of depression or feelings of anxiety or feelings of trying to always achieve more and need more and not have enough. Really amazing book. Big fan of mindfulness and all of Eckhart Tolle’s work.

Maybe the other book that’s a bit more business focused is a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott that I absolutely love. Kim published the book I want to say last year, maybe early 2017. It’s all about basically how to give you feedback to your employees so that you challenge them really directly, but while at the same time they know that you really care about them personally. That’s helped me I think become a better leader, but I’m always trying to improve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. We had Kim on the show. It’s definitely powerful stuff.

Ryan Bonnici
Oh, fantastic.

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

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite tool. There’s a ton. I’m a massive fan of HubSpot as a marketer, so HubSpot would probably be my favorite marketing tool. Then Asana would probably be my favorite productivity tool, like my whole team, our whole company actually at G2 Crowd, runs HubSpot for marketing and Asana for productivity and task management, so massive fan of Asana. Yeah, love that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite habit. It’s kind of this is like a semi-tool slash habit, but I’m a big fan of light therapy actually. I’m a geek when it comes to bio-hacking and neuro-hacking.

For anyone that’s interested in trying to have more energy in the daytime or to work better throughout the nighttime or better attention, I tell them – I use a device called the Joovv, J-O-O-V-V.com. It’s basically kind of like this wall unit that hangs from a door. It’s got red lights and infrared lights on it. I will literally every morning and every night stand in front of it for ten minutes.

It’s good for resetting circadian rhythms. It’s really good for your skin. It’s good for kind of inflammation in your bones. I’m obsessed with it. Red light therapy/infrared light therapy is my biggest favorite habit knack.

The technical term for what it is for anyone that really wants to geek out, it’s called photo-bio-modulation. There’s a lot of research now coming out of Harvard and MIT that shows the benefits of what near infrared light and red light therapy can do for your brain and for your cells and your mitochondria. That’s probably my big habit and favorite fun thing.

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

Ryan Bonnici
I would say, gosh, the one thing I never see enough of in business is people just really owning their outcomes and committing to their growth. I think I’ve always had to throughout my career, I’ve never been given a promotion just because.

I’ve always – I earned it, but be like earned it and then told my boss that I’ve earned it and said, “Hey, this is what I need. If you want to hold on to me and you want me to keep driving impact in this company, this is what I want.”

I think more people can do that because there’s so many amazing people in business that are driving impact. It’s not that their bosses or their businesses are trying to intentionally overlook them and not give them that raise or that promotion or that new business opportunity. A lot of the time it’s just everyone’s busy and no one sometimes realizes it.

I think my one big thing in addition to kind of what we’ve been talking about all about this is just speak up and if you’re unhappy, tell your boss. If you want a new challenge, tell your boss. If you think that you’re undervalued, tell your boss and frame it in a way in which that it’s not a complaint, but that it’s a constructive thing.

Explain to them how much you love the business and how you want to drive more impact, but you don’t feel like you’re valued. Here’s why and here’s what you need to change. That would be my one big challenge and … for people.

In addition to just follow me on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Snapchat, and all the channels. Feel free to connect with me and share your challenges or your thoughts and feelings with me on this. If you agree/disagree or anything, I really am super sociable and I respond to everyone that messages me assuming they message me with nice messages that are constructive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Ryan, thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck at G Crowd and all you’re up to.

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much Pete, really appreciate your time. Thanks everyone for listening.

293: Body Language Insights that Get You Promoted with Dr. Denise Dudley

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Denise Dudley goes deep on the science and practice of optimizing your body language for making a powerful impression at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smile more genuinely
  2. Postures for enhanced communication
  3. The powerful impact of speaking with a lower pitch

About Denise

Denise Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, and a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.”  Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, personal relationships, interviewing skills, and career readiness.  Denise’s latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted,” is currently available on Amazon.com, and is receiving all 5-star customer reviews.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Denise Dudley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Denise, thanks for joining us.

Denise Dudley

I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. You have taught many people many skills, but I want to talk about one of your skills from back in the day and that is your ability to catch snakes. What’s the story here?

Denise Dudley

Well, I will tell you first of all that of the many interviews I have done in my life, no one has ever asked me this on air.

Pete Mockaitis

I love hearing that. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

It’s a brand new question. I love new questions.

I really am a tomboy. As much as I’m dressed up in front of audiences all the time and all these sorts of things, in my real life, my real Denise is somebody without makeup on, with my hair tied up in a knot, outside looking under rocks, having fun, looking at frogs, playing, swimming in lakes. That’s who I really am.

As a kid I had a great father. My father is passed away now, but he was an adventurer, actually a jeweler. By trade, he was simply a jeweler/watchmaker, but he knew everything about the out of doors and everything that did everything. He knew how ducks flew and how things swam. He taught me how to catch snakes because we just found every creature on the earth to be interesting.

I learned how to be a really good snake catcher. I can dazzle my friends because a lot of my friends really don’t like snakes. I can actually catch snakes very well and hold them for a while and tame them and then pet them and share them with people, pass them around. My one rule though, of course, is that-

Pete Mockaitis

They appreciate that.

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, they love that. Yes. Some people won’t even go near the snakes I catch, but they’re kind of interesting creatures.

My one big rule which I’ve taught – I have two boys who are now in their early 20s. Of course, I’ve passed on the trade so they know how to catch snakes well as well, but I’ve always said “But whatever we catch and look at, we must put back exactly where we found it,” so everyone gets to go back unharmed no matter what it is we examine.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Could you tell us are there a couple pro tips to bear in mind should we want to go catch snakes after this conversation?

Denise Dudley

Yeah, so let me teach everybody how to catch a snake. There are a couple methods but the best way is to make sure that you are wearing first of all long pants and shoes because snakes really don’t want to be caught. They don’t seem to enjoy it so to speak.

When you’re first running up to them, getting ready to catch them, they will sometimes turn around and snap at you. But of course, I don’t catch poisonous snakes, obviously. I’m not a crazy person. It’s not really going to hurt you if they bite at you, but you still don’t want to be bitten.

If you’re wearing long pants and shoes, what you do is you get up and just gently, and I mean really gently, just lay your foot down on top of the snake as close to its head as you can get so that you’ve trapped it. You’ve got your foot not on it in any harsh way, but just kind of gently keeping it from moving and then you’ve got to get in there and get your fingers, your thumb and forefinger, right behind the snake’s head, right behind its jaws. At that point it can’t turn.

There’s a point where the snake’s head, because of its skull, is fixed. If you catch a snake farther back on its body, it is perfectly capable of whipping around and biting you and you don’t like that. It doesn’t feel good. But if you catch it right behind the head, you can hold into it.

Then all snakes, it’s very strange, if you hold them long enough, they finally just decide that you’re okay. Then you can let go from behind their head and then they just kind of crawl around on your – I guess they don’t crawl, do they? They slither around on your arm and just seem to be quite happy to be with you. It just takes about usually three to five minutes and then they just decide that it’s okay to be captured. That’s how you catch a snake.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that you went there. It’s thorough.

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes. Well, I’m a teacher, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I practically feel like I can do it.

Denise Dudley

I think you should try it.

Pete Mockaitis

I don’t think my wife will like it, but I’m intrigued to try it.

Denise Dudley

Give it a whirl and call me if you have any problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Can do, can do. Now, your most recent book is called Work It. I’d like to hear a little bit about – what’s the primary idea of this one?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely. Sure. This is my most recent book. It actually is an act of love. I’ve been working with a population recently that is not the population I’ve worked with for most of my adult life. Mostly I’ve worked with adult learners teaching assertiveness training and management, communication skills. I really work mostly with communication skills in my career.

But I’ve worked most recently now just because of a few invitations I’ve had to come into high schools and colleges, I’ve worked with a lot of people who are graduating from both high school and college and heading out on their first, I’m going to call it, career job.

I always try to say your career job is to be distinguished from when you delivered pizza in high school or whatever it was you did back then. This is the job that you really think might become the thing that you could do for a very long time and hopefully aligns with your interests and passions.

I’ve been working a lot with that population of students and loving it, by the way, so a lot of times at the end of the talks I’ve been giving about how to put your best foot forward in an interview or how to discover what your passions are and people will come up and ask me for some kind of a reading resource and I didn’t find one that I thought really fit all of what I believe, so I wrote one.

It’s one of those, there didn’t seem to be one, so I wrote it. I wrote Work It. It’s called Work It: Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted for young people who are just entering the career market. It is a gift of love because I’m donating all of my royalties to youth organizations throughout the country. It’s my latest little passion right now.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. We have listeners often say, “Hey, how do I stand out? How do I do the get noticed part of this?” I’d love to get your perspectives here and feel free to not be limited to folks who are in their very first career job, but those that are some years in. What are some of the top principles when it comes to getting noticed and standing out?

Denise Dudley

Absolutely and I would want to point out just as you’re sort of implying, that really when I wrote this book, a lot of people came to me who were well into their careers and said, “I needed this book just because I’m changing careers and I wanted to really learn what I needed to do to polish up my resume and do all the things that you need to do if you’re going to get out there even in your mid-career point.”

Here are the things that I usually talk about. For one thing, I think that it’s important to – I believe that almost everything in the world actually stems from excellent communication skills. I could talk about this for hours and hours, but I believe that the way that we stand out, the way that we can get noticed and the best way is to make sure that we have command of all of the vehicles that we use to communicate ourselves to other people.

When I talk about communication, I don’t just mean sitting here talking. I mean facial expression, eye contact, what you’re doing with your hands, your actual vocal tone and loudness. I like to go into details about all of those things and make sure that I do my best when I’m working with people to bring all of the communication components into alignment so that someone really is an excellent, I always call it a walking, talking, audio/visual representation of who you are.

To master those sorts of skills, I think helps just about anyone to stand out. Good communication skills, being able to say what I want, to be positive, to be willing to take on projects that I’m asked to  do, that kind of moves over into having a positive attitude, having a can-do attitude. I think that helps us to get noticed, if we’re going to be hired to be promoted within the jobs we already have.

A lot of it has to do with our intentions I guess I would say. When I approach a job, when I approach a task that I’ve been assigned by my employer, do I approach it with a “Sure I’ll do that. I’ll take care of that,” sort of an attitude? Do I look like I am someone you want to be around? I think that has a lot to do with it too.

Even the crabbiest of employers and supervisors do prefer to have people around them who have more of a positive personality. Showing our positive sides I think also helps us to get noticed .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I’d love it if you could maybe unpack in a little bit of detail here. When it comes to folks doing it wrong, what are some things that I would say show up frequently and are easy to overlook and what are the fixes for it?

Denise Dudley

Oh great, that’s a great question.

There are few things that I think that people initially do wrong. Again, going back to communication. Let me just break down communication for a second and then I’ll address this.

When I talk about you, your overall you-ness, as I would call it, I like to talk about, as I’ve mentioned a couple of these already, but I want to mention all of them. I like to talk about your facial expression, what it’s doing; you’re eye-contact, what’s happening with eye-contact. I like to talk about your posture, where your posture is; your use of hands, your hand gestures. Those are your visual representations.

Then there are three auditory ones: your voice tone, what the tone sounds like; your voice loudness, how loud you’re being; then finally, your verbal content, the actual words you’re using when you go to talk to people. Within those seven components, there are things that people do right and wrong within each of those. Let me just start with facial expressions .

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s do them all. A wrong and a right for all seven.

Denise Dudley

With facial expression, what we want to do is we want to start with what’s called, technically there’s a word for everything, what’s called a neutral to positive open-facial expression. Now what does that mean?

It means that when you first look at me, I’m looking open. I look approachable. I have a neutral toward positive expression on my face, which means I’m not scowling but I’m also not smiling wildly because if I smile too soon and too much I look kind of scary in a way, like you might not want to approach me. I work toward neutral toward positive, skewing slightly toward positive when I first see you, when I first approach you .

When you first look at me, we know from a bunch of research here about first impressions. There are really two important first impressions.

There is a first impression that’s been really chronicled very recently, which now apparently occurs within about one second, actually under one second, a flicker of a first impression. Of course, a first impression that is found within one second can be only your facial expression. It can’t be anything else because I haven’t talked to you yet, I haven’t opened my mouth. You don’t know what I’m going to say.

Facial expression is the first first impression. It’s important to make sure that it looks open and not closed, not unfriendly, and not wildly smiling because that, as I mentioned, looks a little weird.

The things that we do wrong are sometimes we don’t pay attention to that very, very first facial expression moment when I have the opportunity to impress you toward the positive.

We know another thing about first impressions and that is that once you’ve made a first impression, it is almost impossible to alter it, almost impossible the research shows.

I mentioned that there are two first impressions, that one second first impression and then another first impression occurs within about, we believe, five to fifteen seconds of meeting someone. I personally think it’s within about ten to fifteen seconds that we’re making that first impression, which is now based on a little bit more.

I can see your face moving. It’s a little more plastic. I can see you smiling at me, which is the next thing I think is important to make sure after I presented that initial neutral to positive open facial expression, that I immediately go into a smile.

A smile is a very, very important personal trait to have. I usually spend a lot of time talking to people about the importance of smiles. We know from all sorts of research, which gets reported quite a bit in Forbes magazine and every other place.

We know that smiling does all kinds of things for our bodies, lowers cortisol, brings up serotonin, lowers blood pressure, lowers our body temperature actually, lowers heart rate, does all kinds of things for us, the people who are smiling, but it also transmits to the person we are smiling at. It actually allows the other person to experience those positive sorts of effects as well.

That smile is an important thing to cultivate. I sometimes come across people who decide that their personal shtick is that I’m too cool to smile. Have you ever met somebody like that? Like, “I’m just not going to smile. I’m not smiling.”

Pete Mockaitis

It’s like they’re brooding and they’re sipping a latte. They’re thinking some deep thoughts.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Exactly. They’re deep and they’re edgy, so smiling doesn’t really fit in. I try to tell people, “Look, really, smiling is one of the best things you can possibly do.”

Also, research shows there’s a lot of crazy research out there on smiling, research actually shows that people who smile, rather than seeming less intelligent or less with it, we actually – we receive the benefit of the doubt, that we probably are smiling because we are intelligent, we are in control, and we do know what we’re talking about. Smiling is an important thing.

The next mistake I want to talk about, of course, is the reverse of that, just thinking I’m not going to smile because it’s not worth it. I’m too busy or I’m too cool.” I think that’s a big mistake. Facial expression, very, very important .

Pete Mockaitis

I’d love to talk, if I could at first.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, please.

Pete Mockaitis

About when it comes to smile, I think some people would say, “Hey, I’m not anti-smile, but it just doesn’t seem authentic or genuine and can’t you kind of tell when a smile is real or if it’s fake based on wrinkles elsewhere in the face that appear or don’t appear.” What are your thoughts in terms of smiling naturally and cultivating a more sort of natural smile that is real?

Denise Dudley

Good question. Of course, I don’t know if you’re referring to this or if you know about it, but there have been a bunch of studies out there that talk about real versus fake smiles and that technically when we put subjects in a room and show them smiling faces, they’re pretty much able to tell whether it’s a fake smile or a real smile on the photograph of the person they’re being shown.

This is where I go with that. We do know that fake smiles, fake smiling is better than not smiling at all.

Pete Mockaitis

No kidding.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, insight

Denise Dudley

Yeah. For a couple of reasons. One of them is that such cool stuff by the way. I don’t want to get all geeky on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Please do.

Denise Dudley

But we know – here’s some cool things. We know that there is a brain-body connection. There just is. We know it from lots of ways.

For instance, if I were to sit here right now and tense up every muscle in my body and I held it, and held it, and held it, and held it. Pretty soon my brain would start to assess what my body was doing and think “Something must be wrong. We’re all tensed up.” I can actually talk my brain into experiencing anxiety simply by tensing my muscles up.

Conversely, we know through meditation, deep relaxation that if I meditate or if I think of a relaxing thought, I sit in a room, I quiet my mind, I can actually do things like relieve muscle pain and actually lower heart rate because my body is basically listening to what my brain is thinking and saying, “All must be well. I guess I can relax. I guess there’s no danger here.”

This brain-body connection is quite real and verifiable. We know that smiling, when we smile, what happens is that our brain is monitoring what our body is doing. Our brain actually senses the muscles of our face coming back in a smile and it senses that those muscles are coming back to smile and says, “Something nice must be happening. We’re smiling.”

That brain actually releases serotonin, the feel good hormone, simply by sensing that the smile muscles are being pulled back.

There is a very interesting study that was done. This was by a man at Stanford. He’s passed away now. But he actually did a study. This was a while back actually. Then there were several others that have been done since then using other methods.

But what he did was he had people, he had subjects at Stanford actually make two different sounds. He just simply had them make these sounds. One group of people was asked to make the sound of e, eee, a long e, eee, which mimics a smile, eee. Then the other people-

Pete Mockaitis

Eee. It’s like you’re talking to a baby.

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Eee, eee. And it pulls your mouth back. Then he had another group of people make a u sound, uuu.

Pete Mockaitis

Uuu.

Denise Dudley

When you do a u, your mouth turns down, uuu. It looks like it’s sort of a downward turned mouth. So eee versus uuu.

Based on what they were making, the sound they were making, they were asked to rate their moods. The people who were making the e sounds were actually rating themselves as much happier. They felt good after making that sound and not so much with the people who were pursing their lips. They didn’t feel as good doing that. That was just simply with making sounds.

This man, by the way, if anybody wants to look up cool research projects, this man’s name was Robert – if I say his name, I’ll have to spell it for everybody because I believe it was pronounced Zajonc, but he was – I think he was Yugoslavian or something. It’s actually spelled Z-A-J-O-N-C, believe it – it looks like Zajonc, I think, but it’s pronounced Zajonc. Don’t ask-

Pete Mockaitis

That makes me smile saying it.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, I know.

Pete Mockaitis

Zajonc.

Denise Dudley

Zajonc, yeah. He did all kinds of interesting research projects with how people feel based on body language.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s intriguing. It sounds like part of the equation is, so a fake smile beats a no smile, but a real smile is even better.

Denise Dudley

Much better.

Pete Mockaitis

And we can get there by sort of just naturally putting our body in the spot, whether that’s meditating or having some quiet time or saying eee. Are there other sort of quick hit tactics that just kind of put you in a naturally smiley place?

Denise Dudley

Yeah. Good question. One thing that I suggest is that when you first meet somebody, in order to think of a genuine smile, I happen to be a really smiley person. I like to smile. I think I must know the benefits of smiling because I do feel good when I smile and I do smile genuinely at people, but for people who are thinking, “Eh, humanity. Eh, not another person I have to smile at.”

If you’re just not feeling it or if it’s not inside of you to smile, I always try to suggest to people, well, as you’re meeting somebody just think of something about them, if you know anything about them or you’re even looking at them, think about the most positive thing you either know or see about that person.

Just go ahead and as you walk up to someone, it’s just a good way to focus. It’s what I suggest to people. Just to say as I walk up to someone just think, “Beautiful red hair,” or just something, just track on whatever you can. Or, “This person just received an award,” so whatever it is I know about this person that makes me like them or feel good toward them.

It could be superficial like red hair or significant like something that they achieved, but one way or another if I can track on some truly personal thing about that person I’m about to smile at, it will certainly make my smile more genuine .

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. I like that. Thank you. Alright, we talked smiles in depth and I love it. Maybe we won’t get through the seven and that’s fine.

Denise Dudley

We may not.

Pete Mockaitis

But let’s hear about eye contact.

Denise Dudley

Eye contact, very, very important. There are a couple things that people do wrong with eye contact, things that we do right with it. I spend time talking about eye contact even though it’s in a sense part of facial expression because it has its own personal set of important rules.

For one thing, it’s very important, no matter how shy we are or reluctant we might be to do so, it’s very important that we make eye contact with people we’re interacting with, very important, whether that’s our boss, our coworkers, our children, our spouses, people we’re interacting with in the subway, whatever it is we’re doing. If we’re going to interact with someone, we want to make that eye contact.

There are a couple of times when it’s absolutely imperative and that’s when you’re either giving information, sharing some information with someone like, here are directions on how to do something or when you are giving instructions.

If you have a position at work where you need to orient someone to a job or tell them how to do something, very important that you make eye contact with the person at that point. It just helps lock in, “Here’s what I’m telling you. Please pay attention.” Eye contact, very, very important.

But the other part of eye contact is sort of a rule of eye contact, is that we make it, but we also break it. We mostly make it and then we look away for a little flicker of a moment and then look back again. We want to make direct eye contact, but that we break eye contact as well.

Now some people will ask me, “Well, when I look away, where do I look?” Well, anywhere. It won’t matter, just look away for a second and then look back. If you don’t break eye contact whatsoever, you’re going to appear one of two ways. There are two types of people who don’t break eye contact.

The first would be an aggressive person, someone who is intimidating me. If you think about somebody, whoever it is you might be thinking of right now who might have made eye contact with you and never looked away, just looked at you, and looked at you, and looked at you, it starts to get intense and it starts to become uncomfortable unless you just look away for a second, just break it and come back.

The other set of people who don’t break eye contact are people who are in love. If you’re in love with someone or you’re romantically inclined. Just think back to if you’re in love right now or if you’ve been in love, how you just don’t want to look away from that person’s eyes.

That’s a good thing. It’s an energy exchange. But when we’re first meeting people out there in the world or working with people at work, we want to break that eye contact so as to not appear either romantic or aggressive. Now, I believe that there are some people who use eye contact quite deliberately to be aggressive and know that they are showing you that they are in a position of power by not breaking it .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I believe there was a – maybe an Office episode about this. Don’t break eye contact and don’t break the handshake-

Denise Dudley

Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

As a means of showing your power and your authority there.

I guess I look away maybe more than is optimal just because I’m thinking hard about like what they’ve said or what is the implication of this stuff. Any thoughts associated with the ratio? It sounds like you’re saying you pretty much want to be on eye contact with brief breaks. How do we think about thinking when it comes to conversing with someone while also making eye contact?

Denise Dudley

Well, if you’re someone who looks away a lot, one of my suggestions – because some people do that. Some people want to close their eyes in fact while they’re thinking. I suggest that if it’s a really important conversation that’s going to continue for a while, that you do what I call pre-calling it.

I always suggest to people that if you have some kind of thing that you really want to do that steps slightly outside the norm of what a normal interaction might look like, that you just pre-call it.

That you say, as Pete, you say, “You know I really want to focus hard on what we’re about to discuss this afternoon and I want to tell you that sometimes if I’m not looking at you and I’m looking down it’s because I’m thinking very hard about what you’re saying to me. I just want to let you know that that’s just something I do in order to truly absorb what it is you’re saying.”

I think it’s okay to say that sort of thing. Then the person goes, “Oh, alright. Okay,” and they kind of get it.

Because a lot of times if we look away, one of the things that if I’m talking and you look away for a long period of time, it tends to make the speaker run out of energy. I start to lose my energy because I’m thinking – I sort of trail off a little bit like, “Well, okay, is he still here. Is he not?” I’m not getting that feedback loop.

Continuing that eye contact with the person we’re speaking with is actually completing a communication feedback loop which is telling me as you look at me, I am with you. I am with you in this conversation. If you tend to break it a lot, I would just pre-call it and say, “This is what I do in order to concentrate.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. When it comes to making the eye contact, are you looking right at one eyeball, you’re shifting two eyeballs?

Denise Dudley

Sure, so good.

Pete Mockaitis

Which eyeball should we look at? Eyebrow? Nose?

Denise Dudley

You’re so good. I love your questions. Okay. This is going to take hours. Let’s have like a five hour interview because I love these questions.

There are a lot of things about where we look. For one thing, we want to try to look at both eyes. Now, the closer we are to someone, if I’m sitting very, very close to you, you can tell that I’m shifting from eye to eye. If we’re eight feet away, we’re not really actually shifting eyeball to eyeball. We’re just looking at the person’s eye area.

If we’re way, way, way back, like 50 feet away, then actually eye contact gets perceived in the upper third of the face. We know that from research. Anything in the upper third of the face is perceived as eye contact, but the farther away we are from someone, the more it seems like eye contact, the closer we are to someone, the more important it is to look directly in the eyeballs.

We do our best to move back and forth between the two eyes. However, I always suggest to someone, this happened to me the other day. I was talking to someone who had one eye that was impaired. It was clearly not a functioning eyeball, so I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious.

We were standing very closely together in an art gallery actually, an art museum. This was a guard and he was telling me stories about the art work. I wanted to make sure that I just focused on the eye that was working because I didn’t want him to actually think I was assessing the other eye, so I stayed on that eyeball really out of politeness plus it’s the only one that’s functioning. If he wants to see me as looking at him, I’m going to need to look at that eyeball.

I actually tailor it to what’s happening with someone if they have any kind of a visual impairment. Otherwise, looking back and forth at both eyes is probably the best idea. I love that question.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. All right, we’ve got the facial expressions. We’ve got the eye contact. How about posture?

Denise Dudley

Posture. Posture says a lot about us and there’s some weirdly interesting studies about posture.

Posture says a whole bunch of things that we might or might not expect. A lot of times we might assume that posture might tell others that we are attentive or that we are organized. It also, for some reason, makes people decide whether we’re intelligent or not. Good posture is associated with intelligence, which is not a bad thing to have is that kind of association.

Posture tells us everything. You have posture whether you’re seated or standing or walking. You always have posture .

A few things about posture. One of the things is that sometimes I like to talk to women just for a moment and then I’ll bring men back in.

But a lot of times women got taught, especially older generations of women, far older than you or I are, a lot of older generations of women got taught to stand somewhat sideways in what was called in the 1950s, model’s pose. Model’s pose said that we put our feet together very closely and then we turn slightly sideways in order to show off the most pleasant and slender aspects of our figure. How’s that? Boy, a little bit of sexism from the ‘50s here.

That is not a powerful posture however. If I were to stand kind of sideways while I talk to you, it would look weird in modern day world.

But what we want to do instead is to stand, I like to call it architecturally, so that my feet are slightly apart. My most powerful position for posture is to stand with my feel slightly apart, so I don’t look like a big tall thing that comes down to a tiny little point, so feet slightly apart.

Then I want to make my upper body match my lower point, so I bring my shoulders back and into position so that I’m standing in a very comfortable but we’ll call it spread out sort of way so that I’m not deliberately trying to look tiny.

Now with that shoulders back suggestion there, a lot of times women like to wrinkle their noses at me if I say that because women become self-conscious about their chests.

I generally like to tell women it doesn’t matter if your chest is big or small, you like it or you don’t, no matter what it is you think about it, I promise that you will look better, more powerful, more assertive, more in charge of yourself with your shoulders back than if you’re slumping forward and trying to cover up your chest. You will simply just look better.

Taking that position is very, very important. Taking that position of I am here. I am no bigger or smaller than I really am and I own my own space. It helps you to assume that everyone in the room understands that you’re here and you’re here to stay.

Back to the brain body thing for a moment because I think this is interesting stuff too. A very interesting study was done with shy people. Shy people were asked, in this case, to sit in a meeting. You know how a shy person might sit, kind of folded over, minimizing themselves so that they don’t appear to really be present.

They were told by the researchers to sit in this meeting, you don’t even have to talk, just sit there, but in this case spread yourself out, just spread out a little bit. Spread your legs out, put your arms on the arms of the chair, put your shoulders back, own your space in the meeting. You don’t have to do anything but that.

Then they were asked after this meeting to self-rate their own ability to be assertive and when they actually spread their bodies out, their brains basically listening to what the body was doing, the brain thought, “Wow, you’re sitting there as if you own you space. You’re sitting there as if you’re a person who knows what he or she is talking about. You must be feeling good about yourself.”

They rated themselves completely more in control and more assertive just by spreading out their bodies.

Pete Mockaitis

Very good. All right, so shoulders back, own your space.

Denise Dudley

Shoulders back.

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else on posture?

Denise Dudley

Sure. You have posture when you’re seated as well, so when you’re seated you want to make sure you unfold your legs if at all possible and put your feet on the floor. That’s the most positive and powerful position to sit in when you are seated.

Making sure you do all those things, arms at your side when you’re standing or arms on your lap or on the top of the table or on the arms of your chair if you’re seated, not fidgeting, not playing with your cuticles, not doing any of those sorts of things, but making sure that you look like you are comfortable and calm with your arms and your hands .

Pete Mockaitis

Anything else associated with hands?

Denise Dudley

Oh yeah, we can talk about hands next. Your hands are saying tons of things about you.

Generally speaking I would say that you probably, all your listeners out there, are probably using their hand motions perfectly correctly unless you’ve received some kind of feedback to the contrary, which could be that somebody says to you, “Whoa, you sure use your hands a lot,” or if they just start watching your hands while you’re talking and it looks like there’s a bumblebee between the two of you, then you’re probably using your hands in excess.

What we want to do with our hands is to make our hands match our message. We do want to definitely use our hands because hands help to describe what we’re talking about. They actually help our brains to continue thinking right.

For instance, if I were describing to you a beautiful park with a lake and swans on it, even as I’m sitting here talking to you right now, I’m actually moving my hands because I’m thinking about a park and a lake and swans. It actually helps my brain to visualize what I want to describe. Hands actually help guide our words in ways.

But we want to use our hands because it also helps the listener if they’re looking at us to know what we’re talking about. If I kept my hands right at my sides and I never ever moved them it would look stiff and rigid and it would look like I wasn’t coming across in a natural way.

Another thing about hands is that we like to take a tip from newscasters. Newscasters know to use their hands, but they keep their hands within a fairly small area because they really are in a box basically. When we view a newscaster on television, we see a talking head, as we call it, sitting in a box. If they were to gesture way, way, way outside of that box area, we would lose their hands, so they stay within a small area.

I always suggest to people that you do the same, that you keep your gestures within about we’ll call it a foot and a half area outside of your own body.

Pete Mockaitis

This is so good. Thank you. I’d love to talk about voice, but I’m also watching the time. Maybe you tell me is there anything else you really want to make sure to emphasize before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Denise Dudley

I would like to mention, if possible, voice tone because I think it’s very important. Again, just knowing what I know about working with people and doing so much work in communication, it’s a very good idea for all of us, men and women both, to stay in the lower ranges of our voice tone .

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Denise Dudley

Yeah, okay, I’ll do this. That’s the problem. I don’t want everybody to now start walking around talking like a truck driver who smokes a cigar, but we want to stay in that lower range because that’s our power range. That’s where we sound more like we know what we’re talking about.

Speaking very quickly to women, women have something that’s called a widely varying intonational pitch pattern. Isn’t that something? It means that we go up and down and up – it’s very, very musical, very melodic, but that upper most pitch pattern is where we lose our power, where we go, “Well, hello,” and it’s really high.

We want to stay in that lower range because it lends more credibility to what we’re talking about. Cultivating a lower pitch pattern is a good idea for men and women both .

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Denise Dudley

Okay. Gosh, I have so many. The most obvious one is really a quote that comes from Mahatma Gandhi because it is really what I believe and it’s one that gets quoted a lot. Then I’d love to give you a second one which is really my voice. It’s something that I say that has helped me so much in life.

But the one that is really in my soul is the idea that we should all be the change we want to see in the world. I think that says so much because sometimes, even I, I get out there all the time and I’m working with people, I work with young people all the time, and sometimes I’m even in my hotel room and I’m thinking, “I’m just one person. Maybe I did talk to 100 people tonight, but that’s just 100 people and how many millions of people are there.”

I start to think about one little tiny drop of water in the ocean. Then I think, “No, no, by behaving this way, by being the change I want to see, if we all did that, we would create an amazing movement of change.” I’ve always loved that particular quote. I would want the world to know that that’s what I would love to live by is that idea.

But I also want to tell you another quote because it’s something that is really my quote. It comes from my life experience and I’ve told so many people this. It’s actually in the book too that I wrote.

That what I believe is that there are definitely times in your life when you cannot tell the bad news from the good, especially when you’re stuck right in the middle of a situation. And you could think that the worst thing in the world was happening to you and lo and behold, it’s about to become the best thing that ever happened to you.

I like to encourage people to know that you don’t know the bad news from the good until you get down the road a little bit and figure out what the repercussions are from whatever it is you’re experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Thank you. Now you’ve said a lot of studies. Do you have a favorite?

Denise Dudley

I was kind of a study junkie because of what I teach.

We’ve already talked a lot about the smiling studies and there are a lot of them about lowering blood pressure and I even know – these are legitimate studies, so I don’t ever quote studies that I can’t really find the abstracts on.

But recently, since we’ve already covered smiling, I have been enjoying so many studies out there on walking. I’m talking to lots of audiences about walking. We kind of know intrinsically how walking works. It’s just a great thing to do, but it’s a mood enhancer and it’s a creativity enhancer. It does all kinds of things. There are some great studies.

There’s one that came from – well, from the Midwest, not so far from Chicago, from Iowa State University. There was a study that they did of getting people to walk, subjects to walk. All they needed to do was walk for 12 minutes, so this isn’t very long. It’s just getting up and moving.

They called it – in the study it’s called incidental ambulation. Don’t you love that? Incidental ambulation, which means walking without a purpose I believe, but they just got people to get up and walk.

In this study they even told the people in the study, “Okay, we want you to get up and move around for a little bit before you come back to the task at hand,” which was really a fake task. They were testing walking, of course.

They even told them, “When you come from walking, we’re sorry, you’ll probably be tired and you might not really be in the mood to finish this test, but we just want you to get up and take a walk for a moment,” so they even negatively biased the experience of the walkers.

But, of course, when the walkers came back, their mood was improved, they were better able to focus on the test they were taking. All good things happened from that in a mere – in 12 minutes basically.

There are a whole bunch of other ones. Walking tests recently – walking research is amazing. Stanford University figured out that walking for just five to fifteen minutes increases what’s called divergent thinking which is what they mean is creativity. It also helps with plasticity of the brain. Cognitive performance improves while you’re walking.

Max Planck Institute did a whole bunch of studies on it and found out that cognitive – basically just thinking, the ability to think improves while you’re walking. The only caveat there is you need to walk at you own preferred speed. It creates a rhythm in your brain that your brain enjoys, which facilitates thinking.

I’m loving studies recently on walking because they are reminding me to get up and walk every now and then.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Now, how about a book?

Denise Dudley

Well, I probably could be quoting business books, since this is a business, but my favorite books are really not business books because sometimes I just need to get out of my own head.

One of my favorite all time books is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. It’s reportage at its best. It’s before Tom Wolfe ventured over into novels and fiction. He was really one of the best reportage writers in the world.

The Right Stuff
actually reviews our space program in the United States. A brilliantly written book, just a fun book to read and so interesting, just about what astronauts had to go through. I’m loving that book.

Another one I want to give a shout out about I read two summers ago and it’s Bill Bryson. I happen to love Bill Bryson’s writing. He wrote a book called One Summer: America, 1927. It’s a factual book about all the things that happened in America in 1927 and it is a crazy good read. It’s exciting all the things that happened back then. I recommend that book as just a great book to relax with.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Denise Dudley

I’m an article reader. I know that there’s the movement out there, what they call the TL;DR, which stands for too long, didn’t read world, where “Oh, that’s too long. I’m not going to read it.” That’s not why I like articles, although articles really are quick as opposed to books.

I like articles because I can sample a lot of different ideas in a short period of time. If I have an hour to read before I go to bed, I can read articles and learn ten different things about science and about dinosaurs and about human emotion and whatever else if I just read the right article.

For me, since I’m an article reader, I happen to like Pocket. I subscribe to Pocket. Pocket sends me all great kinds of suggestions. I don’t read them all, but I like it.

I love Reddit. There’s no doubt I like Reddit even though people kind of laugh and yes, sometimes I click on the funny tab for Reddit to look at funny things because I think that’s good for my soul.

I also like to read outside of the United States about the United States because it’s a very interesting perspective. I discovered it when I have to travel a lot for work and so sometimes I’m reading about the US while I’m sitting in London, so there’s a different perspective when you’re not the US, talking about the US.

One of the newspapers I like to read is called the Globe and Mail. It’s Canadian, so it’s very close to us but it has very interesting US perspectives. I like the Globe and Mail.

Then finally I like something called The Browser. In this case it costs money, whereas Reddit and Pocket and StumbleUpon are all free. I think The Browser is about 35 bucks a year or something, but they send me really good suggestions for articles to read as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Very cool. Thank you.

Denise Dudley

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences?

Denise Dudley

Yeah, when I am working with audiences, the thing that I say that I think most people resonate with, and it’s usually after of course I’ve been talking to them for a while, is this.

I tell people “In human relations, in communication, in your life as you walk around and illustrate who you are, everything counts.” I even have a slide at the end of most things that says everything counts: how you talk, what you do, what you look like, how you interact with people, how you think, your work product, your actions, your thoughts. Everything counts. Everything is you.

You don’t ever get to get away from you. You don’t really ever get to do something that doesn’t represent you even if you wish you could. Whatever it is you’re doing, it counts. I think that that’s good news. I would say that if everything counts, from my facial expression to how I treat people, then why wouldn’t I want everything to count in a direction that makes me the very best possible person I could be.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, thank you. Denise, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Denise Dudley

I’ve got a website. It’s DeniseMDudley.com, like for my middle initial, M, so DeniseMDudley.com. Of course, I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook, and Twitter, the usual.

I’m also the founder of a very big training company called SkillPath Seminars, which is a very big company. I’ve sold it, but I’m still quite involved in it all the time. If there were no other way that you could remember to reach me, you could call SkillPath and they could put me right through. Those would be good ways to reach me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Do you have a final challenge or a call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Denise Dudley

Yup, I do. I thought about what I’d want to say and it’s this. I’m a huge believer in this.

I want to strive for myself and my call to action for everyone else is that I guess I’ll describe it this way, that there are times when you meet somebody and you’ll think of someone right now. When you meet somebody and it could be in the grocery store checkout line, it’s somebody you work with, it’s someone you’re related to, but when you walk away from them, you feel better about yourself or you feel better about the world or you feel like it’s not such a bad place or something.

I call it being expanded, that somehow I feel expanded because of having been in the presence of a certain person.

Then there’s the other type of person where when I walk away from then and, again, it could be an incidental interaction in a grocery store, I feel, what I call, contracted. I feel like my energy has been sucked out of me and I have to sort of tuck in and make myself small for a while in order to protect what energy I have left.

Expanded or contracted is what I call it because it feels like that to me. My call to action for everyone is to be that person who expands others, that by the time you finish an interaction with someone, no matter what that interaction is, that they walk away feeling better about themselves or the situation.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Denise, this has been so fun, so helpful. Thanks for going into the depths with the research and the goodies. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Work It, and all you’re doing.

Denise Dudley

Thank you so very much. Gosh, I hope everybody gets out there and catches snakes and does everything else as a result of this.

289: How Executives End Up in the C-Suite with Cassandra Frangos

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“Executive Whisperer” Cassandra Frangos outlines what it takes to become a Chief Something Officer and how to garner needed  support along the way.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When to follow—and when to disrupt— company culture
  2. One thing our listeners and most CEOs have in common
  3. How to pick up on social cues that can make or break your career

About Cassandra

Cassandra Frangos, Ed.D., is a consultant on Spencer Stuart’s Leadership Advisory Services team. She collaborates with Fortune 500 leadership teams on executive assessments, succession planning, leadership development and top team effectiveness. Previously, Cassandra was the head of the global executive talent practice at Cisco, where she was responsible for accelerating the readiness of the talent at all levels of the organization to transform the business and culture. Through partnerships with the executive team, she deployed innovative approaches to organization design, succession planning, assessment, coaching and development programs to drive business results and innovation. She also played an integral role in the 2015 succession planning for Cisco’s CEO, one of the most respected and longest-tenured CEOs in the tech industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Cassandra Frangos Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cassandra, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Cassandra Frangos
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a little bit interested to hear your story, how you made the leap from being a vice president of Global Executive Talent at Cisco over now to your current role.

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, so it’s actually a funny story, where I actually worked with Spencer Stuart at Cisco.  I worked on our CEO succession, and C-suite succession.  And Cisco was really just I think a great company that was able to partner with many firms, and in my role of Executive Talent I did a lot of executive assessment and succession myself with my team.  But when it came time for CEO succession, I really wanted an external partner and Spencer Stuart was that for me, and just was fabulous at helping me think about, how do our internal candidates compare to the outside and what are some other things we should think about as we go through the CEO succession process?
So we became friends and partners along the way, and then a few years later, after Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco, was well established, Spencer Stuart came knocking at my door and said, “We’d love to have you as part of the team.”  And for those listening, they did not violate any non-compete, so it was all above board.  But yeah, I was happy to go work with many of the people that I had worked with previously.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent.  And I’m sure, boy, with that role, doing talent at Cisco, I’m sure you must have just learned so many things and seen so many things, in terms of applicants and interviews and just the whole process of folks coming on board.  I’d love it if you could maybe just share a tip or two, when it comes to, “Hey, as someone who’s done a whole lot of hiring and supervising of hiring, here are some do’s and don’ts”.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think part of it is, there are so many ways that people look at you in terms of your brand internally and externally, and people have ways of being a few degrees of separation.  So sometimes you think, “Oh, they haven’t called my direct boss”, but actually someone has called your direct report from few jobs ago to find out who you are as a leader.  So, I think the world is hyper connected and just know that don’t burn any bridges as you go along in your career, because that is so important.
And as I was in the role of talent, that was always a key part, is, what’s this person’s brand and what would they bring to a company like Cisco?  And then even as they were looking at internal jobs in Cisco, what was their brand in terms of the last team they worked with or what were they like as a young manager and what would they be like as an executive?  So there’s always interconnectedness there.
And then always just be mindful of how you treat people.  I think that’s always something where, how did you treat the person who actually walked you into your interview, or the admin who was helping you get everything scheduled?  How you treat those people is actually even more important as you think about even marketing yourself for a new job.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.  And I’d like to follow up on your point about not burning bridges there.  In putting together this course about changing jobs and whether or not you should stay or go , it’s been interesting how a lot of listeners have said they’re really scared to burn bridges and maybe they ought not to leave as a result.  And so, my intuition about this is that there’s a good way and a not so good way to leave, and burning bridges specifically refers to kind of leaving people in a tight spot.  So, any pro tips for exiting gracefully and how to not let that fear stop you from taking the opportunity?

Cassandra Frangos
Right, it’s a good question.  So my advice would be, if you’re a senior and you’ve got a huge team that you’re responsible for or a large part of the business that you’re responsible for, is always be thinking about your own succession.  That’s one way to not leave a company in the lurch.  So many senior executives are constantly thinking about their own succession, so that they’re not leaving a company in the lurch.  Or even if they move on to a different internal role, there’s somebody who is really ready to take over the business or take over the team so there’s some continuity there.
The other is, I always like to give people the advice of, leave a job on a high note.  Don’t think about leaving the job when you are on a downhill.  Think about changing jobs internally or externally when you really feel like you’ve maxed your potential, everything is running well and it’s a good time to hand off to somebody else.  Don’t necessarily think about leaving it when it needs a big turnaround or it’s a mess, because chances are you’re going to need to be fixing it and it could burn a bridge if you’re leaving it into complete shambles.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you, that’s helpful.  And so, let’s talk about your book here, Crack the C-Suite Code.  What’s the main idea here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so it’s actually inspired by a lot of executives or aspiring executives that I’ve worked with over the years who kept asking me, “So how do you get into the C-suite?”  It seems like this mystery of a question sometimes, and I felt bad that everybody thought it was such a mystery.  So I just wanted to write something that outlined different paths to the C-suite and make it inspirational, in the sense that there are many paths, many different ways to get there and it doesn’t have to be just one answer for everybody.  It can take many different turns for each person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, share with us.  What are some of the main insight takeaways here?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so there are a few different paths.  One that you would probably think of is, stay at a company for a really long time and reach the top.  There are so many executives who have inspirational stories where they started out on the front line and then reached CEO, or they started out really not qualified for some of the jobs that they had and they ended up in the C-suite.  So tenured path is certainly one that I talk about in the book.
The second is you’ve reached maybe a peak at your company and you say, “I really, really want to make it to the C-suite, but I don’t think I’ll make it here.”  And they jump out and actually become part of the C-suite of maybe a smaller company or just a different type of company.  I see that happen all the time, where someone’s dream and they can’t sleep at night if they’re not a Chief Financial Officer or they’re not a CEO, and they just won’t necessarily make it at their current company.  So if they go to a different company or a smaller company they reach the top and absolutely love it and enjoy being part of the top.
The other path is the founder path, where you’ve worked maybe at a smaller or larger company, you’ve had great experience and you have such a passion for starting your own company, and that’s where you take the path of founder.  And just really have an idea that you feel passionate about and you really want to make a difference with your own company.  That’s another path.
And then finally the path that’s probably least likely for you to be able to control it, but leapfrog succession is something that’s actually becoming more of a trend, which happened at Cisco, where leapfrog succession is where you were a couple of levels below the C-suite and you jumped over a level to get into the C-suite.  So for example Cisco’s CEO jumped over a level to become the CEO, and that’s becoming more and more common.

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing.  And what are the circumstances that make that occur?

Cassandra Frangos
I think there are a few different ones.  One is the company is really ready to embrace a new leader, who is a bit more innovative or even has some new ideas to embrace new technology or take the business in a different direction.  It doesn’t necessarily mean a full turnaround, but it is someone who has some different ideas and is able to leapfrog the company, if you will, and to integrate success.
The other thing is they have established themselves internally as really being someone who has great followership across the company.  So when we announced Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins – standing ovation from across the company.  People just saw him as a natural fit and somebody who would really take Cisco into the future.  So if it’s a leapfrog it does have to be someone who has great followership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  Well, so we have a few pathways there, in terms of segmentation and arriving at the C-suite.  And I’d like to maybe sort of go back in time a little bit for folks who are not a year or two or three away from that point just yet.  Can you also share, within the book you’ve got some kind of universal accelerators and derailers that can really make a world of difference, when it comes to the rate of progression?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  Accelerators can certainly be looking at something that you haven’t done before.  So if you are a few levels or even several levels below top executive roles, it’s taking on the white space or a new assignment, something that you’ve never done before, it sort of reinvents yourself, you get to know different executives across the company.
The other is just collecting experiences, and I love this.  One executive I worked with – he would always describe it as each experience he’s collecting little nuggets that help him become even more valuable to the company and his career.  So that can often be accelerating.
And then the other is really having the right sponsorship internally and externally in the company.  So if you are inside a company and you’re thinking about making the next step, do you have the right sponsorship of key people who would really say, “Absolutely promote this person.  I would bet my bonus on this person.  They will get results, they’re the right kind of fit, they’re absolutely the right person to accelerate the company or in that particular role.”  So you do need really good sponsors along the way, and people who will really take a risk on you as well, because chances are not everybody’s done these jobs several times over.  Many CEO will say, “I’m not really qualified to do this job”, but somebody is willing to take the risk on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing.  And do you have any pro tips for how you go about identifying those sponsors and winning them over?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think one of them is chemistry.  If you don’t have great chemistry with someone, they’re not going to sponsor you.  So it can start off as a mentoring relationship where you are just asking for advice and then over time you build a relationship, and then it really grows into more of us sponsorship where they are willing to say, “I’m going to take this person on and make sure they get promoted.”  So it’s being smart of who you’re connected with and who you might have chemistry with, because if you don’t, then you can’t really force it.  It’s not something that you could just say, “Pete, I want you to be my sponsor.”  It’s not going to happen if we don’t have a relationship, or there hasn’t been some way where we’ve been successful together.  So I think that’s important as you think about sponsorship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  Well, how about the flipside of this, the derailers?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, so this one is fun, where if you think about…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, is it?  Doesn’t found fun, Cassandra.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh]  Yeah.  This is a question that I asked many senior executives, and I said, “What’s been something that you’ve seen derail other executives?”  And they said, “Too big of an ego.”  And you just hear the funniest stories – that’s the way this plays out.  Arrogance really doesn’t get you too far in the world, and a lot of senior executives will make it to a certain level and then you just see them derail because of too big of an ego.
And I think with also the way the world is going, in terms of more interconnectedness, and think about collaboration – no one wants to work with somebody who has too big of an ego or is just arrogant, where they only want to hear themselves talk and they don’t want to hear anyone else’s point of view.  So that can be something to really watch out for.  You need to have confidence of course, if you’re going to make it to the C-suite, but if you’re too arrogant it really won’t get you anywhere.  And you know all those people you’ve met; I mean you know them right away.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the stories.

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I’ll tell you one.  One was where an executive who constantly got feedback that he would not listen to anyone’s point of view.  So he’d be in meetings and he would interrupt you every two minutes.  Doesn’t matter who it was that would interrupt them – could be a brilliant engineer that really had a great point; just kept interrupting, wouldn’t listen to anyone’s point of view, everyone left the meeting deflated.  And then if they received feedback or, “We might need to move the product a different way” or, “We might need to think about this differently”, just said, “No, I’m right.  I know I’m right.  I’ve always been right, and thanks for the opinion.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, noted.  Don’t do that.  Thank you.  I want to also dig into your take on, you say a lot of times when there is a failure of leadership it is largely due to a cultural misfit.  And sometimes I wonder when I hear “fit”, if it’s just a euphemism for something else entirely, like, “I’m not going to tell you that this person is a jerk” or, “We hated him” or, “He completely failed to deliver all the things that we wanted.”  … to deliver upon.  But I think other times there’s something that’s really true, in terms of cultural fit, whereas this person is A, the culture is more so B, and it’s not a fit.  So could you just really lay that out in terms of several examples for what shows up as, “Hey, these things fit” or, “These things don’t fit”?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s looking at what kind of environment people can flourish in.  So, we’ve all met someone who would probably be great in a very structured, thinking culture, and they just would really flourish in the way of having procedures, policies, doing the same thing very reliably, and would just get really excited about doing that every single day.  On the flipside you can think about someone who would probably absolutely love to work for Apple – would love the innovation, love different ways of creating new products, and they’re probably willing to take some risk.  Maybe it’s a little bit more agile.
So you can think about two different spectrums and you can even think about yourself as to where you would fit most readily inside a culture.  And you can really feel it because you can get a sense of, “I’d really be excited to work here” or, “I think this would stifle me and I don’t think this would be the best culture for me.”  So I think it can go different ways, where certainly people can use culture as an excuse to, “Well, this person just didn’t work out”, or they really do breed the culture.
You can also think about… I live in Boston and around great universities, and there’s always this debate of what’s the difference between Harvard and MIT.  And I have actually a friend who’s a professor at each.  And the MIT professor is really entrepreneurial, loves to do things different ways, tries different things in the classroom.  And then Harvard Business School is really grounded in case study method.  So this professor that I’m friends with, he is very reliable in the way that he teaches because it’s through the case study method and that’s how he was taught and that’s how he knows how to teach.  So if you put him at MIT, he actually might not succeed because he can’t teach cases over and over again.  And if you put the MIT professor at Harvard, he may not actually be great at the case study method.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s a nice dimension there, in terms of stable repetition, follow the process, versus new, bold, innovation, different stuff.  So, that’s a cool one where we could see a misfit.  Could you give a few more examples?

Cassandra Frangos
Sure.  I think the other is a little bit more nuanced, in terms of, are you a fit with the top team or the team that you’re part of?  So there was one executive that I worked with, where just could not get to the right place in terms of finding his way in the culture; just couldn’t really find a way to establish himself in a way where he was respected.  And respect is everything in an organization, and your ideas are intangible.
So he couldn’t get his ideas through because he just wasn’t really catching some of the subtle cues in the culture.  And it was just a shame because he was brilliant, but without having that acceptance on the team or the team saying, “Hey, let me help you learn this culture.  It’s pretty complex and I want to help you succeed.”  So that can be just something really subtle, where someone can be not successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of those cues that one might miss?

Cassandra Frangos
I think it’s how people communicate.  So if you’re a person who tends to just love to communicate by email and actually not walk down the hall – that can be a cue that you’d miss where actually if you observed a little bit you’d see actually everybody is buzzing around the hallways and they love to say, “Hey, let me catch you for two minutes to run this idea by you.”  Instead you’re just kind of doing it all by email and you’re wondering why you’re not getting anywhere.  So that could be a cue.
The other is it’s a highly social environment, so the way you can get work done is actually by building strong relationships.  And not that you have to go to dinner with them every night, but it’s that you actually do show an interest in them personally and you want to really understand them and build a relationship so you can get work done.  If you’re missing that cue and actually just jump to, “Alright, here’s the agenda, here’s what we need to get through.  How are you going to help me get this done?” – probably they’re not going to help you because you didn’t build a relationship with them.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious now, do you see it in the reverse, in terms of, “We’re a very task-oriented kind of a culture and your attempt to build a relationship with me is unwelcome and a waste of time.”

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, absolutely.  Yes, I’ve seen that many times over, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood.  Well, I like these dimensions because it makes it all the more real and tangible for me.  So we’ve got innovation versus stable, is it more email versus walk there face-to-face, is it more task-oriented versus relationship-oriented?  What are a few more distinctions?

Cassandra Frangos
I think the other is how hierarchical is it.  Some organizations really rely on the work structure and you must go to this person and then that person, and follow somewhat of an order or a hierarchy.  Other organizations are really, “It doesn’t matter.  Go to the best person who has the answer, or just find your way through to the right set of people who will help you.”
So that can depend, where I have seen some stumble where you actually didn’t follow the hierarchy and now you’ve gone sort of several levels that it didn’t make sense and you’ve actually caused some conflict just because you didn’t observe how some of the hierarchy and order worked.  Or if you are actually just trying to go more to the source and people are seeing you as, “Why did you jump down to talk to all these different people that they don’t know who you are and it’s intimidating?”  So just finding those subtle cues is also important as another dimension.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, in terms of cultural fit.  I guess at times there’s something that could be helpful about breaking from the norm.  And so, what’s your thought on when is it optimal to zag, as opposed to toe the line?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, sometimes you’ve been hired actually to zag outside of the line.  So sometimes I’ve seen people who’ve been hired where you are actually hired to be disruptive and I don’t want you to listen to, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it”.  That’s often an annoying line for many people.  So, they might actually have an explicit charter and if they communicate that that’s their charter and they are looking for new and different ways to accomplish something or a new way of doing business, it can often be I think a great accelerator for a business.  It can be a lot more challenging if you have a culture where they love to say, “We’ve always done it this way for 50 years, so who are you coming in and telling me to do this different?”  But yeah, it can be really interesting when that happens.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes.  So now could you give us a little bit of detail in terms of, if folks are looking to rise quickly, we talked about some universal accelerators and derailers.  Are there any other smart approaches – you used the word “brand” several times – in terms of really making that pop, in terms of you’re deploying your experience and everyone’s thinking, “This person’s great.”

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think first of all life is short so it’s finding what you love.  I think if you’re passionate about what you do and you love what you do, that’s going to show through, and chances are you will accelerate on your own in the sense of people can really see you’re great at what you do and you love what you do.  If you have those two things, it can really take you far.  And that’s where also sponsorship can come in.  If people see that you’re really loving what you do and you’re good at it, they will more likely sponsor you.
The other thing is, I wouldn’t be afraid of failure.  There’s been lots of readings around this lately, where people are really willing to openly admit their failures and learning from them.  If you don’t learn from them, then certainly that can be just failure.  But thinking through, what are some risks you can take that could accelerate you?  Many, many times I’ve seen executives take a big risk and it paid off and they accelerated right to the top.  So that can also be something important.
The other is, you also have to think about, do people want to work for you?  So if you are going to accelerate to the top chances are you will have people who work for you, and what are you like as a manager or as a leader?  It can’t just be that you are great at managing up, or your boss thinks you’re fabulous.  It’s now more important to think through, what do your direct reports think, what do your peers think in terms of your effectiveness, and what do your leaders think about you in terms of your effectiveness?  So it’s having that 360-degree relationships, but also followership and having the impact you need on all of those different stakeholders.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good, thank you.  And I’d also love to make sure, while I’ve got you, to get a little bit of the insider perspective, if you’ve got some tactics or tips, tricks or stories from many of the executives that you’ve gotten to interact with personally?  What are some insider goodies that anyone who wants to be awesome at their job should know?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I think it’s certainly thinking about your career and your profession as a way where you’re almost putting the company interests first as well where it’s not about you.  I think that’s where the ego part came in where we were talking about before.  So if you’re out for yourself people will see right through it.  If you are out for creating impact for your company and the profession or whatever it might be that you’re part of, I think that is often something that differentiates many leaders.
Also, I can’t emphasize this enough – being willing to listen and really being a sponge for learning and really thinking through, “What did this person just say, so that I can really think through how I can act on it or make a difference based on what I’m learning and seeing?”  Many CEOs will say they’re lifelong learners, because they’re always listening, they’re always curious, they’re always thinking about some of the signals they’re seeing from customers, from the market, from employees.  So I think listening and being curious and learning all the time is something important.
The other I would say is reinvention.  Reinventing yourself always is something that will take you, I think, very far.  John Chambers, who I used to work for at Cisco, who was one of the greatest CEOs in the tech industry and also a wonderful person – he’ll say that he reinvented himself every three years.  And it was something that always accelerated his career, because he never wanted to be stuck in old business models or old ways of thinking.  He had to keep reinventing and being fresh and keep learning and always thinking about all the different senses and all the different pieces that would help him reinvent himself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  Now on that listening point – I’d love to get your take on, how would you paint a picture for what outstanding world class masterful listening looks, sounds, feels like, versus kind of run-of-the-mill or what passes for listening in day-to-day interactions?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah.  So I think wonderful listening is, you really are listening with all senses.  That’s why many people study body language, because what people actually do when they’re watching body language and they think about, “How did my words have impact on me and how did that make that person feel?” – I think that’s a really important way of listening, is really looking at someone’s body language.
Also just intently really hearing them, and pauses are okay – I think people are so afraid of pauses – where you really are just taking it in, what they just said, and you’re soaking it up.  And sometimes taking notes by hand.  We often all now take notes by a computer or iPhones, and actually taking notes pen and paper or your iPad pencil, you often can remember what somebody said a whole lot more by actually writing it down.
And then also just being aware of subtle cues and the tone.  If someone said, “Oh, I’m doing great today!” or, “I’m… I’m doing… I’m doing good today” – there are different ways that you can hear the fluctuation in someone’s voice.
And then on the flipside I think a terrible listener is somebody who’s just waiting to talk.  I often see that in some of the settings where I coach different teams of executives, and I can just tell the executive who is just really not listening to you at all or listening to the group, and they can’t wait to talk and get their point out.  And their point actually had nothing to do with the previous point, so the conversation actually feels like ping pong, versus it builds on each other and they truly listen to each other and build on each other’s points.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love your take – if you see that a lot in executives, how do you imagine they got to be executives?

Cassandra Frangos
[laugh] Yeah, I think some of it is, do they stay executives if they have that behavior still?  So I think there’s one thing to become an executive.  So some people can actually get there, but to stay there also requires another kind of finesse, where you and I read the newspaper every day and hear of an executive who didn’t make it or suddenly was abruptly leaving their company.  Chances are they probably had some of these derailing behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you end your book with a final question.  What is it?

Cassandra Frangos
Question is: Do you really want to be in the C-suite?  And I pose that because it’s not for everyone.  Not everybody really wants to be in the C-suite.  It takes a lot of work, it’s also a lot of responsibility, a lot of I think tenacity, and it takes a pretty big toll on your family and your personal life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you.  Well, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Cassandra Frangos
I think you touched on a lot of it.  I would just say that finding your own path you don’t necessarily have to follow a perfect formula, but finding your own path can be really fun.  And setting your own career vision is something really inspiring.  I actually read my paper that I wrote for my master’s program and the vision I wrote is actually what I’m doing right now.  So, if you can think longer-term and think about what’s motivating to you, you can have a really fun career.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful.  Thank you.  Well now, how about a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Cassandra Frangos
Yes, I actually have it on my desk right now.  It’s, “Be yourself, because everybody else is already taken” by Oscar Wilde.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I love Boris Groysberg’s study on stars.  So what really makes stars in different companies.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, thank you.  And a favorite book?

Cassandra Frangos
Love the book Resonant Leadership, because actually it’s two of my professors who are in different schools, and I didn’t know that it’d actually be in the school of these two different authors.  But Richard Boyatzis taught in my master’s program at Case Western, and Annie McKee who taught in my doctorate program at University of Pennsylvania.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Annie McKee on the show.  Very nice.

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, yeah.  She’s wonderful, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Cassandra Frangos
I love the Hogan Assessment actually.  It’s a tool that actually helps a leader understand their leadership profile, but also their derailers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.  And a favorite habit?

Cassandra Frangos
Thank-you notes.  Handwritten Thank-you notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular stationary, or how do you do it?

Cassandra Frangos
Yeah, I actually got a gift from someone that I coached of stationary with my name on it and my favorite color of purple.  And so, I love just writing – whether someone did something small or big for you – just writing something personal to them.  Because you can do an email – it’s too fast, it’s too quick, it’s actually not that special anymore.  So, handwriting it and getting something in the mail is pretty special.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.  And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you?

Cassandra Frangos
I think actually relates to my favorite quote of really being yourself.  I think that often resonates with people, where I just often say, “This doesn’t sound like you.  Are you trying to do this because you think you should do it, or do you really believe you should do it?”  So, I do hear people thanking me for that often, where they’ll say, “You know what?  I was myself and it paid off, and I’m really happy that I wasn’t trying to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with.”

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

Cassandra Frangos
LinkedIn.  I’m on LinkedIn all the time, I’m posting different things.  But my personal email is on there, or you can just write to me directly from LinkedIn.

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

Cassandra Frangos
I would think about how to reinvent yourself.  Back to the John Chambers piece, where just what are some of the ways you’re going to reinvent yourself, either small or big, to make sure you can really, truly succeed?

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  Well, Cassandra, thank you for the book and for this conversation and demystifying this stuff.  It’s been a lot of fun and I wish you all the best!

Cassandra Frangos
Well, thank you.  Same to you!

285: Upgrading Your Promotion Potential with Terra Winston

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Terra Winston sheds light to the main pieces of getting promoted: learning precisely who promotes you and what they value.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two major considerations for anyone who wants to be promoted
  2. Goal-setting considerations to align yourself with your boss’s needs
  3. Why and how to promote yourself

About Terra

Terra Winston is the Ringleader of inTerractions and Principal of inTerract Consulting.  For over 20 years she has impacted thousands of people through her leadership programs and coaching.  A life-long learner, she has channeled her passions into success in multiple arenas, from engineering to HR, from Corporate America to entrepreneurship.  Terra holds a BS in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia, an MBA from Stanford, coaching certification from CTI, and a not-so-secret passion for Doctor Who.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Terra Winston Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Terra, hello and welcome to How To Be Awesome At Your Job.

Terra Winston

Hi, I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you.  I’m excited to have you.  And I learned a little bit about you, and one thing is that you have a passion for Doctor Who.  Tell us about this.

Terra Winston

Oh Pete, I do, I really do.  And I have to say this is what happens when you don’t have good cable coverage.

Pete Mockaitis

You’ve got to go to the UK.

Terra Winston

You end up following monsters.  Actually there was a point in time when all the cable companies switched over to digital.  And so I had a TV in my bedroom that didn’t have a cable box, and I was like, “Am I going to pay money for my bedroom?  No, I’m not.”  And what that relegated me to was 13 beautiful channels, just 13.  So I found myself at times at night, “No, I don’t want the news.  No, I don’t want the infomercial.  Hey, what is this?”
And there I found this crazy British show with some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen.  But, it wasn’t the news or an infomercial.  And so, I started watching it in the background and I fell in love with it.  And I think what still connects me – and I know there are tons of people just like me come out the shadows and admit it, that are Doctor Who fans – is the promise of exploring all of space and time.  And as a learner, that to me is all the possibilities.  Why wouldn’t I want to follow that?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it does sound like fun.  And I’ve never actually seen the show.  In prepping for this interview, I just was pulling up Wikipedia and YouTube.  It was like, “Okay, I know Doctor Who is a show.  UK, sci-fi.”  But I’ve heard of it many, many, many times, but never actually seen it.  And so, I understand the latest – this is no spoiler, this is in the news – the latest regeneration of Doctor Who for the first time is a woman.

Terra Winston

It’s a huge deal in the Who-verse. But it’s, like I said, all the possibilities.  How wonderful is that, that you can have a legacy character and it can grow with the times?  Quite frankly, if we looked at some of our other long-standing television shows, you kind of wish they would evolve, right?

Pete Mockaitis

James Bond will be a woman next time.  Janette Bond.

Terra Winston

Yeah, Janette Bond.  But yeah, you don’t want to know where she hides the gun.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, well, I think we’re warmed up.  Thank you.  So tell us, what’s your company, inTerractions, all about?  Which is a very clever name – you have the capital T for the Terra in the middle of inTerractions.  What’s the story here?
Terra Winston

First of all, the name is one that people are always wondering.  I will tell you this is what happens when you try to buy an URL, and everything is taken.  Even crazy words like “Google” are taken.  You have to start resorting to slamming your name in the middle of words, just to see what works.  But inTerractions for me is a place that helps good people do great things.  And so, I get to work with individuals and entrepreneurs and leaders and even whole teams, and help knock down all the barriers that keep them from fulfilling their highest potential.  And so whether I’m doing coaching or whether my team is doing training, or even facilitation or consulting, we’re really about problem-solving, and get all that mess out of the way so that you can be your best.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  And so, in learning about you something that really resonated for me as a potential fit between what you know and what my listeners want to know, is, you do some real work with professionals about getting promoted, and how that is done.  And so, I’d love to get your take here.  You’ve talked to a lot of people in a lot of environments and backgrounds, and you’ve had the fortune of going deep with that – Coaches CTI Training, oh yeah.  So, tell us – how should we start thinking about it?  If folks are looking to get promoted, what’s sort of your main philosophy or orienting principles to start the journey?

Terra Winston

So now, Pete, I have to warn you – I’m from Jersey originally, and what that means is I’m very practical.  And that’s how I dig into my work as a coach.  And I think back to my time in HR, my time as a coach, and all the various Industries and leaders I’ve worked with, and I will tell you this – I repeat the same advice for anyone who wants to get promoted.
Number one – understand who promotes you, and then number two – understand what they value.  And often times people get that mixed up.  So, it is very rare in an organization that only your manager has a responsibility and the ability to promote you by themselves.  It usually requires enrolling people.  Chances are there’s a conference room full of folks – probably your bosses, peers, and the manager above that, probably HR, and there may even be some other hangers-on that all kind of get in this conversation and have to vet whether or not someone can be promoted.  And if you’re not aware of that, it’s very easy to think that you’re killing it, in terms of your work, but not realizing that there are other factors at play.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh Terra, I love that so much.  This reminds me when I was an intern at Bain and I was all about getting that job offer, and I had a sort of like an “a-ha” moment, in which I assumed that the manager was the person who made the decision – that’s what I was told.  And so, I was working closely with this guy – Kyle – who was awesome, and his title was Senior Associate Consultant.  And so we were doing the day-to-day work, but Kyle was so cool and friendly, and I just thought we were like buds.  And so then he was talking about, “Hey, they’ve made some mistakes here, we’ve got to really sharpen some things up for the offer.”  And I said, “Oh, isn’t it the manager who makes the offer?”  And he’s like, “Well yeah, but I have the primary input into that decision because I’m kind of day-to-day working with you and seeing what you can do.”  And I said, “Oh wait, I’m supposed to be dazzling you?” [laugh] “I thought we were just buds, Kyle.”  And he was like, “Well, yes, I would like to be dazzled.”  And it was like, “Okay, thank you.  This was helpful.”

Terra Winston

It’s so true, and it’s not always easy.  And I will tell you, I have actually coached people who have been in organizations for 10-15 years, and the landscape can change.  And so the people who were involved in promoting you five years ago – the organization may have reworked, the power structure could have changed, just in terms of politics.  And all of a sudden you find out the people that were involved in your
promotion before aren’t as involved anymore.  So you’ve got to stay on top of that.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’m intrigued, to what extent is… Because you’ve worked with many different organizations.  To what extent is this kind of quiet and shrouded in mystery – the Council of Elders who make the determination, versus it’s very much clearly out in the open?  Or how do you gather that information?  Is it as easy as saying, “Hey, who all makes the decision?”  Or how do you get it?

Terra Winston

You’d actually be surprised.  Most of it is actually pretty open, but we just don’t think about it.  So, for bigger companies – I say mid-size and bigger companies that have the annual career planning, management planning process – they usually start at some point with you being given goals and objectives, a junior manager sits down with, and then there is a point in the mid-year when you talk about your career and how you’re doing against your goals.  And at the end of the year they’ll get your review, and that will then lead to next year, and usually maybe some money involved.
Now, what’s going along with that that’s often called the performance management process – there’s a backend to that.  So when your manager takes back your objectives or your ratings, they go into a meeting with, usually their peers, or some subset of their peers, and they are talking about you versus someone else on another team.  That process is usually very clearly outlined.  And if you were to ask your manager, “Well, how do you guys come to the ratings?” or, “What’s the process where you guys determine who gets promoted?” – they can very clearly tell you.  We just don’t ask.
And it usually isn’t something that involves you to be involved in, and so they don’t think to tell you.  So at least get the primary players.  Now all the influencers, some of that – it’s a matter of asking some people who may have been there.  That’s where mentors and sponsors come in great in an organization, but you should be able to very clearly figure out who the group is.  Now, for those of us who work in smaller organizations, it may be a single line.  It could very well be your manager and then the owner of the business.  Or if your manager is the owner of the business – ta-da!  You know exactly who makes all the decisions.  But you should be able to ask and get 90% of the way there.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s good, thank you.  Alright, and so then when you talked about the goals, I want to get your take on. How often are the stated goals the real goals, versus, should you push harder and get after something that actually matters more to your boss, and your boss’s boss, and the organization at large?

Terra Winston

Okay, I love this question, because remember, I said there were two pieces.  It was knowing who promotes you and knowing what they value.  And so the goals that you have are very similar to your job description, and they list what your role should be.  Now that doesn’t tell you anything necessarily about what it takes to get ahead.  What that tells you is what your minimum expectations are.  And we tend to get that a little bit twisted.
When it comes to the realities, your manager and everyone that promotes you – they’re humans, with all the beautifulness and the flaws of being human.  So there will be some things that may be on your plate that are more interesting to them, because it makes them look good, or it may be something they’re more concerned about, or maybe they just happen to love that area.  So, there will be things that are on your plate that they go, “Ooh!”, and there will be things that are on your plate that they go, “Okay.”

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.  And the side effects really help actually.  I like that.

Terra Winston

So in my very scientific way.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, because I think you’re right – some of them go, “Ooh”, because it’s like, “Ooh, there’s a lot of dollars associated with this and that’s very exciting.”  And other times it’s not even rational like that; it’s like, “Yeah, that is a dumb process that we’ve had for a long time, and I hate it.  And oh, you’re going to go fix it once and for all – ooh, that is exciting to me.  I value that and it gets me going, even if maybe the size of the prize in dollar terms might not be that huge.”

Terra Winston
Exactly.  And I’ve coached people who have lost promotions to peers who didn’t stack up the same amount of numbers, that didn’t deliver on all the objectives in the same way, and then it feels very hurtful.  But what they did do were things that were either visible or highly valued to the people who make the decisions.  And that’s not fair, but that’s reality – so getting a sense for kind of what those things are.
And I’ll tell you the other piece – goals can also be very misleading.  I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve been brought in, where the leadership in the organization says, “This person is not ready to be promoted.  They have everything that they need but they’re still not ready.”  And when I ask what is that thing holding them back, it may be something like executive presence.  Do they have the gravitas, do they have the temperament, are they showing up as a leader?  Nothing to do with their work.  And then I go and I meet with the individual and I say, “Why do you think you haven’t been promoted?”  And the person says, “I’m not working hard enough.  I just need to deliver on these goals.”

Pete Mockaitis

Powerful disconnect.

Terra Winston

Powerful disconnect.  And it’s so easy to run yourself into a corner and then be really disillusioned.  That’s how good people get lost.  And so, paying attention to the goals is great.  Understanding what people value, and that is what they value in terms of the task and what they value in terms of the relationship and the being of a leader.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, that’s great.  And so, when it comes to getting a sense for what they value, I think one action step is just to observe – where are their “Oohs” versus “Uhhs”, and really seem engaged and asking follow-up questions and their eyes are getting brighter?  So, what are some other pro tips for gathering this intelligence on what the folks value?

Terra Winston

So people will always ask about a lot; the things that matter to them.  So, when you get to a one-on-one or when you happen to be talking those infamous elevator conversations and you’re kind of bumping into people and they say, “Hey, how’s that so-and-so project going?” – that tells you that that’s something that’s big enough on their mind.  They didn’t ask you how that report B1716C paperwork was going.  So, they will tell you with attention.
Also pay attention to town halls or announcements.  What are the types of projects or programs or initiatives that get the big billing, and then kind of where does that trickle down to your work?  In those places you can tell that those are important initiatives to people.
And last resort is, sit down and talk to your manager or talk to someone else and say, “I’m working on all these things.  What do you think is the most exciting piece?”  Now, what you’re not asking is, “Where should I put my energy?”  Because they’re going to tell you, “Everything”, because that is the responsible thing to say.  But, “Tell me, of all the work that I’m working on, what do you think is the most exciting for the company?”  Or, “Give me your opinion.”  Their opinions will let you get a glimpse into the things that turn them on.  You can hear it in their voice at that point.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, that’s good.  Okay.  Well, maybe could you give us a story or an example that can make some of this stuff come to life here?

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  So actually I want to continue the story about the poor guy who thought he had to work harder to get his promotion.  And it was interesting because as a coach I can’t come in and say, “I’ve spoken to everyone and they say that your work is great, but you just don’t seem like a leader.”  And I will tell you the frustration that I had is they absolutely said to me, “He just doesn’t seem like it, and we can’t articulate why.”
And I come to this poor person and I had to observe him and get a sense for how he showed up in the room.  And I will tell you the little things that we did – and I think this is the important piece of it – remember, it was about presence.  The piece that was so critical is, he just needed to show up with more power.  And so, the things that we worked on, Pete, believe it or not, was where he sat in the room, to the pacing, we looked at the way that he was dressed and the way that he delegated to people while in the room, because he was a servant-leader, he was someone who was so gracious, he was the exact kind of person that you want to be a leader, not one of these blowhard people.  But he was getting exiled because people couldn’t see how great he was.  He didn’t always deliver in his confidence.
But understanding number one, what is the culture of success?  So there’s a success profile in every organization – good, bad or indifferent.  When you look at the types of people that get the best opportunities, the people that get promoted, that move up fast – you will start to look and see patterns.  And so, where those patterns are will give you a sense for the types of attributes, leadership attributes that are valued for a success profile.  And you start to look at where are their gaps.
So, “These people always seem to be very extroverted; I tend to be very introverted.”  Now the answer is not then to change who you are.  But the answer’s to figure out how to use your strengths to deliver the same general feel.  So for this guy, who tended to be a bit introverted, and like I said, the nicest of people, to show power… There’s one version of power that bangs on the table, but we worked on showing power by granting power to others.  And so, understanding that part of how he was showing up and how it then related to how he got his goals done, we were able to get him over this hump.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing, when you talk about the profiles of power and the patterns that show up.  I once was doing some Myers-Briggs coaching 101 for all of these rising executives at an international beverage company.  We’ll not say any names.  And it was fascinating how time and time again it was like extroversion, extroversion, extroversion was popping up.  And sometimes as part of the coaching, trying to help them see the value of different preferences and all that, I was like, “So can you think of some folks that you work with who prefer introversion?”  And some of them were like, “No.” [laugh] I was like, “Really?  This isn’t going how I expected.”  But it was startling.
Then when I did talk to a couple of those who preferred introversion, it was almost like they were in the closet.  It was like, “Oh yeah, what I really like is just to be able to think about things for a while.”  It’s so exhausting being around these folks.  And so, I think that’s interesting to highlight that explicitly.  And you said good, bad, indifferent, and I like that because at times I think you’ll notice that you may not just resonate with that.  I think I’ve seen in some organizations it’s like, “Wait a minute.  This rock star – I notice time and time again this person seems to be doing all this extra work that doesn’t really seem urgent or essential, but she just busts it out time after time after time.  And oh, there she is, getting an earlier promotion.”  It’s like, “Oh, so I guess we love that around here.”  It sort of opens your eyes there.

Terra Winston

It absolutely does, and that’s why knowing who promotes you starts to play into this.  So say I am one of those introverts in that extrovert international beverage company that you talked about.  And I feel like I need to be heard but people can’t hear me in big groups.  I may schedule one-on-ones with some of the people that are in the promotion room.  Now you don’t schedule meetings to say, “I want to talk to you so that you can say something nice about me when it comes time for promotion”, but you start to build those relationships.  You casually drop in some of the work that you’ve been doing that they may not hear about because your voice just isn’t as loud as everyone else’s.  When they get into the room they will then be able to access that.  So you play them together.

Pete Mockaitis

And so I’d love to get your take here, in terms of, this is an issue that comes up with listeners frequently – they’ll say they get feedback that they are great, they’re doing great work, they’re a top performer and all this stuff, they’re very impressive in these ways, but “Oh, unfortunately there are just no advancement opportunities available.”  So, I’d love you take, Terra, on when you hear that message, what are your options?

Terra Winston

Right.  So first, you’re totally allowed to go home and grab a drink and be really mad.  That is by far…  I grant you permission to feel that way, because I think one of the dirty little secrets about organizations is that they actually don’t exist solely to help you manage your career.  They actually are doing their business.  And so, it really is this lovely combination of, are you ready, and is there an opportunity that the company needs?  And so it can be really frustrating when those two things don’t line up.  So number one – I don’t want you to have despair.  That’s not about you.  I think sometimes we take that as a hit to ourselves.
But after you do that, whilst you’re waiting for a position to open, know that you own your career, so if you can’t get promoted in the company, you should be promoting yourself in your own role.  And this is what I mean: So a promotion is someone giving you a bigger scope, a bigger impact, bigger responsibility or a new experience.  That technically is what a promotion is.  I know we all tend to think of the extra money that comes with it, and the title.  But really, a promotion is about increasing your impact in some kind of way.  So you do that.  So talk to your manager.  Think about, “Okay, I’m working on this one project and it impacts our region.  What can I do that maybe will cross several regions, or multiple functions?  What type of additional work can I do?  Can I look at my manager’s plate and offer to take something off of that, so that I can grow my expertise?”
So you should be increasing your scope.  So basically you’re going to give yourself your own promotion.  By doing that when something else comes up – and it always will, because business changes so fast – you will have demonstrated skills, impact at the next level.  Sometimes that gap is what people believe we can do, versus what they’ve seen us do.  So you’ve already demonstrated that and made it very visible.  And by the way, even if you decide not to stay in the organization, you can then use that extra experience to parlay yourself into a promotion somewhere else.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s good.  And so, I’d like to think a little bit here, do you have any pro tips sort of in the bite-sized department?  Any tips, tools, tactics, favorite scripts or key phrases, sentences you love to say or suggest to folks when they’re playing this game?

Terra Winston

So I’ve got two.  One you can use immediately and one that may take you a little bit longer.  So the first one, the quick one: “Likability is the killer app.”  It always, always is the killer app.  So we tend to work with people that we like.  We give people extra chances if we like them.  If we’ve built some type of connection, if you make a mistake I’m more likely to give you some grace for it.  I’m more likely to see your potential if I think that you’re someone that’s likable.
And what happens – we have all these wonderfully nice people when we work with them as peers, but they go into a meeting with someone who maybe has some influence, and they’re so focused on proving their credibility that they let nerves erode the personality that they have.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, yeah.

Terra Winston

So, I work with executives and I have some executives that will call me before they go into major meetings, and we’ll just run through kind of what they need to cover.  And number one is usually, “They called you into this meeting because they know how good you are.  You just need to make them like you.”  And so, what I tend to tell anyone going into networking at all is, number one – you want them to like you, number two – you want them to think you’re smart, number three – maybe you want to stay connected.  Nothing else matters.  You don’t have to convince them to marry you on the first date, right?  So, likability is the thing that you can start today.  Let your personality shine through, let people see how great you are, and make that connection and it will take you so much further.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, thank you.

Terra Winston

So the longer term one is actually some of the best career advice I’ve ever gotten.  I can’t take credit for it, because someone gave it to me.  And what he said to me was, “It’s always easy to stand out when you have a job or a role that does not have many peers.”  So if you think about in a typical company maybe there’s an army of accountants, or there’s HR people in every region, and all those things.
When you do really well, you have to do exceptionally well to stand out from the crowd, because everyone’s doing well.  Or you may stand out because you had a particularly bad year.  But when there’s lots of comparison points it’s really hard to stand out.  But if you’re willing to take a risk and take a role that maybe does not have as many peers… So, “I was an accountant but I’m going to work on this new turnaround.”  So it just feels different, then they don’t have as many people to compare it to.  So every victory looks like a bigger victory.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that.  And right now I’m thinking because I’m creating this course and I’m working with designers.  I’m thinking about how easily impressed I am by the output of designers, just because I’m so terrible at drawing.  I think I know what’s good when I see it, kind of, but in terms of actually if I get into Photoshop I shouldn’t be trusted with much, just like basically rearranging things symmetrically is about what you can trust me with there.
So, I’m depending on these designers and I’m just so impressed, like, “Wow!”  And I know for them it’s like, “Yeah, that took me 10 minutes.”  And so, I love that notion because, sure enough, it you are the designer amongst the accountants, or the turnaround specialist, or the keynote speaker, the coach or whatever, sort of being distinctly different from those – they are readily impressed.  And so that’s good to chew on for a little while there.

Terra Winston

It’s so good.  I wish I got there earlier in my career, but I’d now pass it on to all of you.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.  And at the same time, it does feel like a greater risk because I have fewer role models or potential mentors who can show me what I’m doing right or wrong, or to model from.  So that’s kind of nice – it’s like higher risk, higher reward.  But if you have some other prudent approaches to fill any potential knowledge gaps you have, then you kind of have the best of both worlds.

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  And remember, everyone that’s listening to us has a high potential.  So I guess it’s the opposite advice – if you want to sit in the middle of the pack and not have anybody make too many waves, then choose a role that has lots of peers.  It works both ways, and you get to choose the kind of life that you want.  But there is no high chance of promotion without a risk of failure.  And I will tell you that failure by itself will not stop your career.  It’s so much more about how you react, respond and recover from failure.  That is what gets you by, and if you have confidence not only in yourself willing to take the risk, but willing to know that whatever you trip up on, you can figure it out – that’s your cue to win.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  Well, Terra, I’d also love to get your take, since you do that good coaching stuff, can you share what’s maybe some of the irrational stuff that we’ve got going on that can impede the promotions from happening, whether it’s lowering your beliefs, or risks not taken, or safety?  What do you see, in terms of high-performing folks, in terms of some sub-optimal stuff going on in their mind that is limiting?

Terra Winston

So confidence by far is the biggest one.  And I know we’re used to hearing that all the time, but what I see is people devalue those things that come easy to them.  And so, rather than saying, “Hey, this is a core strength of mine.  Let me use this and show up in my core strength”, we then discount: “Oh well, if I did that and it was so easy, it must not have been a big deal.”  And we don’t showcase it.  So we then spend all our time on some of the things that may not be our towering strengths, because we’re trying to overcome our weaknesses.  And so what you end up doing is discounting the places where you’re a superstar, amplifying the places where you might be average.  And that’s never been the key to promoting yourself.
I think another piece of it is we struggle with this balance between humility and arrogance and self-promotion.  We are now so busy in organizations that there is not one person, including your direct manager, who knows all of what you do.  And so if you don’t find a way to tell them, then it’s very easy for your great accomplishments to be drowned out by even mediocre accomplishments by someone else who’s out there screaming from the rooftops, “Look what I did, look what I did.”  And at times it can really feel like an internal distress.
When I worked at a large international beverage company myself, and I did work in diversity, I would work with some of the groups who would say, “Terra, culturally growing up from the time when I was young, I was told not to boast about myself.  We have a collective community focus.  You don’t stand out.  But then I come to Corporate America”, or Corporate Western Europe, or Corporate Anywhere at this point, “And you keep telling me that I’m supposed to stand up and put a spotlight on myself and scream about how great I am.  I can’t get over that voice in my gut – my grandmother’s voice that’s telling me that that’s the wrong thing to do.  So am I destined just to not get what I deserve?”  And answer is no.  You find your own way, and that’s again looking at your strengths.  If certain people need to know what you do, can you go in and teach a lunch-and-learn?  Can you mentor someone?  Can you find other ways to get your name out there, so that people know what you do?
So I can give you an example.  Believe it or not, I found myself in one of those Infamous elevator pitch moments.  There was someone who was my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss adjacent.  So someone very senior from me, and I was in the Human Resources team.  And there was a big movement going on around organization design.  And so now I find myself alone in an elevator with this person, and either I can shrink in the back and hopefully fade into the woodwork, or I can step up.
And what I said to this person… I happened to, when I was in a consulting firm, I’d worked on the organization design methodology.  And so I said to this very senior person, “Heard the town hall, glad we’re doing work in this area.  I actually did some work back when I was at a consulting firm.  If you ever want, I can get some of the information to your assistant, in case you need it.”  And so by being of service, the senior person, A) knew my name, B) knew I had a background in consulting and I’d done some design work and I was going to follow up with information.  So find ways to kind of bring some visibility to it.  And a lot of times high-potential people are very confident in that the good work will be noticed.  And unfortunately people are so busy they don’t always notice it.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, thank you.  Well, that’s powerful stuff.  Thank you.  Well, tell us – is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Terra Winston

No, I think that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool.  Well then, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Terra Winston

Okay, so I have a favorite quote but I feel like it’s everybody’s favorite quote.  And it’s the one from Marianne Williamson, the fact that “Our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure.”  And it speaks to me because I used to be so introverted, and it is what governs the coaching work that I do.  It’s so often the thing that is the key to people’s absolute phenomenal success, is something hiding behind their fear.  And so, when we get to work together and we get to identify – again, it’s like a stone standing in the way of this raging river of potential.  And we can knock that fear aside.  I’ve seen people, I’ve seen businesses, I’ve seen teams flourish.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you.  And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Terra Winston

There was a study that talks about the power of loose networks.  And so what it said was, if you want to create more opportunity in your life, it is not your closest friends and closest associates that will bring it; it actually is that next level, if you think of your network as concentric circles.
And the reason why is because your closest friends that you spend time with – they are everywhere where you are.  If there was something they heard about, they would’ve told you already.  Whereas the next level out of people, who are in other bubbles, as we now call it – they have an opportunity to see things and channel them to you.  So that had been a study that absolutely comes up again and again, until about two months ago.  I did some research; I was curious if it was still adequate, if anyone had updated that survey and the study.  And I found out that they had.
And that was true, kind of early Internet days, when the challenge was visibility to opportunity.  Now with the way that the Internet is, we actually have ways to see more and more of things that were probably hidden in pockets.  Now, I still stand by that the power of loose ties is still relevant, but what the newest studies have actually circulated is that we now live in a world where you can see everybody, but you don’t know who’s legit.  I can look at your LinkedIn profile, but how do I know who I can spend time, money and energy on?
And so now there’s a rising importance of the power of former coworkers, or people that not just are loose in your network, but they have personal experience of your work.  That is where the credibility factor lies, and now the issue isn’t as much information transparency; it’s credibility. So how are you leveraging those networks, I think is the next level, of what we need to do better.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.  How about a favorite book?

Terra Winston

Right now I am in love with The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.  The book talks about what is it that makes any given moment special.  And that could be a moment in customer service, that could be creating the best family vacation experience.  Why do certain things stand out in our minds, and other things kind of wash away with the sands of time?  And so, we now hear people say we live in an experience economy, where it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the things that you do.  And I think we’re on overload so much, those of us who learn how to create moments are going to be the winners.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.  And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Terra Winston

My tool is a person.

Pete Mockaitis

I won’t tell that person that you think he or she is a tool.

Terra Winston

That was the wrong way to put it.  She’s going to kill me because she’s going to listen to this.  I have the most amazing virtual assistant.  And I think the virtual assistant services is something that many budding entrepreneurs don’t necessarily get very early.  But having someone that has my back makes a big difference.  And so I want translate for those of you guys that are working in companies and maybe are like, “Well Terra, I don’t have an assistant necessarily for my team.”
But having someone that you can bounce ideas off of, someone that you can sit down and talk about what your priorities are, whoever that person is – my virtual assistant plays that role; she’s actually my chief of staff for my business.  And so I think everyone needs someone that they can be fully themselves and with their guard down, someone that will give them the kind of feedback, but that is not a risk of it being from maybe an evaluation prospective.  And having a right hand in that way is phenomenal, and anyone and everyone should have one.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you.  And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you flourish?

Terra Winston

So, “networking” is one of those words that I actually ban a bunch of my clients from saying, because it dredges up all these feelings for people who aren’t necessarily extroverts or who just don’t love networking.  So I’m a big believer in making authentic connections, and that can be with anybody.  And one of the things that I always do at the end of connecting with someone is I ask them what I can do to bring them closer to their dreams.  And it could be, what do you need in your regular life, it could be a career thing that you have, maybe you just need the perfect pound cake recipe.  Why not ask?

Pete Mockaitis

I need it, Terra.

Terra Winston

You need it so bad.  But we are terrible at asking for help.  And so often times, the number of times that what you voice is something that I have access to.  Now I may not, but how would you know if you don’t ask?  And so, rather than forcing someone to ask, I take it upon myself to ask them.

Pete Mockaitis

And let’s hear that question one more time.

Terra Winston

So, “How can I bring you closer to your dreams?”

Pete Mockaitis

I like that.  It sounds better than, “How can I make your dreams come true?”, because it’s like, “Are you hitting on me right now?”  But it’s still succinct – okay, I like that.  And it’s a little bit more… I think it inspires more imagination than, “How can I be helpful to you?”  So I like that.

Terra Winston

Exactly, because people always need help.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  And sometimes it might just be like, “You know what?  I want to have grass in my backyard, and I don’t know who to help me.”  It’s like, “Oh, I know a guy.”  And sure enough, the networking is happening, relationships strengthen and build.

Terra Winston

Mm-hmm.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good.  Okay, thank you.  And tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that tends to really connect, resonate with folks and gets quoted back to you?

Terra Winston

Yes.  So, there’s a bunch of them; some of them are not for G-rating.  You guys have to work with me as a coach and I’ll give you some of the ones… We have a good time, with me and my clients.  But no, one that actually is really fundamental for me is, “Stop living someone else’s life.”  It’s so easy to live your life based on a set of “Should’s”: “This is what I should have” or, “I’m supposed to be promoted.”  “Why?”  “Well, because that’s what you do next.”
Do you want that job?  Do you have other dreams? Is this job that you’re doing right now, does it exist solely for you to save money to start that business that you want to do, or to move halfway across the world and live life as a nomad?  Well, if that’s the case, then does a promotion get you any closer, or is it just speaking to something that you feel like you’re on auto-pilot for?  And the number of times when we stop and really ask ourselves, “Is this what I really want?” – the answer is, “No, but I don’t know what else I’m supposed to have.”  So stop living someone else’s life.  Live yours – you only have one.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Terra Winston

Please, I love connecting with new people.  I am at TerraWinston on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, because I’m not that creative with my names.  So I just use my name everywhere I go.  Come to my website, inTerractions.com.  We post information, and get connected – I would love to find out how I can help you towards your dreams too.

Pete Mockaitis

And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Terra Winston

Absolutely.  So, for those of you in your jobs – if you do nothing else, nothing else today – go to your list of annual goals.  And I want you to identify the three – no more than three – that are the most valued by your manager.  Now remember, we talked about the ways that you can tell, but stop looking at everything on your to-do list as having equal value to the people around you.  So, go through, identify what are the top priorities, and then figure out how do you manage your discretionary energy in a way that gets you where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.  Terra, thank you so much for sharing this.  Excellent stuff.  Hopefully there will be many promotions birthed from this conversation.  And I wish you lots of luck in all you’re up to!

Terra Winston

Thank you, Pete, I absolutely had a blast.  This is a great podcast.

251: Taking the Leap Into your Dream…the Smart Way with Mike Lewis

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Mike Lewis shares his journey from professional private equity to professional squash and provides perspective on how/when/why to jump into what you really want to do.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When it’s time to jump
  2. The right mindset for taking your jump
  3. Actionable ways to tune into your internal voice and deepest desires

About Mike 

Mike Lewis is the Founder and CEO of When to Jump, a global curated community featuring the individuals, stories, and ideas relating to leaving something comfortable in order to pursue a passion. Launched in 2016, the platform has attracted millions of impressions through digital and print media, in-person experiences, and collaborations with leading brands including Airbnb and Lululemon. In January 2018, his book, When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want (Henry Holt Macmillan) releases worldwide. The book features over forty case studies with insights, frameworks and guidance around when to pursue a passion.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mike Lewis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Mike, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Mike Lewis

Great to be here, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’d love it if we could start… It’s fun that this is not only a fun fact but a key part of the story behind your wisdom. But could you tell us the tale behind you becoming the 112th best squash player in the world?

Mike Lewis

Sure, absolutely. And thanks again for having me, it’s a real treat to be on. I grew up in Southern California, my dad was a squash player. For those who don’t know squash, you’re in the majority. It is a sport like racquetball or even like tennis indoors, but west of New York City there really aren’t many players who compete at the high levels, particularly as a junior, as a kid.
When I was 14 years old and discovering the sport, my dad had obviously played it before. Like I said, he had played on the East Coast as a naval surgeon, and our family moved. I was born in the city, but moved to the South and then to Santa Barbara. And when I was 14, came across the sport on my own actually, ironically, at the one gym that had four courts or five courts within 100 miles from our town, and it just happened to be down the road.
So, I fell in love with it and I think I loved the idea of the adventure behind it. The idea that I could really create my own story from playing the sport, and really go my own path with it. So, at that point I thought, “I’m going to do this someday”, I just didn’t know exactly how that would happen. There was probably five of us, like I said, west of New York City, who were competing as kids. And first I had to get better to play in college and at some point I’d say, “Well, if I could do that, maybe I could get even better.”
And shortly after I started playing, there was a traveling pro who was coming through town for a tournament we hosted at our local club. And I remember I was around 14; he was I think just 5-6 years older, but described this adventure of playing a sport we both adored and using it as a way to see the world – playing on mountains in Brazil and cities in Asia and towns that dotted the Pacific. And I just knew at some point I would do that.
So, like I said, I found a way to get to play in college, I got to play for four years, I was the captain of the team my senior year, and then while I was in the working world for several years going forward after graduation I just kept it up. And I said to myself, “If I can just keep going and find a way to get better and eventually get sponsors and maybe even compete part-time, I’ll be able to maybe someday be able to do this full-time for a bit.” So, long story short, which we can get into, but I was able to do it and get as high as… And my goal was to rank 200 in the world, and I got to 112.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. It’s so funny – as you relate the story, it’s like I want to play squash and travel the world. It sounds awesome.

Mike Lewis

It really was awesome.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, now I’m just so curious. What fascinates me when it comes to professional anything, and sports I think is interesting in that world, particularly because I think if you’re like the 122th best basketball player or American football player, there are huge financial rewards. Can you enlighten us what sort of compensation does a 112th best squash player in the world see?

Mike Lewis

Well, the short answer is, not a lot. The pro squash tour is like the pro tennis tour, but the ugly stepsister, almost. So, you’ve got your Wimbledons of the world, but because we are a lot less popular, invisible and don’t have the marketing dollars and the brand sponsorships or the TV deals, there just isn’t that much money.
So, Wimbledon has several million bucks for the men’s and women’s champion; the Wimbledon in our world, the champion might bring home 50K at most. There is money in endorsements and camps and other stuff, but largely there’s just not much money. And then where I play, 112th in the world at my peak… You have to remember I started I think at 380 or something. You really are getting off the bottom in what was akin to the AAA Satellite tour – our version of Bull Durham and the minor leagues. And it’s nothing against those tournaments, but those were 16, 32 guys in a draw splitting $5,000.

Pete Mockaitis

Right, okay.

Mike Lewis

And yeah, you just wouldn’t bring much back from that. So, largely what the opportunity provided was exposure. You could get better, you could get yourself off the ground and get up the ladder a bit, but also it was the experience. A lot of these tournaments offer to pair you with host families, just like how we hosted that gentleman coming through town when I was a kid. That’s how I spent nearly every night of my 200,000-mile, 50-something country, nearly 2-year adventure. I was with other people along the way.

Pete Mockaitis

I don’t know why the first question that comes to mind when you mention all these different host families is, what have you settled in on as optimal mattresses and pillows, since you’ve tried them all?

Mike Lewis

You know what? It depends on the country and the continent. Some places I was just lucky to have… I remember my first place I stayed was right before I left Bain Capital, where I was working, I ran into a woman right nearby. I was going back to work after going to the gym, and she had told me, “Oh, you’ve got to play in the South Pacific.”
And I Googled when I went back to my office “squash in Fiji”, and a squash tournament in Tahiti popped up. And like two weeks later I was staying with the organizer of the tournament under a mosquito net in his daughter’s former childhood bedroom. It was decorated with princesses and glow-in-the-dark stars. And that, I can tell you, is not the Ritz-Carlton, but it was what I was hoping for. We picked the daughters up from school, we went to family outings, there was a birthday party at their neighbors’ that I went to, I sang karaoke. It was so much more than just the squash.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool. Okay, alright. So then, for everyone salivating, wanting to have their own sort of adventure in their own kind of a way, why don’t you lay out for us what’s When to Jump all about and can we hear who it’s for and why it’s important now?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, absolutely. So, When to Jump really came out of my own personal struggle to figure out when I was supposed to chase this dream. Like I said, it had been years, a decade since I first had this little voice in my head. And I was going about my job every day and I’m sure folks listening to this show can relate – you start to get a sense of circularity to your life. I knew what I had to do at work, it was fine. There was nothing too treacherous I could mess up. I kind of knew the playbook like the back of my hand. And on the other side there was this thing I really wanted to do.
So, I first Googled “when to chase dreams”, because I was like, “When do you do it?” And what I found was stuff that’s either too prescriptive, too self-helpy, or too inspirational where it’s almost just lost in the fluff of what you’re actually supposed to apply to your own life. And so, where I came out on it was, “What if I just talk to people who left something comfortable to go do what they cared about?” And I collected their stories and those stories could become proof that it wasn’t totally insane for me to do this.
And that’s what I did – I just started reaching out to people – first friends of friends, then colleagues, then passengers on the bus next to me, then a bartender down the street. And then all of a sudden as you start to peel back the layers, more and more stories became available.
And what was fascinating was that I wasn’t getting just that sexy, glossed-over photo, scoop or snapshot of the update from LinkedIn that only talks about the good stuff. This was the nitty-gritty, unsexy steps that come with chasing your dream. And people were giving highly vulnerable, real honest versions of what that looks like. And so, to me that’s what I wanted, that’s what made it feel realistic. They talked about the middle of that journey.
And so I remember speaking to a woman who was a Wall Street banker turned cyclist, and she had left Wall Street to try being a cyclist. And had largely failed for a while, but ended up making, after years and years, the Olympic team, and competed in London and then in Rio. And the conversation I thought would go something like this: “How was it to be a cyclist?”, “It was amazing, I made the Olympics.” And that would kind of be it. And instead it was: “How was it to be a cyclist?” And she was saying, “Well, here’s the hardest conversation I had with myself. Here’s what I was most scared of. Here’s what failure tasted like. Here’s why I kept going anyway.”
And when I hung up – this was January 2013 – I sketched a cover page to what I would call When to Jump. And I wanted to make a book of these stories with ideas and insights, but also to be able to create a space and a community where people could come together, have good drinks and snacks and food, and share ideas and stories with people in real life in a non-awkward, weird way, and come together.
And so, that was the idea. I told a buddy of mine I would make this someday. I put it on the back burner, I collected… I think I had one story from the US Senator from Maine Angus King – that was the one I had in the can, and then I kind of put it on the back burner, like I said.
And a year and a half later I had collected these stories totally really to give myself permission to jump. I had trained nights and weekends, I’d collected sponsors, I’d played anywhere I could, whenever I could, took sick days and holidays and half days. I had collected some sponsors using some material I’d put together at work on our own slideshow deck presentation templates, and all these different things, where all of a sudden the jump became more real.
And so, I left; I moved to New Zealand. Like I said, six months turned into nearly two years, and sadly while I was gone, my buddy, who was next to me at work, who I’d confided in around this idea of When to Jump, passed away in an accident. And at that point I said, “I need to finish this project.” And fortunately had the support of his brother and sister, and we talked and I was able to dedicate the project to him.
And over time, more people came forward with stories, from Michael Lewis, the finance author who wrote Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, The Undoing Project, to the second baseman for the Cubs who left the Cubs to go to college, all the way to the first female bishop in the Anglican church, who left PR to go into the Church.
So I had all of these interesting stories and slowly I was able to create a framework from the themes that I saw that kept coming back up again and again. And I came back in the end of 2015 and was approached by book folks, signed a book deal of this book that’s now coming out January 9: When to Jump: if the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want. And it’s 44 of my favorite stories with a framework that I call “the jump curve”. And it follows you through the different phases of taking a jump.
And what I found is that jumping can be for anybody. Some of us think that jumping is about changing jobs and moving to Bali and starting a company and doing drastic things. But what I found is that a jump is really having agency over your life. It’s about saying, “Okay, I want to change something, whether it’s the way that I commute to work, whether it’s a hobby that I want to develop or a new language I want to learn, or moving cities with my job, going for an internal promotion.”
But I think there’s this idea that you can do it; it just might not be pretty. And When to Jump exposes that through our community. And so when I signed the book deal, I ended up using the money to bootstrap a platform, and the platform has a bunch of different facets. We have a festival every year called Jump Club, which is part music festival, part beers with friends, part speaker series. Sheryl Sandberg keynoted our first Jump Club last year. She wrote the foreword to the book. Our festival grew nearly double to a weekend this year in New York, and I think we’ll be in London next year in October of 2018.
We started working with brands and we started to curate stories and we launched a podcast that’s now a top 10 business podcast on iTunes, all around these conversations. And so, what I found most, I think compelling, is that there isn’t one way to jump; everyone’s got their own jumps to make. But it really helps to know that you’re not alone, and that everyone goes through these hardships when they decide to make that step into the unknown. And often times the unknown is what will deliver the best parts of your jump.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, this is juicy stuff. And I want to go in deep on the jump curve. But I want to maybe first say, I’m thinking maybe this is Step 0, if you will, but the decision that a jump is worth doing in the first place – not so much how, but whether to jump. And so I’d like to start by getting your take on, how do you go about framing up and thinking through that very initial part of the equation?

Mike Lewis

Well, the first piece of the jump curve talks about, listen to the little voice. And I think like you said, Step 0 would be to just acknowledge what you’re thinking about and what your feelings are that keep coming back, because our body doesn’t lie, as former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall told me when I interviewed him about his jump from football into writing.
When you find yourself going to certain interests or ideas or spending your time in certain ways, those are usually telltale signs that there’s something boiling up within you. So, I don’t think there’s a perfect way to jump; I just believe that there are things you can do that will make sure it’s a positive, worthwhile experience. Because you really don’t know how it’s going to end, but you know how it can begin, and that I think takes planning and being thoughtful and following this jump curve.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. Now when it comes to listening to the voice, can you elaborate a little bit, in terms of, what are some telltale ways that the voice or your body speaking tends to materialize? The symptoms, if you will.

Mike Lewis

Yeah, so it’s actually listen to the little voice because it’s that little voice that you hear when you go to sleep at night or wake up in the morning, thinking about. It’s something that’s kind of nagging at you, but you’ve always ignored. And I think for me, I knew that that fear of not listening to it would ultimately be more scary of having to deal with it, just echoing and echoing and sitting there for years and years. Then if I tried it – if I planned and proceeded forward with my jump – even if it didn’t work out, if I did it the right way, if I took the right steps, it would be close enough to saying, “Hey, I tried. It didn’t work, but I did it.”
And I think that often times that little voice is right, and we do a lot to drown it out, whether it’s through staying super busy, through working late unnecessarily, through making our calendar super jam packed – there are a lot of things we do to try to drown out that noise. And so if you can just find some silence in your day – I know that sounds really cheesy – I am in San Francisco, we have to be pretty crunchy out here. But I would say if you can wake up and say, “Okay, for five minutes today I’m just going to sit and be bored.”
There is a reason that we come up with our best ideas in places like the shower, where we can just sit and have nothing to do but let ourselves think and unwind. Our brains aren’t programmed to be stimulated to the extent that social media and smart phones and notifications demand of us. So if you overwork them, they don’t have the chance to start to loosen and let different juices flow. And I think that’s where you get that little voice. That’s where you can really start, is to say, “Okay, let’s try to take out some of these noisy distractions, let’s lower some of the other voices and let’s listen to what this little one has to say.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s awesome. Alright, so then what’s the next step?

Mike Lewis

The next step is to make a plan. So we go from the aspirational to more the pragmatic. And within that step there are three pieces. One is financial planning – obviously you want to make sure that you’re jumping with some sort of cushion to really give this a go, and you don’t want to jump before that’s prudent.
The second piece is pre-jump practice, and that means really understanding what your jump is before you go. So, if you want to go start a furniture shop and selling furniture, you’ve got to learn about how to open a business. Maybe you should talk to small business owners. You’ve got to probably shadow or learn from a master handyman or a furniture maker. Maybe you start by watching YouTube videos. There’s a lot of things you can do just to start preparing for that step well before you have to jump. And that’s the pre-jump practice.
And then the third piece is safety net sewing. So I worked at Bain Capital for many years before I left to play squash, because I knew that if that jump didn’t work, and even if this jump doesn’t work, I would have a foundation. I had good reputation I think, decent enough; I worked on good projects and interesting deals; I got along with my superiors and others. And so, doing that type of legwork is actually really important, because I think for me at least, I’m not courageous enough to just drop everything and jump. I really need to feel like I’m supported, and Bain was very supportive when I ultimately decided to go. So those are the things that at a high level go into making a plan.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I really dig that. And so I’d like to get into a bit of detail with some of these here. Now when it comes to the financial plan, different people prescribe different sort of metrics or X month savings. What’s your take on what is financially cushioned enough?

Mike Lewis

Well, it’s funny. I think that it really is interesting when you peel back all the layers of what you actually need to live. You’ve got electricity, you’ve got water, probably let’s say that you need to have the Internet, you’ve got grocery bills, you’ve got your rent or your mortgage. You’ve got to have some sort of miscellaneous for external spending purposes, but what is that – five categories? Those are not 30 categories, those are not, “I want to dress in this certain way or drive this certain car or get this certain latte after work.”
And so, people think that financial planning is actually tough. What it is is really just being disciplined; it’s actually just cutting stuff rather than trying to say, “I need to go extreme and not spend a dollar.” You have finite fixed, hard costs – that’s not what we’re saying to change. It’s more like, on the margin, what can you start to tuck away? I’ll give you an example: If you cannot get a latte every day, you save $4-$5 each day for a year – that’s nearly $2,000 in your pocket. That’s a pretty good cushion to start your jump on.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool, thank you. And when it comes to safety net sewing, I’d love to hear your take on, I guess the opposite point of view, which is, I don’t know – who was the famous general – the “burn the boats” guy. It’s like, that’s what made the soldiers fight oh so fiercely, is they had no option of retreat. And you’re proposing just the opposite – don’t burn those boats. Nay, craft an excellent boat. How do you think through these two sets of ideas on that?

Mike Lewis

Well, it’s funny because when we get going a little bit, it will actually be a little bit of both, and I’ll explain that to you when we talk again soon on the next steps. But the “burn the boats” piece is actually right to some degree. And like I said, there’s a part of that that’s true. But first you should make that boat really, really nice, and I’ll tell you why – because there are going to be people from your old life and your old jump that will come in again and again – references to you as you go for a new job, potential investors in your company or idea, customers of your new products.
And so, it just behooves you to not say, “Well, screw it. Guns blazing, middle fingers up, I’m out of here”, because the world is small, especially if you’re going to, let’s say, leave a cafe or a restaurant to start your own restaurant – you might want to hire someone from there eventually, you might want to get reviews from that person who runs the restaurant that you’re leaving, you might want to get tips on suppliers to buy from. So, there’s just a lot to do in terms of really maintaining a great relationship.
And I’m not saying that you will cross paths with those people and I think we’ll get to why it’s important to only look forward when you jump and not be half-in, half-out, but I think it will give you a piece of mind to feel like, “Maybe I’ll never run into these people again, but they all know why I’m leaving. If they were called by someone at some point needed to show a reference for me, they would say, ‘You know what? Mike’s a good guy. He’s not all over the place. He didn’t just show up one day, give us the finger and quit. He told us what he wanted to do.’”
When I started to play squash tournaments on the side, I told everybody because they got bought into it. And so later when the squash tour became a real possibility, they knew that I was looking towards doing that, they knew it was something I cared about. It would have been a lot harder to massage that story if I just brought it up on everyone one day. And sure, I could have done that, but now I look forward and the people that I let really understand my journey are folks that are still trying to be a productive piece to this next jump. And so I think that’s why you want to be able to sew the safety net.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Alright, so have the Step 0 and Step 1, and what comes next?

Mike Lewis

So, the piece after that, which is really the hardest part, is to say, “Okay, you’ve planned as much as you can. Now you just have to take a jump and let yourself be lucky.” So that’s Step 3. And that’s a quote that Michael Lewis, the finance author, gave, which is, “If you look for luck you’ll actually find it.” It’s like when he described looking for money on the ground. Grown-ups leave it everywhere. You can find it, you just have to be open to it.
And the same goes for making a jump. If you look for those opportunities, if you make the plans, if you put down the pieces to what I call “let yourself collide with other people and things” – your odds are you’re going to find that luck. You just don’t know it until you jump. And obviously that’s just tough, because we as humans I think are rational to some degree, and when you leave a job you know what you’re giving up in salary, benefits, comforts, etcetera, but if you don’t know everything you’re getting in return on the next thing – that’s super hard.

Pete Mockaitis

I hear you. So you’re leaving a very clearly known, quantifiable piece for a quite unknown, unquantifiable upfront piece. So, could you give us some examples with regard to finding money lying around or colliding with people and opportunities? How does that appear in practice?

Mike Lewis

In what it looks like?

Pete Mockaitis

Right.

Mike Lewis

I think that what it is is, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, it’s really putting out a voice to it. It’s kind of going back to that little voice – you’ve now turned the voice up a lot. And so you’re saying, in my example, “I’m leaving, I’m moving to New Zealand. Everyone knows I love squash. Would love anyone’s thoughts”, etcetera. And the classic thing is, what happened?
Someone said, “Well, you should stay when you’re in Australia with my good friend who used to belong to my gym and he just moved with his family down there.” And then when I got down there, I met up with this gentleman and stayed with his family and they said, “Well, we have an extra apartment; we just moved. It was a corporate housing thing. Do you want to stay there?”
So all of a sudden I’m staying at no extra cost to stay with this gentleman and his family, and then he says, “Well, you should meet a friend of mine, who’s got a great podcast.” And it was Rob Bell. And I go on Rob Bell’s podcast last year as I was developing When to Jump, and through that podcast I received stories that are now in the book that’s coming out January 9 from people that were listening, and received amazing help from friends of mine who I would never have met, except for that they were listeners to Rob Bell’s podcast. And Rob Bell once surfed with a guy that I stayed with because our mutual friend heard my story in the gym locker room in Boston two months before I left.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that.

Mike Lewis

That could go on forever too.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah. And it feels like an adventure. You think about the great sort of fantasy novels or movies of our time – that’s what happens. You go forth and then something happens, which leads to something else, which leads to something else, and it’s kind of unpredictable and cool and exciting. So, I dig it.
So, all you really did was say to the whole world, “This is what is happening, this is what I’m doing. Would love your input.” And then away it goes. And so, I think it’s pretty cool. It seems like there’s value in doing that, both in the broad and general “Hey everybody” Facebook, LinkedIn world – “This is what I’m doing”, as well as in the particular, like, “Hey, you lived in New Zealand for a little while. What do you know?” And so, kind of going in both directions there.

Mike Lewis

Absolutely. I remember having a spreadsheet where I’d just fill in anyone who had an idea for me once I said I was leaving. I think the thing that people really miss in a lot of this is telling other people about what you want to do, because people want to help. And they want to help way more than you realize, but you have to tell them what they can help with.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Okay, next step.

Mike Lewis

So the last one is, and this is the fourth and final step – don’t look back. And so that is the “burning the boats” one, is you don’t just kind of say, “Well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll always go back, or maybe I’ll do this three days a week, then two days here, and I’ll do this nights and weekends.” Because at some point you’ve just got to be all in.
And that’s what “don’t look back” means, is once you say you’re in, don’t look around and say, “I wonder if this is really what I should be doing. I wonder what my friends would think. What if this doesn’t work?” You just have to be all in. And I know it’s really hard, but when you jump you can only look straight ahead.
And we’ve got in the book cases of failures and jumps that didn’t work out, and I think that’s what makes it real and understandable to say, “It might not be what I thought it would be, but it’s still going to be productive because I’m doing along the lines of what I enjoy.” And I think that’s super important, is when you jump to say, “This is going to work and I’m not going to second-guess myself twice.”

Pete Mockaitis

Now it’s interesting, as I’m thinking about my own jump, leaving Bain Consulting this time, not Capital, which you were talking about how everyone confuses them. But when I left and said I want to do training stuff, speaker stuff; learning and development is what fires me up the most… So I guess talking about “don’t look back” – I had a spreadsheet talking about the financial planning piece, and I suppose I had some standard in which I say I will quit at this point.
And I guess my standard might be somewhat extreme or aggressive – it’s like, “I will stop this if I have $0. I will not go into sort of insolvency or a negative net worth, but I am going to spend every dollar I have.” And so, I guess in terms of “all in”, you can call that 100% but not 120%, in terms of my “all in” this. And so, I’d love to get your perspective on that. Are there any sort of parameters or rules or tripwire covenants? I can think of “all in”, even though it sounds absolutist, still, on a bit of a spectrum.

Mike Lewis

Yeah. There’s a great line that Ethan Eyler, who invented the Lyft mustache, if you remember that. He was a videogame marketer before he invented this mustache that could go on cars. And he says when you’re taking a jump – he’s actually featured in the book too – he says there is this “van down by the river” fear. I think that’s in a book called Cubicle Nation that talks about it, where you think that you’re just going to be a failure living in a van down by the river.
And that never really happens. It does in some cases, but that’s pretty rare, and it’s mostly in our mind of like the biggest failure possible. So, I think what you described is the right one, which is, “I’ve made a plan-ish. I’m as sure as I can be, and now I’m going to go for it.” And I think that’s the way you’ve got to be; otherwise then why jump?

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, I’m with you. And I love it; I think that you’re right with the van down by the river. I remember I was thinking, “What happens if I spend my very last dollar?” And I thought, “Well, it’s not like I’m going to be homeless on the streets. It’s just I’ll have to pick a job that I might not find so interesting.” I always told myself that I would be doing cheese strategy, like some job at a giant corporate consumer packaged goods company like Kraft, doing cheese or something. I’m not passionate about, but I’m sure probably is interesting in its own ways. It just says optimization is intrinsically interesting for me and working with smart people, but it doesn’t light me up at the core. That’s really what is it stake, is, “Either we’re doing this or we’re doing cheese strategy. You’re not dying in the gutter.”

Mike Lewis

Right, exactly. You’re not going to die in the gutter.

Pete Mockaitis

Quote it! That’s the big quote for you: “You’re not going to die in the gutter.” Cool. And so then, a lot of these jumps have been in the career context. I’d love to get your perspective – you mentioned that sometimes when you’re referring to jumps it’s about hobbies or learning something new. How should we think about jumps in those contexts, where you can totally just keep doing the same job, but you’re still experiencing that adventure and that jump commitment action?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I call it “internal jumping” and I think there’s three ways you can mix things up through the city you’re in, the office location, especially if you’re with a beer company. If you’re at the cheese company, you could do cheese marketing in Wisconsin or in France. You can change products – you can go from cheese to detergents if it’s a consumer packaged goods company, or maybe you could go from selling cheese and marketing it to the product and engineering of it. And so, that’s kind of like a role and type of jump switch.
And so, I think those three things or any combination of them would really lead to something that would be stimulating, because it changes that circularity. I interviewed on our podcast – I think it comes out in a few weeks – former CEO of eBay John Donahoe, who’s actually the former CEO of Bain as well. And he talks about this product or this concept, and I’m not going to remember the guy’s name, but he calls it “repotting”, which is this idea that every 10 years or 7 years or so you want to repot – take yourself out of one pot, put into another and let roots grow again.
And John actually, if you look at what he did at eBay, they would regularly switch cubicles of folks so that people can mix up and meet other people. And I think there are just things like that. Even going to work a different way or talking to the person on the bus next to you – that type of thing can mix things up and it’s a super incremental micro jump.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. So, Mike, tell us – what do you think would be the very first step if someone is having a little bit of that little voice going on? And is it just a matter of making time for the silence and the boredom, or what would be the very first thing you do?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I would say, absolutely. The thing that’s no-stress, low-touch, light-weight, easy to do would be – and I do this every day – take five minutes in the morning before you look at technology, write in a journal, or maybe just make a Google doc or Evernote or whatever it is, and write down the things that you thought you did well yesterday. Get yourself into a mindset to be thinking of the positives.
And then if you want, start with one thing a day you’re going to get done, like a 24-hour goal. That stuff’s really easy. The CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? told me about that – Brian Scudamore. And you can be as bite-size as, “Okay, I’m going to research things I’m interested in today” or, “I’m going to talk to a musician.” Something that just makes you curious. And I think if you give that 5, 10 minutes to yourself each morning, you’re going to get a little bit closer to that thing and that’ll get you on that curve. It’ll get your voice to kind of grow a bit. It’ll tune it up rather than tune it out.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, cool. Well, Mike, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I would just say if you want to learn more, our website’s WhenToJump.com. Our podcast is also called When to Jump, and you can find it on our website, also on iTunes and all that good stuff. We have a newsletter where we keep our community up-to-date once a month. Actually we just sent out our monthly one this morning. And then of course the book comes out January 9. So, I spent the better part of several years putting what I hope will be together the resources, the tools, the ideas and the people that give people a sense of permission. And I hope people enjoy the book, and obviously I would love to hear from you if you end up reading it.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Alright, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mike Lewis

I would say I’d have to quote my cousin Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the foreword to the book, and to paraphrase her it would be – a question that I go back to, that she goes back to again and again is what she would do if she wasn’t afraid? And I think that’s the most important question we can ask ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mike Lewis

I thought that Manoush Zomorodi, who wrote the book Bored and Brilliant basically found a way to see if we could lower the interactions we have on our cell phones and social media and all that, and see what kind of result that would produce. And it turns out that it makes us happier.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, perfect. And do you have a quick tip, a bit from there, in terms of if we wanted to get a little piece of that value, what should we do?

Mike Lewis

Yeah. One thing that you can do that’s super easy, which was amazing is, when you commute to work, try not to have your phone on you. So not even in your pockets – put it in your backpack or purse. It does wonders. I actually now leave it when I go to the gym. And it’s little things like that to disassociate; it really will rewire your mind and let you be bored.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. And how about a favorite book?

Mike Lewis

Memoir-wise I would say Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and his story of starting Nike – the ultimate jump start in many ways. And then in a more serious and kind of meaningful tone would be Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and an absolutely extraordinary man. I think everyone should read that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Mike Lewis

I really like the microphone I use when I travel for podcasts. I know I don’t know what this one is I’m using now, but when I travel I have an H1 microphone and recording set. And it’s just awesome; it’s really simple and small and you can actually have a lot of fun with it. You can record yourself and notes to yourself, you can record conversations, podcasts, interviews. It’s very cool.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Mike Lewis

It’s funny you ask that. Last night I actually for the first time looked back at how many mornings I’ve written in my journal to start the day. And I just write. I don’t really read it again, I just write down yesterday’s synopsis – kind of what I said earlier. And I knew I started January of 2015, I’m wrapping up my third year, and this year and last year I’ve written 140,000 words each, which is pretty surreal to me.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, are you saying that you’ve got pretty nice consistency, in terms of every single day rocking out there?

Mike Lewis

Every single day. It doesn’t even occur to me not to do it now. So it’s just habits.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. And is there a particular nugget or piece that you share that seems to really resonate with your audience and community, and it gets them kind of retweeting and quoting it back to you?

Mike Lewis

Yeah, I think that it’s, “Think of when you’re 80 years old and you look back on your life. What are you going to be most proud of? What stories will you make for yourself?” And I think that’s what drives people to jump.

Pete Mockaitis

And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, you say WhenToJump.com is where it’s at?

Mike Lewis

WhenToJump.com – it’s the home base for us. Our newsletter sign-up is on there, podcast, you can pre-order the book. And starting in February of 2018 we will have a Jump Ambassador program, which will be a 10-week intensive online course for people who want to meet 19 other RAD applicants that have been selected from around the world, and get closer to their jump. So all that can be found on the site, WhenToJump.com.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, RAD makes me think of Silicon Valley.

Mike Lewis

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, boy. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mike Lewis

Well, I would just say, write down what your goal is. It’s a perfect time to say, at the end of 2018, what does your job look like? What are you doing? How are you crushing it, to say it in Silicon Valley terms?

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, Mike, thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. I wish you and all of your jumpers lots of luck in their adventures!

Mike Lewis
Thank you for having me. It’s pleasure to be on. I hope this was helpful.