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732: How Aspiring Leaders Can Succeed Today with Clay Scroggins

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Clay Scroggins lays out how leadership is rapidly changing and what aspiring leaders can do to adapt and succeed.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 4As for mastering tricky conversations 
  2. Why the “right” people aren’t necessarily the right people 
  3. One question to surface your superpower 

About Clay

Clay is the author of the best-selling books How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge and How to Lead in a World of Distraction. He holds a degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech as well as a Master’s degree and Doctorate with an emphasis in Online Church from Dallas Theological Seminary. 

In January of 2022, Clay is releasing his 3rd book titled The Aspiring Leader’s Guide to the Future: 9 Surprising Ways Leadership is Changing. No one denies the changing landscape of leadership, but Clay explains how to become the kind of leader the future is demanding. 

For the past 20 years, Clay Scroggins has served in many pastoral roles at North Point Ministries, a multisite church started in Alpharetta, Georgia led by Andy Stanley. Most recently, Clay served as the lead pastor of Buckhead Church, one of North Point’s largest campuses.  

He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Jenny, and their five children. 

Resources Mentioned

Clay Scroggins Interview Transcript

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

Clay Scroggins
Oh, Pete, thank you. I feel so grateful to be back because last time I was here, you changed my keynote talk that I do on the book that you were interviewing me about, so thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks.

Clay Scroggins
I hope today is just as impactful.

Pete Mockaitis
No pressure. Cool. Well, to kick it off, it’s been a little while and we’re going to be talking about your book here The Aspiring Leader’s Guide to the Future: 9 Surprising Ways Leadership is Changing. And I’d love to hear a surprising lesson you’ve learned in the couple years since we’ve last spoken.

Clay Scroggins
Well, I resigned from my job three months ago, so I don’t know what exactly the lesson is for the future of leadership but I’ll tell you, for the now, it has been remarkably great to be self-employed.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Yeah, certainly. Well, I’ve enjoyed the journey myself, pros and cons, and every set of tradeoffs. Cool. Well, hey, good luck. I hope that you continue rocking and rolling.

Clay Scroggins
Well, you know, I feel a bit like a walking cliché about it because we’re in the middle of The Great Resignation. United States is resignation nation. We went through a pandemic, or going through a pandemic. Anyone who is in a helping industry – nurses, teachers, nonprofits – and then I was in the clergy business, I was a pastor, still am doing a lot of preaching at churches on the weekends, but anybody who’s in one of those lines of work, the emotional toll of the pandemic just seems to be a little bit more stressful, and I just felt like, “Oh, of course.” Like, I went through a pandemic and quit my job.

But honestly, it wasn’t the challenge of the last year and a half. I actually enjoyed the challenge over the last year and a half, but it was that feeling that I think everyone has from time to time, which is, “Can I do it? Like, do I have it in me to make a go of it on my own?” I guess it was like a little bit of a, “I’m going to take a bet on myself.” And, obviously, you did that. Was it ten years ago?

Pete Mockaitis
Just about, yeah.

Clay Scroggins
Crazy. So, that’s pretty much what I decided to do was, “Let me go out and see if I can do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations. It’s good to have you.

Clay Scroggins
My kid bought me this Van Gogh poster, and she’s been meaning to write “Let’s Van Gogh” on this poster. Well, she gave it to me as a gift for working for myself now, which I thought was really brilliant. She hasn’t “Let’s Van Gogh” on it quite yet. I need her to. So, let’s Van Gogh, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Let us. Let us, indeed, Van Gogh. Well, so tell us, what’s fundamentally sort of the main thesis or big idea behind the book The Aspiring Leader’s Guide to the Future?

Clay Scroggins
Well, I, like everyone else, noticed that leadership is…I like leadership. Let me back up and say I enjoy the concept of leadership. I think everybody was made to have an impact on this world. I think it is baked in your DNA that you want to make a difference, that you want to build something, grow something, create something, move something forward. And I believe at every level of any organization, every single person is a leader.

Leadership is not about authority. It’s not about a title. It’s not about power. It’s about the ability to influence someone, to move someone to do it, they maybe don’t even want to do to accomplish what they want to accomplish. And so, from that standpoint, I’ve written a couple of books on leadership. So, I spend a lot of my time speaking about leadership, talking about leadership, helping organizations that have a girth of emerging leaders, of swaths of emerging leadership, helping them figure out how they can become better people. When you become a better person, you usually become a better leader.

And I started realizing, obviously, in the last couple of years, “Oh, my goodness, leadership is changing at a rapid rate.” And I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. Every time I’ve started out to research the topic of how leadership is changing, every blogpost, every book, every research study, started with that same concept – leadership is changing. Leadership is changing.

But the more I tried to understand it, the more I realized, none of us really know how it’s changing. And if you don’t know how it’s changing, it’s really not very helpful. That Wayne Gretzky quote that to be really great at hockey you have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck has been. If we’re going to grow and develop into the kind of leader that the future is demanding, then we have to know how leadership is changing.

So, that was really what was behind it all, was, “All right. Well, then how is it changing? What are the ways that leadership in the future is going to be different than it has been in the past? And let’s talk about it.” So, I threw a bunch of research, and reading, and studying, and thinking, and conversing, came up with nine, I call them, surprising ways. Some of them are less surprising than the others but nine ways that leadership is, in fact, changing, and how we can become the kind of leader that the future is demanding.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I would like to get a view of that. And maybe to kick us off, could you provide an example or illustration of what’s some leadership going on – and you don’t have to name names, but you can if you want – that is old and broken and not what’s with it anymore?

[06:02]

Clay Scroggins
Well, I think some of the cliches, some of the tropes of leadership that I remember, when I was probably 20, 21, I co-oped for Accenture business strategy consulting firm when I was an engineering student in Atlanta, and the phrase is like “Dress for success,” “Fake it till you make it,” “Don’t let them see you sweat.” They used to watch how people would salt their food to determine whether or not they made good decisions. If you salted your food before you tasted it, you were rash and impulsive.

They would look at how clean your car was to determine how organized you were. I would say, at a very basic level, it’s those kinds of things that I feel like are maybe good examples of the old way of leadership that is no more. That’s kind of that GE – and I love GE, I love Jack Welch. Straight from the Gut was one of my favorite books, but I would say that concept, that style of leadership is probably one that is of the past.

Clay Scroggins
Does that resonate with you at all? Do you remember any of it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I agree with you that. Well, I guess I thought those were never good. And they weren’t good then, they aren’t good now, in terms of because there’s all kinds of reasons why, “Oh, maybe they salted their food because they’ve been to this restaurant before, and they know darn well it’s insufficiently salty.” So, if you’re going to draw an inference on someone’s career and future and potential based on that datapoint, that’s really foolish and you should have a more robust process to assess the things you’re looking to assess. There’s my hot take on that.

Okay, so that’s old school. Well, then you’ve got nine particular surprising ways. Can you give us a quick rundown of what those nine are?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, the first one is the idea that you don’t have to know everything to be a leader. Most people think that, “I’m not ready to lead because I don’t know enough.” I think because the way knowledge is rapidly changing and growing, we have to be more comfortable with those three words “I don’t know” if we’re going to be willing and ready to lead.

The idea that you need a coach, whether you’re going to pay for that coach or not, I think is something that my parents’ generation were a little less accustomed to. The idea that all the greatest athletes have coaches. I think the great business executives have coaches. That concept is new. The idea that if you fail you’re not a leader, is outdated. I think all of us are going to have failings, that you’re not going to have just success after success after success.

The idea of not just being aware of your weaknesses, but being intimate with your strengths, I think it’s surprising to me. There’s been research that’s been done that says the majority of people think their weaknesses can grow while their strengths remain stagnant, remain fixed. But the truth is you can grow your weaknesses and you can grow your strengths as well. But when you ask that interview question, “What are your greatest weaknesses?” most people have their canned answer, but most people are not aware of their superpower, their strengths.

That Jim Collins line, “Get the right people on the bus,” I take that concept and really challenge whether or not we know who the right people are. I think who the right people are is changing. Some people that might have been deemed as the wrong people have helped me become, helped me make right decisions, helped me become more of a right leader, helped me to see more rightly even though they may have been the wrong people. So, challenging that concept was really exciting for me.

The idea of trust, I think, is pretty crucial as we look toward the future. In the past, particularly with our work environments where you could walk down the hallway and look over someone’s shoulder to see how they’re doing, within a matter of days, the concept of trust on teams was challenged in a way that it had never been challenged before because everyone is working from home. So, learning how to give trust without demanding trust, learning how to give trust to be trusted, I think is a way that leadership is changing.

The concept of conflict. The conversations that we’re having at work, I’m sure, Pete, even though you work for yourself, you’re well aware of this, there was a day where you left religion at home, you left what you thought about a lot of the social issue at home, but we’re having those discussions at work on a regular basis, “What do you think about race? What do you think about gender? What do you think about sexuality?” Those are conversations that are very common in the workplace. Not only that, but people are growing less accustomed to having conflict. So, the idea of learning how to have healthy conflict, I think, is going to be more important for the future than it even was in the past.

Learning to lead with vulnerability. Most leaders are, we’ve been taught, “Hey, I’ve got to ‘show the best and hide the rest.’” Social media enforces that. And learning how to lead with that thing that makes me feel most insecure, learning how to lead with my weakness is something that I don’t think we’re naturally accustomed to.

And then the last way leadership is changing is around the idea of success. Learning that success is not a scarce commodity, but learning that it’s really having an abundance mentality when it comes to success, making sure the people that you work around know that, “Hey, I’m in this for you. I’m not in this for me. And when you’re successful, I’m successful. If you’re not successful, I can’t be successful.” I think that concept is a way that the future is going to demand that of us whether we’re ready for it or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I like that. So, those are juicy in terms of we have nine ideas, which you can think, you can bat around, you can chew on and dig into. And so, to recap, number one, saying it’s okay to not know. That’s cool. Two, we all need a coach to be our best. Three, you’re going to fail and that’s normal. Let’s see, four, you want to be intimate and knowledgeable of your strengths, your superpower. Five, the wrong people can, in fact, be helpful. Six, give trust to be trusted. Seven, learning how to have healthy conflict. Eight, leading with vulnerability, a place where we’re insecure. And, nine, success is abundant and not a scarce resource we need to squabble over and politic and scheme to hoard.

Clay Scroggins
Pete, can I have an engaged interruption?

Pete Mockaitis
You may.

Clay Scroggins
As you look at those, which one do you think, “Oh, yeah, that definitely is new”? And maybe another way to think about it, Pete, when you think about your parents, which one would your parents go, “Wait a second. Why is that one on the list?”

Pete Mockaitis
I think that the one that struck me is new is when you talk about learning how to have healthy conflict, like in some ways that’s not super new. Like, I guess, what do we have? Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals,” like, okay, yeah, old school, and that sure was helpful in terms of having that healthy conflict. But in terms of, yeah, what folks are bringing into the workplace, and I’m thinking right now about Basecamp. They had quite the kerfuffle associated with the leadership.

And I don’t know the ins and outs of the story, but it seemed like they were somewhat good-intentioned when the leadership said, “Hey, guys, you know what, these kinds of issues, I feel like they’re getting a little bit divisive, a little bit distracting. Let’s not do that anymore.” And then there’s like a riot, like, whoa, like it really blew up.

Clay Scroggins
Coinbase did the same thing. Sounds like they’re very similar situation, where the CEO of Coinbase basically said, “Hey, look, we’re not dealing with that. We’re here to continue to help in the decentralization of the economic system of the world. We’re not trying to solve the race issue, so let’s leave all that outside.”

Pete Mockaitis
And that didn’t go well for them.

Clay Scroggins
Well, I think he feels great about it, but I think there was a walkout, there was a protest. And there’s a part of it I can understand why he would say that because he’s going, “I’m not an expert in this. I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s get back to talking about the economy and how we pay for things.” But, no, I think, in general, it was not received really well.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, it does really feel like a new thing in terms of that’s happening now. And I guess that’s a whole other conversation if that’s good or bad, right or wrong, appropriate, inappropriate.

Clay Scroggins
Exactly. Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s there in terms there are a healthy proportion of folks who want to engage and think it’s necessary, proper, and appropriate to engage on those matters at work. So, lay it on us, Clay, how do we do that well?

Clay Scroggins
Well, I think the way you put that is really great, Pete. Pete, just so you know, this is what’s great about your podcast, is you do a great job of playing this, like, Switzerland, neutral, “I’m just a facilitator,” but you’ve got really great thoughts, and you have great interjections and opinions as you’re trying to pull things out of people, so thank you for doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Clay Scroggins
But I give a plan, I give a, “Hey, if you’re trying to become better at conflict, here’s a way to approach it.” I give four A’s that you can work on, that you can go think about, you can prepare for. Number one, would you affirm the person however you can? You might not be able to say much, but would you affirm them? “Here’s what I believe is true about you. Here’s what I’m afraid you’re going to think about this conversation, and I just want to let you know that’s not what it’s about.”

So, it’s really affirming your intentions, it’s affirming what’s true about the other person, and it creates safety. What you’re trying to do in any high stakes difficult conversation is you’re trying to build a bridge of safety that’s strong enough to bear the weight of whatever is about to come across that bridge. And so, if you can start by affirming whatever is true about that person, I think you’re off to a great start, but you have to prepare for that. You don’t want to think of that on the fly.

Secondly, would you ask a couple of really curious questions? Arrogant people don’t ask questions. They don’t have to. They know it all. But people that recognize, “Hey, there’s something I don’t know. There’s something that you see that I don’t see. And whether you’re right or I’m right, or you’re wrong or I’m wrong, I’ll be better if I can get behind your lens and see the way you see it.” And so, would you ask a couple of curious questions that will allow you to see from the other person’s perspective?

And then, third, would you acknowledge what you’ve heard? Miscommunication has started wars in this world. It can certainly start a fight or a conflict in your workplace. And so, learning how to simply acknowledge what you’ve heard. We do this a lot with engaged couples. We do a lot of premarital counselling, my wife and I do, with engaged couples. We’ll have them sit on our couch six or eight times before their wedding, and the session on conflict, we’ll say, “Hey, bring the latest, greatest conflict you’ve had.” It’s always about the in-laws, by the way. Spoiler alert. It’s always about the in-laws.

And so, what we’ll do is we’ll say, “All right. You, sir, would you explain what you wish would be different with your spouse?” And he’ll say, “Well, I wish you would check with me before you call your mom about,” said situation. And then she’ll go, this is her acknowledgement, we’ll have her repeat back. He’s assertively communicating, she’s actively listening, and she’ll say, “So, what I hear you saying is you don’t want me to talk to my mom anymore?” “Okay, that’s not exactly what I said. That’s not what I’m hoping for.” So, there’s a chance for them to sync up what they’re actually saying. That’s really important.

And that’s what that step of acknowledgement is doing. It’s trying to let the other person know, “I hear you.” When you say something, that’s important. But when you feel heard by someone, it is such a crucial part of communication. So, if you’ll start by affirming and ask a few curious questions, and then acknowledge what you’ve heard, and then advise, and then give the advice, or whatever it is that you want to bring, you’re just off to a way better start. And the problem is if you don’t go through it in that order, if you go through it in the reverse order, which is what most people do, most people want to fire off the text to the boss or the peer, to the coworker, “Hey, I just want to let you know this is your problem. And how dare you? And you better not,” and whatever.

And if you do that, you end up having to walk backwards through the process. You end up having to acknowledge that you were wrong, ask for forgiveness, and then affirm that you really love working there. So, if you don’t go through it in that order, I think you’ll end up paying for it in the end, but that’s just a simple process. As we think about the future, why conflict is even going to be more important in the future than it was in the past, specifically healthy conflict, my hope is to give a pathway for people that they can prepare for so that they can have healthier conversations at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. That’s cool. So, affirm, ask, acknowledge. Nifty. Let’s hear about wrong people being helpful.

Clay Scroggins
Well, I love what Jim Collins has said. Jim Collins is like the GOAT. That book Good to Great, I’m sure it sold more copies. He has not sold more copies than you have had podcast downloads, I can promise you that.

Pete Mockaitis
What 50-million-ish? Maybe.

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, you might have, I don’t know. He has sold a lot of Good to Great copies. And that line “Get the right people on the bus” I’ve had it rattle around in my head for as long as I’ve been leading teams. But what I found is that what I thought was right might not be right. I always thought right was, “I get along with them. I like them. They’re like me. They look like me.” And the more I have stepped into leadership opportunities, the more teams I’ve led, the more I’ve realized that the right people aren’t always the right people.
And sometimes the people that I think are the wrong people are the ones that actually helped me the most. Just because you’re ambitious, it doesn’t mean you’re the wrong person. Just because you are prickly doesn’t mean you’re the wrong person. Just because you’re hard to get along with doesn’t mean you’re the wrong person. Now, certainly, you want to be a great team player, you want to be willing to get along with the people around you, but sometimes the wrong people really do help you see the right way or make the right decision. And I think that’s new. I think that’s different. I think that’s a different way of seeing the future than the way we’ve seen it in the past.

Pete Mockaitis
So, they’re the wrong…I guess what this means is sort of like the halo effect or if there’s a devil horn effect in reverse.

Clay Scroggins
The opposite, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, someone is prickly or abrasive and, thusly, they’re all bad. And then they’re not the right person to be on the bus, and so they don’t belong on the bus and so don’t associate with them. They’re unclean.

Clay Scroggins
Unclean, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet, it seems that in this instance, like the very same candor, shall we say, associated with that prickliness or abrasiveness is just what the doctor ordered in terms of helping you see blind spots or learn, grow, improve.

Clay Scroggins
I certainly think so. I’m sure you’ve had people that have…it’s been the people that have challenged even the way you’ve ran your business or thought about your podcast that maybe, initially, you were like, “Ugh, I don’t like the way that feels.” But in the end, they’re the people that actually helped me grow and helped me change, helped me see something that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

And so, I think early on in my leadership, I thought, “Get the right people on the bus. I got to get the people that I like on the bus. I got to get the people that are like me on the bus.” But the longer I’ve led, the more I’ve realized I don’t know that I’ve got the right concept of who the right people are and how sometimes the wrong people are the right ones to help me see differently. Honestly, Pete, it’s why I think people underestimate diversity.

If your team looks just like you, there’s a problem. Somehow deep within you there’s probably something within you that wants to justify why you look the way you look or why you are the way you are. But valuing other opinions, valuing other backgrounds and the way other people see it is only going to help you see more clearly. It’s only going to help you reach the people that you’re trying to reach, or sell whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

And I think sometimes we miss that about diversity, that we feel diversity is…there’s an altruistic motive behind diversity that I think is great. But I think we miss out on the idea that you will come up with better…you will make better decisions if you get people around you that don’t look like you, that don’t see like you. It will only help you in the future. And I think sometimes we miss out on that. That’s a complicated thing for two white guys to talk about, but I think it’s a really important part as we look toward the future, as we start thinking about who should be on the bus and who shouldn’t be on the bus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. As you have a broader array of perspectives, you get a fuller picture of reality and, thus, yeah, especially over the course of many decisions, you’re going to have better ones and sometimes epically better ones. So, that’s handy. Let’s get your hot take on being intimate with your strengths and knowing your superpower. First, Clay, what’s your superpower?

Clay Scroggins
I think my superpower is the people around me. They feel believed in. They feel like someone sees them. I’ll tell you, you’ll find out more clearly what your superpower is when you resign from a job, which is kind of unfortunate. But they did a little exercise on my last day of work where everybody had a whiteboard, and they said, “All right. Everybody, write on the whiteboard, what do you want Clay to know?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Clay Scroggins
And that was a great exercise. And there was a gal on our team who grew up very differently than me, looks very differently than me, has a very different background than me, but was an incredible teammate for me. And she wrote on her board, she said, “What I want him to know is I’m grateful that he always saw me.” And I thought that’s pretty stellar. I think that I probably gained more awareness of what I was good at by leaving than I had while I was there, which I think is one reason why every now and then you ought to just quit a job and resign from a job.

I had the same job for about 18 years, and so I don’t know how much you’ve done on resignation, Pete, but the morning I had to go meet with my boss to resign, I opened up my podcast app and typed “How to resign from a job?” because I had never done it before.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we had an episode on that. I’m wondering if we turned up.

Clay Scroggins
I wanted to make sure I got it right. It’s kind of a hidden…it’s one of those hidden parts of having a job that you just don’t think about until you have to do it for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, it sounds like you did it fairly classy if that’s the sort of exit they gave you as opposed to a swift kick in the butt, and a, “Here’s your pass. Get out of here.”

Clay Scroggins
Lit everything on fire and the doozies, right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Clay, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Clay Scroggins
Well, I do think we would all agree that the future is going to be different. I think we would all agree that we’re moving toward a different future than the past that we came from, and I hope people feel encouraged by that. I certainly do. I think, as I started thinking through this concept, I felt so encouraged that I think a lot of these changes in leadership are healthy changes.

There was a story that Angela Ahrendts…I had a chance to interview her for this project. Angela was the CEO at Burberry, and then after that, left to be the senior VP of Retail for Apple. And Angela told this story about sending out these videos to her 75,000 retail employees at Apple, and she was trying to unify them, she’s trying to bring them together. And so, every Monday morning, she would send out a video called Three Points in Three Minutes, which I thought was a great little concept.

She said one of the first times that she shot it, she had a video crew in her office, and she had a phone call in the middle of while she’s shooting it, and it was her daughter, Angelina, who was in school in London, in college. And she said, “Hey, just keep it rolling,” and she picked up the phone, and she said, “Hey, Angelina, I’m shooting this video right now. As soon as I get done, I’ll call you right back.” Her daughter said, “No problem. Call me back.” She hung up the phone. She finishes the video. She gets done with it, she tells the camera crew, she says, “Hey, keep that in there, send it out just like that.” They said, “Are you sure?” They’re like, “We’re Apple. We make beautiful things.” She’s like, “Yes, send it out just like that.”

She said the next morning, she wakes up, and looks in her email, and she had hundreds of emails of people telling her, “Thank you. Thank you for reminding us that you’re a person too, that you’re trying to do your greatest work, but you’re also trying to be an amazing mom, and you’re trying to have a great marriage, and you’re trying to be a great person. We’re trying to do the same thing.”

And so, I think some of those changes like that, that’s an example of vulnerability, it’s an example of being open and honest about what’s really going on in life, and I think there’s something for all of us to learn in that, that people want a different kind of leader. People do not want a leader that has it all together, that knows everything, that has the right answer for every single issue. People want a leader that’s willing to say, “Hey, I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know but I’m working on it as well, and I don’t have it together either. I’m inviting you to help me become a better leader. I’m doing something that’s such a big deal, I can’t do it alone, and I’m inviting you to be a part of this.”

And I think that’s who we all want to work for. I think that’s the kind of leader we all want to work for. So, why not become that kind of leader? Why not become the kind of leader that is growing into that kind of vulnerable, aware of conflict, better at conflict, giving trust even though you might not feel trusted kind of leader? I think it’s the kind of leader we want to work for and I think it’s the kind of leader that we all really want to become.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Okay, so resigning is one way that you can get some insights in your superpower. What are some of your other practices you recommend to get those insights?

Clay Scroggins
Well, the easiest way is to ask people. Probably the best simplest thing that I did was anytime you’re changing jobs, whether you’re resigning or not, it’s a great time to ask people around you, but you don’t have to wait until you changed jobs to ask the people around you. I just sent a simple Google survey with three questions, “What do I do that inspires you? What do I do that bothers you? And what do I do that I don’t even know that I do? What are my blind spots?”

And, of course, Pete, like anybody, the parts that I harped out on, that I really camped out on, were questions two and three. But reading the answers to question one, “What do I do that inspires you? What do I do that motivates you?” it gave me such crystal-clear clarity on what it is that I do that people appreciate. And so, the easiest way to find out what you are good at is to ask the people around you. Most people just don’t know.

I’m amazed at how many interviews where you ask people what their weaknesses are, and they give you the Michael Scott answer, “I work too hard. I care too much. I spend too much time at work. Those are my weaknesses.” But most people, they don’t know what they’re good at, and the people around you know. They know what you’re good at. And if you can become more intimate with your strengths, you’ll find that your strengths are what the people around you love you for, and you can grow in those and become an even more valuable player today and tomorrow as well.

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

Clay Scroggins
I love that Abraham Lincoln quote, “I prepare and I study because one day my time will come.” I love that little simple concept that I think what he’s trying to say is “I recognize that destiny has something for me in the future.” And I think that’s true for every person, that the future has something for you. The future has something where you’re going to be called a moment, a mission, an opportunity where you’re going to be called upon to lead, and so what you’re doing now is not wasted effort. What you’re doing now is not worthless. No, it’s so important because you are getting ready for that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Clay Scroggins
I love Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Do people ever comment on that one? Does that ever come up?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s come up a couple of times. I listened to the audio version but I hear it in my mind’s ear right now, “You’re in the box.”

Clay Scroggins
“You’re in the box,” that’s exactly right. That’s probably my favorite leadership book and it’s in the fable, it’s done as a fable, which some people like the fables and some people don’t. But, yeah, I love the concept that you are constantly affirming the narratives that you’ve already written about people, and so you have to challenge those narratives or else you’re going to just continue to put them, in the words of The Arbinger Institute, “In the box.”

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

Clay Scroggins
Well, ClayScroggins.com would be the easiest place to go but I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, a bit on TikTok, not a lot, but some. So, @ClayScroggins, that would be great.

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

Clay Scroggins
Well, I would just say continue to study, continue to grow, continue to learn because you just never know when your moment is going to come. And if your moment hasn’t come and you feel passed over, or you feel like people have forgotten you, there’s still more to come. Your story is still being written. And if you can continue to grow and develop and challenge yourself, I think you will be better prepared for whatever the future holds.

So, I’m grateful for podcasts like this that help people grow personally because without this, we just wouldn’t have opportunities to challenge ourselves, to hear new ideas new and concepts. So, Pete, you’re modeling, I think, which is a great thing for every one of us, which is to consistently try to learn something from someone so that you can grow and prepare and challenge yourself to be ready for whatever the future holds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Clay, thank you. This has been a treat. Keep up the great work.

Clay Scroggins
Back at you, Pete. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

730: How Leaders Can Succeed by Mastering the Eight Paradoxes of Effective Leaders with Dr. Tim Elmore

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Tim Elmore says: "I need to speak as if I believe I’m right, but I need to listen as if I believe I’m wrong."

Dr. Tim Elmore sheds light on the eight paradoxes the leaders of today must embrace to more effectively inspire and connect with their teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why leaders say it’s more difficult to lead today
  2. The eight conflicting demands of great leaders
  3. The two behaviors that set aspiring leaders apart 

About Tim

Dr. Tim Elmore is the founder and CEO of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization created to develop emerging leaders. Since founding Growing Leaders, Elmore has spoken to more than 500,000 students, faculty, and staff on hundreds of campuses across the country. Elmore has also provided leadership training and resources for multiple athletic programs. In addition, a number of government offices in Washington, D.C. have utilized Dr. Elmore’s curriculum and training. 

From the classroom to the boardroom, Elmore is a dynamic communicator who uses principles, images, and stories to strengthen leaders. He has taught leadership to Delta Global Services, Chick-fil-A, Inc., The Home Depot, The John Maxwell Co., HomeBanc, and Gold Kist, Inc., among others. Committed to developing young leaders on every continent of the world, Elmore also has shared his insights in more than thirty countries. Tim’s expertise on emerging generations and generational diversity in the workplace has led to media coverage in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Investor’s Business Daily, Huffington Post, MSNBC.com, The Washington Post, WorkingMother.com, Atlanta Business Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, and Portfolio.com. Tim has appeared on CNN’s Headline News and FOX & Friends discussing parenting trends and advice.

Resources Mentioned

Tim Elmore Interview Transcript

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

Tim Elmore
Thank you, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat. You’ve worked with a lot of leaders over a lot of years. I’m curious, what’s one of your most surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made about us human beings and leadership across your career?

Tim Elmore
You know, this won’t shock you, but meeting with C-level leaders and finding out they’re just as humans as the intern at the office. We gain experience and we gain wisdom, I think, I like to think we do, but then you find out, “Bob puts his pants on one leg at a time, and he struggles with his daughter and his dog,” that sort of thing. So, I think that’s liberating a little bit because I think we think we have to perfect something by the time we reach 50, and that just doesn’t happen.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I find that really reassuring and true to my own experience. I remember in consulting, the first time I was in a meeting with, like, “A CEO is going to be in the meeting and I’m going to be there too? Oh, my gosh.” My first sighting of a CEO up close and personal in real life. And then he asked us a very basic normal question, it’s like, “Oh, so does that number include the benefits or just the salaries?”

Tim Elmore
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “That’s what I would ask if I were him. Wow!”

Tim Elmore
Yeah, maybe becoming CEO means you get the guts to ask those questions that we’re afraid to ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. All right. So, your latest work is called The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership: Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace. That’s cool. Tell us, what’s the big idea behind this book here?

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, I think it’s not hyperbole to say we’re living and leading in very funky different times. This is my 42nd year leading something as a paid leader and I’d just never seen a time like this that we’re in. So, I don’t mean to exaggerate or create drama, but I think I just look around. In fact, I tell you what, the genesis for this book actually was a green room conversation I had with 16 CEOs.

So, it was right before an event and I thought, “I’m going to capitalize on this moment and talk to these people about what they’re experiencing.” So, Pete, I asked the question, “Do you think leading people today is harder than it was when you first learned to lead?” And I thought I’d get a mixture of answers, but every single one of these people said, “Absolutely.” One of them said, “A hundred and ten percent.” They were ready to wave the flag.

And then I kind of pushed back, and I said, “Now, that’s kind of odd that you would say that. Wouldn’t you think leadership would’ve been harder when we were in our 20s and we first started leading something but we didn’t know much?” But everyone of them stuck to their guns. And that set me on a search, really, “Why is it that we would say that?”

And part of the reason, I think, is that we do live in just complex times. Post-COVID 19 pandemic is just weird and we don’t know what normal will look like two years from now. It may look much like this. We thought we were coming through the Delta variant, and then there’s another variant. But here’s what I also note. When I look around at leaders and teams, I feel like people come to our teams today with higher levels of education, higher levels of expectation, what they expect from a leader today, higher levels of entitlement, meaning, “I feel like I’m entitled to more perks and benefits than ever before.” That’s not wicked or evil. It’s just true. Higher levels of emotion.

Pete, I remember when I first began my career, it was very common for bosses to say, “Leave your personal problems at the door. Come and get the work done,” and then we say, “Okay.” Today, it’s, “Bring your whole selves to work,” and that’s awesome. We keep it real that way but we bring emotions, we bring baggage, we bring personal problems with us, and so it’s just a different day. And that’s perhaps why leaders go through decision fatigue.

I heard a leader say recently, “I feel like I’ve made a year’s worth of decisions in one month, last year. So, I’ll stop there but just feel like, because of the complex times, there are paradoxes. Here’s the premise of the book. There are paradoxes that all involve social and emotional intelligence. So, they’re doable for all of us, we can learn these, but we’re often not practicing them, and then we see a resignation that didn’t need to happen or a retirement that didn’t need to happen so soon because we just weren’t leading as effectively as we could.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Tim, I love what you said there because, well, as you might imagine, I’ve read a lot of business books, and, as we know, the first third-ish, I don’t know, it varies, of the book is convincing you how critically necessary, “This book is right now.” And a lot of times it feels a little trite, because you’re, “Oh, with globalization and competition,” it’s like, “Yeah, okay, globalization and competition has been going on for a while now.”

But, no, I think you’re keying in on something in terms of genuinely the human experience and expectations, it’s cool, like, “Bring your whole self to work,” has advantages in terms of, “Oh, yeah, we’re getting some, we’re tapping into some creativity and some passion,” which you just can’t get when it’s like, “No, no, no, leave that at home and you crank through the task list that I need you to crank through.’ You just don’t get that.” Well, you do with bring your whole self to work. But you also have a new whole set of challenges and expectations to live up to and deliver upon effectively. So, yeah, well-said. Thank you.

So, let’s hear about these paradoxes. You’ve, in fact, listed eight specific paradoxes. What are they?

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, let me be the first to concede, there might be 8,000 of these things we need to learn but I found eight. So, just to list them or, at least, a handful of them, the first one in the book is I believe effective leaders, uncommon leaders, must be confident and humble. And very often, you get one or the other. At least you lean toward one or the other. You’re a very confident leader. In fact, some people wonder, “Are you too confident now, Bob?” Or, they’re very humble and that’s winsome for us, but with a humble leader only, you kind of wonder, “Are we going to get to the goal or we’re just going to be nice to each other?”

So, I think the best leaders bring both – confidence and humility. And what I do in this book, Pete, just so you know, is I center on a case study for each of these paradoxes. And my case study for this one was Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney. Bob took that role, followed Michael Eisner, and Michael was this very, in all due respect, cocky, kind of just full of himself, and actually was so arrogant that he stopped conversations with Steve Jobs when they were trying to buy Pixar, and never got it done under Michael Eisner.

Bob Iger comes in, knows less about leading an empire like Disney because he’s never done it before, and calls Steve Jobs up, and says, “Steve, it’s Bob. You don’t know me. We’ve never met. I’m heading up Disney now, and I just can’t help but think that we might be better together. What do you say?” And Steve Jobs goes, “That’s not a crazy idea. Let’s talk.” And he gets it done. Disney buys Pixar.

But then what I love about this story about confidence and humility is when they buy Pixar, Bob and the Disney enterprise put Pixar in charge of all Disney animation, “So, I just bought you. Now, would you tell us what to do?” That, to me, is confidence and humility, and that’s rare but I think it needs to not be rare. So, that would be the first one in the book, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, once again, I love what you’re saying here. It’s like we have an idea, we have an example, and it’s like, “Okay, I get what you’re saying.” So, can you just do that for the next seven, please?

Tim Elmore
Absolutely, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re crushing it.

Tim Elmore
Well, let me give a homework assignment to listeners on this one. I am trying to practice these eight paradoxes. I didn’t write them because I know them all. I wrote them because I’m trying to be them. My assignment for this one is when I’m in a meeting, I need to speak as if I believe I’m right, but I need to listen as if I believe I’m wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s kind of thing will re-tweet, Tim. That’s well-said.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, thanks. It’s a great assignment for me because I don’t do that listening thing well. I listen as if I believe I’m still right and I’m just waiting for my next turn to talk. Anyway, that’s been good for me. So, the next one is even more, I think, challenging. I believe uncommon leaders, paradoxical leaders, leverage both their vision and their blind spots, which sound like, “No, you can’t have those together.” But I actually believe, in all the leaders I interviewed, they actually said, “No, I ended up benefiting both from my vision, ‘Here’s the target we want to hit.’”

But isn’t it true, when you talk to leaders, a lot of them will look back, and go, “Man, if I had known then what I know now, I never would’ve started this enterprise. I learned so many things.” And it was because they didn’t know the protocol. They didn’t know how it was done before that enabled them to find a whole new way to reach the goal.

So, my case study on this one is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. So, she created this industry, shapewear for women, it’s kind of a combination of pantyhose or stockings and girdle, and she ends up calling Neiman Marcus, and ends up talking to a female executive, and says, “Hey, can I come have 10 minutes of your time?” She gets the meeting, she tries them on, she tries on Spanx in front of a lady in the restroom and, of course, sold, “This is great.”

Well, later, when Sara was doing a Q&A session for a large group of business leaders, one of the people in the audience stands up and says, “Sara, how did you get the attention of a major department store in a trade show where there’s a thousand exhibitors?” And she said, “Tradeshow? I never went to a tradeshow. I just called up this executive.” And Sara looks back and says, “It’s what I didn’t know that saved me. I didn’t do the normal stuff that people wade through that most people die in.” It’s what she didn’t know that helped her.

Pete Mockaitis
So, she didn’t know, “This is not how this is done, Sara, the whole process by which we onboard new products into our merchandising lineup.”

Tim Elmore
Yes, that’s exactly right. And isn’t it true, the more experience you gain, the more you know what the protocol is, and you can get stuck in doing it the way we’ve done it before. So, Sara says, “Hey, it may be what you don’t know that may completely put you in a blue ocean where there’s nobody there yet.” And that’s what happened.

I feel like, when I started Growing Leaders, I didn’t know what I was doing. Thank God, I didn’t know what I was doing in some ways. Anyway, I’ll stop there but that was a really, really important one for me to learn from as I wrote it down.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, let’s hear about the third paradox.

Tim Elmore
Okay. The third one is I believe effective leaders practice both visibility and invisibility. And all I mean by this, and everybody listening that’s a leader will go, “I know exactly what you mean.” When you’re up front, in other words, when you’re beginning any project or product or offering that you are going to sell, people need to see their leader very visible. We need to model the way. We need to set the example. We can’t just give a lecture. We need to show them the way.

But along the way, if we stay visible, other people aren’t going to step out. They’re going to defer to us in the meeting. They’re going to lean on us. They’re going to say, “Well, I can’t say anything. Tim, go ahead.” I think there comes a point in every leader’s journey that he or she says, “I need to be invisible now. I need to perhaps not show up at that meeting because John or Susan needs to step up.”

So, my example on this one is Dr. Martin Luther King. Between 1955 and 1963 in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King was a very visible leader. He marched, he protested, he boycotted, he, on purpose, got himself thrown into prison. There were 29 times Dr. King was imprisoned. Part of it was just setting the example for making sacrifices.

From ’63 on, you begin to see him do something different in his leadership. He didn’t show up at some meetings. And when young John Lewis would call him and say, “Dr. King, we need you here,” he’d say, “John, you know what to say.” He knew that young John Lewis wouldn’t speak up if Dr. King was in the room because, “I defer to Dr. King.”

So, there’s a point in our training process, in our equipping process, we’ve got to be not absent emotionally, or not purposely absent because it was a hard meeting…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, didn’t feel like it.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, exactly. And that’s a problem today, absentee leadership, because we didn’t feel like it is a problem. But I’m saying, now we start strategically saying, “You step up, you step up, you step up.” And I just think the greatest leaders always find their way to do that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Keep it coming. Number four.

Tim Elmore
All right. Here’s another tough one for me. I believe uncommon leaders are both stubborn and open-minded. Now, does that not sound like an oxymoron? How can you be stubborn and open-minded? But here’s what I would say to this. I think, at the beginning of any venture, leading any company, you have to be stubborn about a few things. You’re not going to reach a goal unless you’re strong-willed, and you say, “Doggone it, we’re going to do this.” You just have to have that. Obstacles will throw you if you don’t.

But I think any leader would say, “If you’re only stubborn, you’re not listening to anybody, you’re not open-minded to new ideas, you don’t think you need anybody else, aargh, that puts us in trouble.” So being stubborn means you got a chance at reaching the goal. Being open-minded means you have a chance at taking others with you to that goal.

So, my example on this one was Truett Cathy, long time ago founder of Chick-Fil-A restaurants. Truett only had one restaurant for 10 years, and he was tweaking his recipe, not just for chicken but for the way he was going to run this restaurant. And you and I both know he was very different. You’d like him or hate him but they’re closed on Sunday, “This is our values,” so forth and so on.

So, I discovered Truett was extremely stubborn when it came to some core issues. He was very open when it came to almost anyone else. And what his core issues were, Pete, was his people, he really erred on believing in his people. He would keep people long just because he so wanted them to know they were believed in, but he also had his core values. I know that sounds cliché, but he had a core set of beliefs, that he said, “This is how we’ll run the company. I don’t care if it’s 2021 or 1951.”

And those cores were what he was stubborn about, and everybody knew this is sacred here, and I think it’s actually served them. I think they’re becoming a leader in the quick-service restaurant industry. Now, McDonald’s is copying them. Now, Kentucky Fried Chicken is copying them because, I think, they had that core that they’ve never left.

Pete Mockaitis
And there are some of the things that they just totally throw out the window, like, “You know what, let’s do the opposite of what we were doing. That’s fine.”

Tim Elmore
Yeah. Well, so you might know this. I don’t know how often you get to a Chick-Fil-A, but wherever a Chick-Fil-A is, you know if you walked in that restaurant and you order something, and you say, “Thanks,” they’ll say, “It’s my pleasure.” That’s their phrase, “It’s my pleasure.” It doesn’t sound like a big deal.

But Truett Cathy introduced that phrase at their big annual conference for all the operators, all the owners, and he didn’t push it. I mean, he did push it but he didn’t demand it. He didn’t say, “Now, you’re going to get fired if you don’t use this phrase.” But he kept creating a tone and a spirit and a culture of, “Let’s say, ‘It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure.’” Ten years later, it stuck.

And I would say what happened was originally people were going, “I’m not going to say that phrase.” First of all, in quick-service restaurants, they’re not asking for great customer service. They want speed and cheap. In other words, most of the time you go to a fast-food restaurant, you want it really fast and you only want to pay $2.50 for a burger or something like that. He kind of introduced a whole new…and they adapted along the way to introduce some things that they just became open-minded about.

So, the way they’ve gone about it, the new menu items on the restaurant, it always involves chicken in some way, but there’s all kinds of menu items they were adaptable about. At 92 years old, Truett Cathy actually designed a brand-new restaurant called Truett’s Luau. It was a Hawaiian restaurant. It wasn’t just selling chicken. He came up with all the décor and the menu at 92 years old. He’s still learning. He’s still growing.

He wrote me a thank you note in his 80s for a book I’d written, and just said, “Here’s what I learned,” and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. He’s in his 80s, he could teach me everything.” So, I’m not sure if that answers your question but that’s what I think of when I think about what you asked.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that open-mindedness, that really shows in terms of it’s not like, “Oh, we’ve already figured out restaurants. That’s how it is.” Like, “Nope, here’s a new kind of restaurant.” As well as, “Hey, I read your book in my 80s, and here’s some learnings,” and that’s got to feel good to get that letter.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s hear number five.

Tim Elmore
Okay. Next one, yup. This one really is geared at the heart of a leader, and I think sometimes leaders maybe aren’t as aware of their heart issues, not just head issues, we need to master. I believe uncommon leader practice this paradox. They hold high standards for their people but offer gracious forgiveness. So, high standards and gracious forgiveness.

What I mean by that is…well, let me put it to you in the opposite way. If we only have high standards and not gracious forgiveness, our people aren’t going to take any risks because they’re going to be afraid for their jobs. If you just have a bunch of high standards, “I may get fired if I make a mistake,” they’re going to be scared to try certain things that we need them to try to move the company forward. But if we only have gracious forgiveness and not high standards, people are going to give you mediocre work. They’re going to go, “Oh, he’ll forgive me. He’ll forgive me if I’m lame on this one. It’s no big deal.”

So, I think we need to say, “We got these high standards.” This about Amazon, think about Apple, these great companies that set these ridiculous high standards for the industry they’re in. But I think the best leaders say, “I’m calling you up to this high standard but just know I love my team members. And if you shoot for the standard, you give it everything you got and you miss it, you’re going to be forgiven.”

So, if you don’t mind, I want to double-click on this one because this is one I often talk about, and people go, “How do I do that? I don’t know how to do that.” One of our habitudes images,- we teach leaders with images. One of our habitudes images is called the Golden Gate paradox, and it’s actually a paradox for this one.

You’re familiar with the Golden Gate Bridge. It was built way back in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Because it was built during the Great Depression, they had a whole line of people that joined the team to build the bridge that were just regular workers, they were just looking for jobs, so they weren’t engineers, they never built a bridge before, but they needed money.

So, they hired these workers who were up on the scaffoldings, building this incredible engineering feat in San Francisco, and people were falling. They were falling to their death. So, they have a meeting with the foreman, Mr. Strauss, and Strauss is asked by the workers, “Could we put a safety net underneath this bridge?” Well, that was not common because it was going to cost a lot of money and that was just not common at the time. But Strauss, thankfully, said, “You know what, it’s going to cost us some money so we’re probably going to go overbudget, and it’s going to cost us some time to build this net so we’re probably not going to finish on the deadline, but I owe it to my people to do this.”

So, they put a $300,000 net, and back then, $300,000 was a lot of money. They put the net up and quite the opposite happened. They actually finished on time and on budget. But here’s why. Now, the workers, because they had a safety net beneath them, could focus on succeeding not surviving.

Pete Mockaitis
More attention on the thing itself, and so it’s like, “Whoa, don’t do this wrong or you die.” Okay.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. And, by the way, don’t you know companies, everybody is just trying to survive, not succeed. I mean, if they were honest, they’d say, “I just don’t want to lose my job.” So, I’m saying if we find a way, figuratively speaking, to put a safety net, and say, “Go for it. Give it everything you got. I’m going to catch you if you fall,” oh, my gosh, people stay.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a beautiful image, yes. And I guess what I’m thinking about, I’m thinking about the infamous, or it can just be famous, it’s both, the Netflix culture document, which is funny that that’s achieved such fame. Part of me thinks like, “Well, every company should just have that and be clear on that,” but it’s rare and that’s why it’s famous.

And I think one of the points there was, “Hey, you know you’re going to perform at an exceptional level or you’ll be given a generous severance and you’re going to be compensated top of market as well, so it’s kind of how we operate.” And I get the vibe that there’s no animosity, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, you’re just kind of not delivering at this level, and so this may not be the place for you.” That’s not going to feel good, of course, to get that messaging but there is a bit of that net.

And I’d been on the receiving end of that as well. I remember a notion of…it was an expectation that in consulting that I was to perform zero defects analysis, which is really kind of intimidating when you’re a few months out of college, like, “So, don’t make any mistakes. That’s our expectation.” Like, “Really? Is that fair?” But I guess no mistakes mean like the clients will notice or your manager will notice so just take the time to double-check in advance, basically, is the practice.

And so, I remember falling short of that and also receiving sort of gracious forgiveness in terms of like, “Hey, well, it’s just work. Nobody died but, yeah, this is why we believe in this because it can hurt our credibility, and we’re backtracking a little bit, and so let’s figure out how we can do that.” So, that is nice and it feels good.

It’s interesting, like, I remember the word forgiveness is interesting in that…well, I believe we all make mistakes and we all need forgiveness. And, yeah, I remember one of the first times someone actually said to me, “I forgive you,” it was sort of off-putting. One, people don’t say that very often.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, literally, “I forgive you, Tim.” It felt a little odd to me because it was like, “Oh,” because it’s sort of like, “You’re not telling me I didn’t screw up,” which is what most people would say, “It’s fine. No big deal. It happens, Tim.” In fact, it almost double-affirmed, “Yeah, you screwed up, Pete.” But then it also… so at first, I didn’t like it, it’s like, “Whoa, that’s kind of intense but also very true and right and big of you, and I like and respect you more.”

So, yeah, just that…it takes a little getting used to but it’s awesome. That’s my take. What do you think about forgiveness as a word and a term and a social vibe?

Tim Elmore
Yeah, no, I think you’re spot on. It’s weird. It seems spiritual, like, maybe in church we’d say that, or maybe God says to us in church. But, you’re right, when someone says, “I forgive you,” it can feel at once, like, “Well, that’s patronizing or that’s condescending,” “I’m the holy one here and I’m going to forgive you. I am perfect and you’re not.”

But I think what I love about what you just said was that person didn’t say you didn’t make a mistake. They’re actually saying, “Yeah, I’m sorry. It was really bad. It was bad. It’s wrong.” But then they let you off, and say, “Let’s do better next time.” One phrase we try to live by at our organization, Growing Leaders, is this, “Let’s shoot for perfection but settle for excellence.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, because excellence is pretty good. We know we’re human. So, I worked for John Maxwell for 20 years, and I feel like John modelled this for me right out of college. I was in my 20s at one time, and, gosh, I did some wingnut foul-tipped bonehead things. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I went to John with fear, thinking, “Oh, my gosh, he’s going to let me go,” and he didn’t. He said, “You know, we learned from that, didn’t we? And let’s talk about what we learned,” so I had to come up with some things I learned.

But I built some confidence up, and thought, “I’m going to keep pushing myself because he’s not going to let go of me.” And for 20 years, I stayed there. So, anyway, it was just a great, great lesson for me to say there’s a heart issue to leadership, and I think that’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful and John is beautiful, and we’ve had him on the show a couple of times.

Tim Elmore
That’s neat.

Pete Mockaitis
I actually keep forgetting I need to send him something.

Tim Elmore
That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Listeners can hunt down that episode if they’re really curious about that.

Tim Elmore
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Okay, so high standards and gracious forgiveness. And so, maybe while we’re on the topic, like, in practice, when someone screws up, what do you recommend we say? So, that’s a good phrase, “Hey, we learned something today, didn’t we? I forgive you.” For some personalities, it can really be powerful. For others, it can be very off-putting. What do you think?

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it can be. Of course, people bring different experiences to the workplace so that might be I don’t know how they’re going to respond. But I tell you what, the classic story for this one is…it’s not my case study. My case study for this one is Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. She’s a brilliant picture of this. But the story, I think, we’ve probably all heard, the business story, is Tom Watson who was a former executive at IBM. He was quite famous for having a young manager under his care that made a million-dollar mistake decades ago.

And Watson called him into the office, and the guy came in and spoke first, he thought, “Man, I’m going to just rip the Band-Aid off,” and so he said, “I suppose you want to fire me for my mistake.” And Watson said, “Why would I want to fire you? I just spent a million dollars on your education? Let’s keep going.”

And I thought, “What a great attitude that is.” But it sounds cliché but that’s essentially what a boss needs to, “We learned from this. Let’s make sure we did learn from this. Let’s not repeat it but now let’s move forward but let’s keep the standard high.” And I think most people need a leader to keep the standard high.

Most of us would begin to settle in for average, “Whatever my teammates are doing, if it’s average, I’ll be average.” And I think leaders need to keep calling people up to a standard that’s above and beyond what we would do on our own.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. All right. Well, let’s hear about the paradox about being both deeply personal and inherently collective.

Tim Elmore
Yeah. So, all of these are different categories of paradoxes. This is the paradox of vocabulary. This paradox is, have you ever noticed when a leader is communicating with a team of people, or any audience, for that matter, the best ones are inherently collective, meaning when they speak, you can tell they see the big picture? They have a grasp on the gravity of this issue, they see the whole, not just part, they see the whole, and yet, as they communicate, you get the feeling they’re talking to you. They’re deeply personal in their language.

So, I can think of great speakers I’ve heard before. You hear them talking, you go, “Man, he gets it. She gets it,” but then they start telling a story, and you go, “Oh, my gosh, did he read my mail last week?” that sort of thing, “How did they know I was feeling that right now?” So, I think this ability we need to develop of being inherently collective but yet deeply personal is brilliant.

My case study on this one was Mother Teresa. So, most people have heard her name, she’s now a saint in the Catholic Church. But Mother Teresa was a great leader. She started this order The Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India, and it became the largest order of its kind, thousands and thousands and thousands. And she didn’t start thinking, “I’m a great leader. I’m going to build the biggest company.” She didn’t do that.

But what she did was she grasped a big-picture issue, there were people living in poverty and dying on the streets, and she thought, “I’m going to address that issue. We’re going to do it one life at a time so I can stay personal to the needs. And when I go to a donor, I’m going to have a story to tell, not, ‘Well, did you know that 53% are actually dying?’” She didn’t do that.

So, she would talk to people that would say, “Don’t you think a government program would be more effective than a bunch of nuns and Catholic Church?” And they would say, “This is going to destine your plan to fail,” and she would say, “No, it’s going to destine us to scale.” Ain’t that brilliant? And the reason she said that was you scale when people see you setting an example but you’re not leaving the personal touch, and people go, “I know that’s how life ought to look.” In customer service, we don’t want to lose the personal touch.

And so, she was doing it so beautifully, people just kept joining and joining and joining. So, she’s in Calcutta, then there were men and women, then there were this group and then that group, and now there’s groups all over the world. I think the brilliance of it is it is counterintuitive. She never lost sight of the big picture. This is huge. But she never ever, ever lost the touch.

Let me tell you one cool story from her life that might be a cool thing for your listeners to hear. One day, she’s in Calcutta, on the streets, even though she’s heading up this huge thing. She’s wiping the leg of one of the people that are living in poverty. She’s wiping the leg because it’s leprous. They have leprosy and it’s pretty gross. Well, there were some business people that were touring the building, and they saw her on the ground wiping this leg that’s just “Aargh.”

And one of the men turns to the other man next to him, and says, “Aargh, I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa looks up, and says, “Neither would I.” Her point was, “That’s not my motivation.” And it’s moving to me but I’m just thinking, “I never want to lose why I got into this gig in the first place, which is to serve these people. And I need to feel what they’re feeling, and so when I address them, they don’t feel like I’m in some ivory tower that can’t be touched, and I’m some lofty guru now that’s written a bunch of books or whatever.” I don’t want to lose that touch.

So, yeah, Mother Teresa is my great example on that, and, one, I feel like that’s an aspiration that I want to have – collective and personal. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful and quite beautiful, indeed, that in having the personal touch and such, in this case, compassion or…I guess there’s many virtues or dimensions of excellence, just depending on your flavor and vibe and organization that you’re working with, when done at an exceptionally high-caliber level, inspire and touch and motivate. And that is hard to quantify exactly what impact that it has but it is vastly greater than the one, even though your focus is on the one. So, I’m picking up what you’re putting down with regard to the word paradox here.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it really is weird. It’s almost oxymoron kind of what it feels like until you dig, and go, “Oh, I see. I see how those two can go together.” So, yeah, it’s really fun. Okay, so let me…let’s see, what am I missing? Oh, two more. Is that right?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Tim Elmore
Okay. So, one of the paradoxes is one that I think we’ve all said to ourselves at one point, “I need to be both a teacher and a learner.” So, Angela Ahrendts is my example on this one. Angela Ahrendts was asked to leave the United States and take over Burberry coats in London, this high-end fashion coat, plaid coat that usually was purchased by rich old ladies back in the day, back in 2006 when she took over. When she came in, the brand was on a decline, not an incline. They were losing money, and they thought, “Oh, my gosh, we may be on our way out.”

So, Angela comes in, and her job, the board said, was to save this brand. The first thing she does after she meets her fellow executives is she meets with the youngest team members at Burberry, I mean, 20 somethings, interns were in the room, and she says, “I want to learn from you. What do we need to do different that will build the brand again and start reaching your people, your colleagues, your peers?” They weren’t reaching the millennials. And at the time, it was the millennials that were the new adult consumer.

Well, this group of people came up with a bunch of ideas, these were young professionals. One of the ideas they came up with is the Art of the Trench, and they said, “Let’s, on our website, put a place for our customers to put pictures of themselves in our coats, which will prompt them to buy our coats.” Now, it sounded kind of funny but it worked. In fact, the Art of the Trench is a page on their site. You scroll through it, there’s all kinds of pictures, mostly of young adults, young professionals, in a very nice coat. The brand began to take off, tripled in size, it was crazy.

But, Angela, if she were here today, she would say this, “I had to be a teacher and a learner. I, obviously, went in as a teacher. I had to lead the way. I had to run point on saving this brand, but I knew one of my first jobs was, if we’re going to reach new customers, I got to talk to some people that understand them, and say, ‘Here’s what you need to know.’” So, it’s just…I actually have found that most leaders will confess to me, “I’m either one or other. I’m either really good at learning,” or, “I’m really good at teaching but not learning.” And I think this is one we have to kind of juggle together.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And uncommon leaders are both timely and timeless.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, the last one is timely and timeless. This would probably make sense. I have found that, in today’s world of rapid change, this is cliché, but we have to be timely, meaning we’ve got to keep up with the times. We need to read the culture before we lead the culture, so we need to be relevant with technology. We need to be on the cutting edge with our offerings, our products and services, but, at the same time, I think the best leaders are also timeless, meaning they don’t leave behind those timeless skills and values that made the company what it was when it first began in 1901, maybe.

So, Walt Disney is my brilliant, brilliant example, I think, here. If you think about it, if you walked into Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the original theme park, you look to your left, it’s timeless. You see Frontierland, Adventureland. He looks back at the past, and says, “Here are the heritage of our nation. Here are the virtues that built us into a great country, integrity and honesty.” But you look off to the right, there’s Tomorrowland. He was fascinated by science fiction and technology and science and animatronics.

So, Walt Disney was this leader that said, “I’m going to use cutting-edge technology to message timeless virtues that we dare not leave behind as we progress into the future.” So, I think great leaders jump on a swing set. They swing backwards in order to swing forwards. Swinging backwards is what enables a swinger, a person on a swing set, to swing forward. A swinger, that’s right.

So, I think we need to say, “What was our beginning? What problem were we trying to solve? What was the mission? Why were we doing this in the first place?” And then swinging forward, “Does that need still exist today? How can we repurpose our mission? Are there changes that we need to make?” So, I think that timely and timeless, I saved it till last because I think it’s so important that we master both being pioneers along the way as well as originators. Let’s hold onto the foundation that we built ourselves on.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s really interesting, you talked about the Walt Disney example and timely and timeless because, as we speak, I’ve got two toddlers at home. And so, they went through a bit of a Frozen phase, which I guess most American toddlers have, it seems.

Tim Elmore
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I just noticed at the end that it was based on…the whole story was based on the fable, like the Ice Prince, or Ice Princess, by Hans Christian Andersen, or one of those, or not them, but it’s like Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen. Then, at the same time, we’ve got these books of like Aesop’s Fables and fairytales and just sort of books like these classics, like Jack and the Beanstalk, and all these things, and then you see Pinocchio.

And what’s fascinating, it’s like many of these stories are like old, like centuries old, and yet we’re bringing in the most cutting-edge storytellers, musicians, designers, animators, to make something like Frozen happen. And, sure enough, it’s like if you just really sit with some of the emotions and some of the songs, it’s kind of like deeply moving, “Oh, my gosh, this person feels so isolated. Whoa.”

And then if you open up and get vulnerable, and think about the ways you feel isolated, that can really be moving. So, Tim, look, you and I are both tearing up in one interview.

Tim Elmore
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you’re like, “This is a child’s cartoon. What is going on here?”

Tim Elmore
I know. I know. Well, can I volley back really quick, Pete? I think one of the shows that Disney+, speaking of Disney, just put on their channel was Hamilton, you know, the Broadway play. Hamilton is such a great example of this. It’s a rags-to-riches story that is timeless, the story of Alexander Hamilton, and they’re doing rap music, they’re hip hop on the stage. So, here’s a timely medium to share this story to kids you might not want to read in a history book but you’ll go to a stage show.

So, I think that’s the need of the hour. We have some pretty cool principles that our nation was built upon, and perhaps every civilization down through history was built upon, but we’ve got to find new ways for the next generation, your kids, my kids, that will say, “Oh, I can embrace that because you found a fresh way to say it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Tim, I really appreciate the rundown here, the clear ideas that are powerful and vast in their implications along with very clear illustrations, stories, case studies, that bring them to life. So, perfection. Thank you. So, lay it on us, for professionals, maybe they’re not yet leaders or they’re just starting to lead, if you had to boil it down to one starting action that you recommend folks take that gives a big bang for the buck, a high ROI in terms of your time and effort and energy, and the leadership shot-in-the-arm it gives you, what should we start doing or stop doing right away?

Tim Elmore
Wow, that’s a great question. I’ll be honest with it; two quick items are coming to mind. Let me see if I can share them quickly. One is, and, by the way, we’ve done a course, Habitudes for Young Professionals. So, when it’s kind of beginning of the journey, one of them is a principle or an image we call coffee step, and it was built off a story.

We had some interns, when I was working with John Maxwell, that I was overseeing, and one of the gals that was an intern told me this story way later when she became a professor at a university. But she said to me, “I was immediately asked to get the coffee for the executives on the team as an intern,” and she goes, “I was actually kind of put off by that. It was off-putting to me,” because she thought to herself, “Do you not realize I got a college degree? Are you asking this because I’m a girl?” that sort of thing.

And then she said, “I made a decision that I’m going to get the coffee,” and she said, “It was the smartest decision I made. When I was willing to kind of stoop and do that menial task, it got me in the room. I’m meeting the executives. I’m meeting the VPs and I’m starting up conversation. Pretty soon, they asked me to sit down with them and talk. Next thing I know, I’m interacting, they know me,” she starts moving up.

And so, coffee step is simply this challenge. Don’t be afraid to do the small thing even though your talent enables you to do way more than that. If you’ll execute the smallest of tasks, you might be amazed what will enable you to do. Because I think early tasks are not about talent; they’re about trust, “Can I trust you to do what I’ve asked you to do?” So, that would be one.

The other is an image that we call early birds or mockingbirds. And this is kind of cheesy but here it is. I think when people come onto a team at the beginning, they either start becoming a mockingbird, “I’m just going to imitate everybody else. What are you doing? I’ll do it too,” or an early bird, “I’m going to be the first one in the office. I’m going to be the one that sets the pace.”

Pete, you’re going to love this. I had an intern a few years ago, second week on the job, he was an intern, a summer intern, he said, “Dr. Elmore, could I get a key to the office?” I said, “What do you need a key for?” and I didn’t say it but I was thinking, “You’re an intern, you’re going to leave in August.” He said, “Well, I’ve been noticing, I got a lot to do here and I actually want to do a really good job. I may get here before everybody else. I’m going to need a key.” I said, “You’re going to get a key.”

So, my point of that, it seems so simple, but if you’ll be the early bird that’s just going above and beyond, that second mile, that whatever, and then don’t be afraid to do the small thing, it’s probably going to lead to bigger things. That would be what I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, that’s beautiful. We only have time for a couple of your favorite things, but can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tim Elmore
Being a good parent has been very important to me, and one favorite quote I’ve tried to live by is this, when it comes to the next generation, “It’s better to prepare the child for the path instead of the path for the child.” I think so many parents are trying to pave the way for their children and make it easier. I think we don’t need to make it easier. I think we need to build strong kids that are ready for whatever comes their way. So, prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Tim Elmore
One book I re-read every year is a book called Leadership and Self-Deception. Have you read that one?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Tim Elmore
Yeah, it’s one I re-read probably because I tend to be selfish, and that book just gets me out of the box, that whole thing of…and I think we don’t realize it as leaders but, even though we say, “Well, I’m a leader. I’m about everybody else.” Really, we’re about getting our stuff done, and now we have everybody at our beck and call. So, that book has been so rich for me.

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

Tim Elmore
Well, you can go to TimElmore.com, you can find the book there at Amazon prices, and I do events. But the nonprofit I lead for the next generation is called GrowingLeaders.com, and that’s where you can find me there.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this has been a real pleasure. I wish you much luck and fun in navigating these paradoxes.

Tim Elmore
Thanks, Pete. Great to be with you.

723: The Crucial Perspectives of Effective Leaders with Daniel Harkavy

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Daniel

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

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Daniel Harkavy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harkavy
Crazy seat. Yeah, crazy seat.

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harkavy
Good to figure that out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how do I do a perspective?

Daniel Harkavy
You allocate time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harkavy
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Ah, yes.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harkavy
Oh, you bet. You bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Harkavy
Yeah, I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

719: Liz Wiseman Reveals the Five Practices of Indispensable, High-Impact Players

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Liz Wiseman says: "By working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda."

Liz Wiseman uncovers the small, but impactful practices of exceptional performers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s okay to not be working on what’s important to you 
  2. The five things impact players do differently
  3. The trick to leading without an invitation 

About Liz

Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. 

She is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and in 2019 was recognized as the top leadership thinker in the world. 

She has conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence and writes for Harvard Business ReviewFortune, and a variety of other business and leadership journals.  She is a frequent guest lecturer at BYU and StanfordUniversity and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation, where she worked as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development. 

Resources Mentioned

Liz Wiseman Interview Transcript

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, thanks, Pete. I hope I walk away feeling like I can be a little bit more awesome at my job. This is your thing. This is what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve mentioned, before we pushed record, that numerous people have mentioned you by name as being awesome at your job from your book Multipliers. And you’ve got another one freshly out Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. All things we love doing here, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

Liz Wiseman
This is going to be a fun conversation, I can tell.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe to kick us off, could you share with us your favorite story of someone who made a transformation into an impact player and kind of what happened? What was the impact of that and kind of their before and after, and the results flowing from it?

Liz Wiseman
Well, so many of the people I wrote about were already awesome when I stumbled onto them. And the one I think, like if I could pick someone in the book who made the biggest transformation, it might’ve been me. Like, early on in my career, reorienting myself.

So, I came out of college like a lot of people, kind of fired up, knowing…I mean, some people don’t know what they want to do. I knew what I wanted to do to a fault. And I kind of was like knocking on people’s doors, like, “Hi, I’m Liz. I want to teach leadership and I represent good leadership. And ridding the world of bad bosses, that’s what I want to do.”

And so, I tried to get a job at a management training company and somehow wiggled my way into an interview with the president. He looked at my resume and was like, “You know, if you want to teach leadership, maybe you should go get some leadership experience.” I was like 22 years old and thinking, “That’s sterile-minded of him.” It’s kind of like he doesn’t get me. This is what I’m passionate about. It’s what I want to do.”

So, I went and took my backup job, and that one was at Oracle, which was a great place to go to work but it wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do, which was somehow teach managing and leading. So, I took this kind of consolation job, and about a year into that, I had an opportunity to transfer to another group inside of the company. This was back when Oracle was like a couple thousand people, and today they’re like well over a hundred thousand people.

And it was a group that ran technical bootcamps and I was hoping that their charter would expand, like the company is growing, they’re surely going to be building some management courses, young people are being turned into management, like wreaking havoc on the company. And so, I went into the interview, answered the questions from the VP, so it’s like the final interview for this job, and then it was my turn to kind of take charge of the interview. And so, I made my case for why Oracle should build a management bootcamp, not just a technology bootcamp. And, of course, I offered my services, like, “I would be happy to build this.”

And I thought, for sure, he would say, “Oh, that’s great, Liz. Yeah, I can see you’re passionate about that. Here you go.” And his response, it really, really imprinted me. And he was polite but essentially what I heard him saying was, “Liz, make yourself useful around here,” because his reply was, “That’s great, Liz. We think you’re great and we’re excited to have you join this group but your boss has a different problem. She’s got to figure out how to get 2,000 new college graduates up to speed in Oracle technology over the next year. And what would be great is if you could help her to do that.”

He was saying, “Liz, figure out what needs to be done and do the things that we need.” And I wanted to teach leadership and now he wants me to teach programming to a bunch of nerds, you know, programmers. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s not my thing. That’s not the job I want.” But I could see he was teaching me something. I’m like, “That’s not the job I want,” but what he’s saying was, “That’s the job that needs to be done.” So, like, “Point yourself over there, please.”

And it really shaped me because I said, “Okay, I don’t want to do that but I will do that and I’ll figure out how to be good at this.” And, Pete, I’m woefully underqualified to do this job. I came out of business school and had a teaching background, but I had taken like two and a half programming classes in college, and now they want me to be teaching programming to a bunch of hotshot programmers coming out of MIT and Caltech but I did it and it was amazing what happened after I reoriented myself, and, in some ways, subordinated what was important to me to work on what was important to my boss and my boss’ boss.

First of all, I figured out I love this job. Like, this was fun. I was having the time of my life. And then the second thing I discovered is that by doing that, all these opportunities opened up to me. And they came and tapped me on the shoulders, and said, “Liz, we want you to now manage the training group.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m having fun teaching.” They’re like, “No, we want you to do this.” I’m like, “Yeah, pick someone else who wants that job.” And they said, “No, we want you to do this.”

And I don’t know if it was because I understood the technology or it was because I was willing to serve where I was needed, but, yeah, I finally said yes to that job. And then I just kept getting bigger and bigger opportunities, and I think it was because I learned to channel my energy and passion around what was important to the people I work for rather than focusing on what was important to me.

And it shaped my whole career and just allowed me to do work that was far more impactful. And it wasn’t too many years, if not even months, after that that I was able to argue that, “You know what, we really need to invest in management training and I’d be happy to do that.” And then, I, essentially, got a blank check, like, “Liz, absolutely. Go build that. Build a team to do it.” And that work had so much more impact when I decided to work on the agenda of the organization rather than on my own agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that feels like a golden key to a whole lot of career things right there. And I guess what’s intriguing is, well, one, you were fortunate in that you got to do the thing you really wanted to do anyway afterwards. And, two, I suppose, I’m thinking, that approach, in a way, it feels rather noble and virtuous in terms of, hey, there’s some humility and there’s some service and generosity that you are engaging in when you’re working on the job that needs done as opposed to the thing you want to do.

I guess I just might want to hear to what extent was there drudgery? Or, it sounds like in your story, this path was actually plenty of fun even while you were on it prior to doing the thing that you really wanted to do originally. Is that the case with the other impact players, generally speaking?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think it is. And you said it was sort of a noble choice, and I think it was a humble choice. I wouldn’t characterize it as a noble choice as much as a savvy choice. And it wasn’t like I was just like, “Okay. Well, what’s good for me in this?” I could see there was a real need there but something happens when you are working on something that’s important.

So, like if I’m off working on my own agenda, I’m pushing a boulder up a hill. I’m trying to get people to meet with me. I’m trying to get someone to pay attention to the thing I care about. Now, some amazing things can happen when you go down that path. But, like, what happens when you’re working on something that’s important? It’s what I call when you’re working on the agenda.

Well, every time I put myself on this path of impact, working on something that was important to the company, the executive, one of my clients, I always find that people have time to meet with me, resources flow. Like, I’ve done a lot of work with executives over the years, and one of the things I’ve noticed is I’ve never noticed like a senior executive at a corporation tell me something was important to him or her, and then not have budget for it.

It’s like funny how that when you’re working on the agenda, people have time for you, resources flow, decisions happen quickly, there’s more pressure but there’s also more visibility for your work. Like, it’s not drudgery. It’s actually fun because you’re making progress. And when you say drudgery, Pete, it makes me think about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is burnout. We’re dealing with this burnout epidemic, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Resignation, whatever you want to call it. And I think we’re quick to assume that burnout is a function of effort and work. Like, we’re working too hard. We’re working too much. We have too heavy of a load and we’re going to burn out as a result.

And I’m not opposed to anyone taking time off. Like, a little R&R is probably good for a lot of people particularly right now, but I think burnout, based on all of my research, it tends to be a function of too little impact, not too much work. That what causes us to burn out is when we’re expending energy but not making a difference, not seeing how our work makes a difference.

So, like the beginning of being high impact and doing awesome work is doing work that is valued and important. And even if some of the work is tedious, like, oh, man, I remember like nights I stayed up till 5:00 in the morning trying to learn how to do correlated subqueries so I could teach them the next day. I couldn’t sustain that all the time, but I was making a difference. I was having an impact. I was doing something important. It was energizing not enervating.

And, yeah, there’s details and drudgery and hard things involved but it’s rewarding. It’s what I’ve seen in my own experience in studying these high-impact contributors. It’s a buildup experience not a burnout experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful in terms of that’s just a fun mental distinction that does so much. When you’re working on the agenda, what’s important to other folks, so many of the roadblocks that are annoying and frustrating and yield to burnout and exhaustion disappear. People are available, they make time for you, they make money for you, they take your meetings, you’ve got some support and backing as opposed to being ignored, and follow-ups. So, yeah, like that’s pretty fine.

Liz Wiseman
And you build voice. You build voice in the organization, and it’s how we build influence and credibility is by making progress on things that matter to our stakeholders. And so, as we do that and as we serve, people listen to us. And by working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m loving this and that’s a lot of insight right there. So, tell me, is that pretty much the core idea or thesis of Impact Players? Or, how would you articulate it?

Liz Wiseman
I just think it’s one of the starting points is how people orient themselves. And I think if I were to kind of try to crystallize the thesis of Impact Players, let me start with the research. We looked at the difference between individuals who were considered by their leaders smart, hardworking, and capable people who were doing a good job, like doing well, versus smart, hardworking, capable people who were making an extraordinary impact, doing work of extraordinary or inordinately high value.

And so, this isn’t like top performers versus bottom performers. In a room full of equally smart, capable, hardworking people, why are some people stuck going through the motions of their job while other people are making a big difference? So, that’s what we looked at. And when I looked at those differentials and all the profiles that we built through interviewing 170 managers is we found that the ordinary contributors, typical contributors, people doing well, they’re doing their job.

And this is how managers describe them. They do their job. They do their job well. Often, extremely well. They follow direction. They take ownership. They are focused. They carry their weight on teams, which sounds great in some ways, like ideal team members and contributors but there’s stellar and unordinary times, but they tend to fall short in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. This is where the impact players handle these situations very differently, and there were five.

And it was how they handle messy problems, like, “Your job is not my job. It’s like no one’s job. It’s not really owned by this department. It’s like no one’s job but everyone’s job.” And this is actually where I think the most important problems and opportunities of an organization is in that white space between boxes. Now, in this case, ordinary contributors tend to do their job. Whereas, the impact players go do the job that needs to be done.

The second is how they handle unclear roles, where, “Okay, I know we’re collaborating, but who’s really in charge?” We have a tendency, organizations want to have more collaborative teams, flat in organizations but in these situations, typical contributors tend to wait for role clarification or direction, like wait for someone to tell them who’s in charge or give them formal authority. Whereas, the people who are having a lot of impact tend to just take charge but they’re not like take charge all the time.

They step up and they lead, maybe a particular meeting, maybe a project, but then they’re willing to step back and follow other people when they’re in the lead. So, it’s like they bring kind of big leadership, let’s say, to the 2:00 o’clock meeting, they’re the boss, but they then walk down the hall to the 3:00 o’clock meeting and they serve as a participant with the same kind of energy that they led the team. So, they’re able to step in and out of these leadership roles really fluidly, which really builds our credibility because we trust these kinds of leaders, the ones who don’t always need to hold all the power.

Pete Mockaitis
And the ones who care when it’s not “theirs.” That’s sort of endearing. It’s sort of like, “Okay, you care about this because you care about the team, the leadership, the project, the company and not just you care about your babies.”

Liz Wiseman
Oh, absolutely. It’s like they work with the same kind of level of intensity. They don’t need to be in charge but they’re willing to be in charge. And I think it’s a really powerful form of leadership. And it’s very much like sort of you take like the pyramid shape of an organization, and you turn that on its side. It’s more like the V formation of a flock of geese, where the flock can fly a lot further because they rotate that leadership.

One bird goes out in front, leads, breaks that wind, creates drag, sort of creates an ease for the other birds behind in that formation, but that lead bird doesn’t stay there forever like until it tires and then falls from the sky in the state of exhaustion, which is what happens so often in corporations. The leaders are running around with their hair on fire. They’re like all fired up, they’re working hard, but other people sit underutilized. Like, when the lead bird has done their duty for the team, they fall back and another moves into that role.

And then there’s three other situations where we see this differentiation when unforeseen obstacles drop in the way, things that are really out of your control. Most people tend to escalate those, whereas the impact players just tend to hold onto them and get them across the finish line. Not alone, pulling in help but they tend to just hold ownership all the way through.

When targets are moving fast, typical contributors tend to stay on target, they stay focused, whereas, the impact players adjust. They’re adapting. They’re changing. They’re like kind of waking up assuming, “While I was asleep, the world changed, and I probably need to adjust my aim so I stay on track with what’s important and relevant.”

And the last is what we do when workloads are heavy, like when there’s just mounting workloads, when there’s more work than…when the workload is increasing faster than resources are increasing, and most people, they carry their weight, but when times get really tough, they sort of look upward and outward for help to ease that burden.

Whereas, the impact players, we found they really make work light. Like, they don’t take all the work, they don’t take people’s workload away from them, but they work in a way where hard work just is fun. They bring a levity, a humanity, that just sort of eases the phantom workload so that people can focus on the real workload.

Liz Wiseman
That’s kind of what I found.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I was going to ask exactly that, so thank you for sharing. And so, that’s sort of like the five core distinctions. And I want to zoom in on a couple like super specific practices, habits. But, first, maybe I’d like to get your take on what discovery, in the course of all these interviews, did you find most surprising or counterintuitive?

Liz Wiseman
I should probably tell you I’ve got a little bit of a pessimist in me which maybe makes me a better researcher. But when we went in to study, like, “What is it that the top, real top contributors are doing?” I expected there to be a fair number of hotshots and superstars and people around whom the team revolved, and what I found was exactly the opposite. There were 170 of these impact players that we studied, analyzed. Not a single one of them was a prima donna, a bully, a bull in a China shop. Not one of them worked at the expense of the team, like, “Hey, I’m so good at what I do that you all need to kind of like be backup for me, or sort of accommodate me, humor me.”

They were superstars and everyone knew it. Like, that’s one of the things about impact players is everyone knows who these people are but they work and I think they’re comfortable with their stellar-ness, their awesomeness, like they get it.

Pete Mockaitis
They don’t have to prove themselves or flex or show off.

Liz Wiseman
Yeah. In some ways, and I’m just realizing this, Pete, is one of the things I found in the multiplier leader, so the other research I’ve done, like, “What is it that leaders do that allow people to be impactful and contribute at their fullest?” And the ones, the leaders I want to work for are the ones that are really, really comfortable with their own intelligence and capability. Like, I want to work for someone who’s an absolute genius who knows it, which you think, “Ooh, well, isn’t that like a know-it-all, a bully?” Like, no, I want to work with someone who’s so comfortable with their own intelligence and capability that they’re over it.

It’s not like, “I have to show up to work every day proving how amazing I am.” It’s like, “Yeah, I get it. I’m smart. I’m talented. I’m over it so now I can spend my time as a leader seeing and using the intelligence of others.” And I think these impact players are similar in that they know that they’re really valuable contributors, they know they do important and valuable work, but they don’t need to be proving it all day long. In some ways, it’s so obvious. They were comfortable with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool.

Liz Wiseman
I thought there’d be some brilliant jerks in the lot but there weren’t, at least not in my sample.

Pete Mockaitis
And then these 170, they were identified by their managers, they’re saying, “Boy, this guy is really an impact player”?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, they were. And so, we didn’t go in and decide who was. We asked managers to consider the people that they have led over their career and identify someone from each of these two categories – impact players, ordinary contributors – and we also had managers identify someone who I later called an under-contributor – smart, capable, talented, should be amazing, like someone you hire, like, “This person is going to be awesome,” but yet they’re not. Like, they’re under-contributing relative to their potential and capability. And that was interesting. There’s like a whole set of things to learn there.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s different than the five key distinctions that we already covered? Like, they don’t do the things that the impact players do or is there more?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think kind of in that ordinary contributor station, like you would see people who are well-meaning, working hard, and they’re doing their job. When you see people in that under-contributor kind of position, sort of on the stratification, you see a lot of people who are really pushing their own agenda, you often see people who are trying so hard to be valuable, trying so hard to like get ahead, maybe that they’re honestly annoying.

Like, “Hey, hey, how am I doing? How am I doing? Am I doing great? Was it good work? Hey, hey, coach, what? Can I sit next to you on the airplane? You know what, hey, let’s go hang out.” They’re needy, maybe needing too much attention, needing too much feedback, and they end up becoming more of a burden than a contributor on teams, but, yet, they’re people who are trying really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Cool. Well, so then I love how we’ve laid out the five distinctions. And now I’d like to get really specific in terms of what are the particular mindsets, or habits, or particular practices, words, phrases, just like the super in-the-moment tactical, practical stuff that we’re seeing in terms of an impact player? I sort of got the conceptual. Could you give us a couple examples of, “Hey, these are the specific actions that we’re seeing over and over again”?

Liz Wiseman
We talked about the first distinction kind of through my own experience, is this willingness to do the job that needs to be done. It’s about extending ourselves like beyond our job boundaries. One of the favorite impact players I got to write about in the book is someone named Jojo Mirador, and he is a scrub tech. He works at Valley Medical, which is part of an academic hospital chain.

So, there are a lot of residents there, doctors who have graduated from medical school. They’re now in their training. They’re in residency. And he’s a surgical scrub tech. Now, Jojo’s job is to prepare the surgical tools for an operation, to make sure they’re sterilized and available, and to hand them to the surgeons when the surgeons ask for them. That’s his job.

But Jojo approaches his job differently than other scrub techs. First of all, he looks on the calendar, and he’s like, “What surgeries do we have coming up? Are there any that I’m not familiar with? Let me look. Let me just like Google that and figure out what’s going on in the surgery.” And during surgery, he’s not just listening for the requested instrument.

Pete Mockaitis
“Scalpel.”

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, scalpel. Exactly. It’s like such a moment. He’s watching the surgeons’ hands, he’s like, “I want to know what the surgeon is doing because I want to know what their next move is going to be because I want to be thinking about the tool they need, so I’m ready.” And one of the surgeons told me, “Jojo doesn’t just lay out the instruments. He lays them out in the order they’re going to be used so he’s got them ready.”

And when the surgeons ask for an instrument, he doesn’t just hand them the one they asked for. He hands them the one they actually need. So, let’s say they’ve asked for like a scalpel, and he provides a gentle suggestion, he’s like, “Why don’t you try this one instead that might work better?” Of course, these residents, they’re young, they’re new, and you can imagine the pressure on them to look like they know what they’re doing when they’re holding someone’s life in their hands. And you can imagine how grateful they are that he doesn’t just do his job. He extends himself and does the job that needs to be done.

And you would think that the senior surgeons wouldn’t want these suggestions, but they do, in fact. He said, “It kind of feels good. They come seek me out before a surgery.” They say, “Jojo, here’s what we’re going to be doing. What kinds of tools do you think are going to work best here?” And they line up outside of the scheduler’s office, they kind of fight a little bit over who gets to have Jojo in the OR with them.

And they found this nice gentleman’s way of sorting this out. It’s whoever has the most complicated procedure is the one who gets Jojo. And I love the imagery of this, which is just extending ourselves out of our job scope, but not doing it in an aggressive way of taking over. It’s done with this kind of sense of finesse of, “I think I can be helpful here.”

Another one of the behaviors we see is that these impact players, they don’t tend to wait for an invitation. I think a lot of people want to be amazing at their job, who have a lot of passion, who have a lot of talent, or maybe holding back a little bit, too much waiting for someone to come along and discover them.

And maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my career teaching leaders, coaching executives, part of my message to people is like, “Ooh, your leaders probably aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they’re thinking about you. They’ve got their own set of things and they probably don’t have time to figure out, ‘Okay, wait a minute. I’ve got this meeting coming up. Who are all the possible people who might be valuable contributors?’” Like, sometimes, we need to invite ourselves in and go where we’re uninvited but do it in a way that people are glad we showed up to contribute.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really interesting because I think this has come up a number of times, like, “Oh, so many things you attend, it’s unnecessary, it’s a waste of time, and you should figure out polite ways to excuse yourself from them.” And this might be the first time I’ve heard someone say, “There may be times where you want to try to get into a meeting that you weren’t invited to.” And the way that could be super appreciated, like, maybe can you give us some verbiage or an example there, because I can imagine ways you might say it that could come across as appreciated as opposed to like, “Whoa, stay in your lane, buddy”? Could you give us an example there?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, let me share two. One is about just initiating meetings that no one’s asking you to do. Eli Van Der Kamp at Target, she’s a project manager there, and her job is to get all the technology in a Target store up to speed and ready to go before a store opens. Well, this isn’t her area of responsibility but she can see that, “You know what, we’ve been dropping phonelines in here.” And her job was to get them up and running, but she’s like, “I don’t think we actually need those phonelines because, now that we have fiber optic cables, the phonelines that were needed for the alarm systems in the store, like fire alarms, we don’t need those.”

But it wasn’t that they didn’t need them, they sometimes needed them, and it was sort of complicated, and no one’s asking her to do this, but she realizes the company is wasting money on this. It’s a $92 billion a year company, it’s not a significant amount of waste in a company that size. But it’s significant enough, she decides she wants to do something about, so she just kind of invites herself to lead this meeting, calls people together, explains the problem with no sense of judgment whatsoever, “But we have this problem, and we’re like buying phonelines that we don’t need and it’s wasting money.”

And she just lays it out and invites people to step up and solve it. It was a complex decision tree. They worked it all out, owners stepped up, emerged, the problem is solved and she steps back. It’s sort of like inviting yourself in to lead and volunteering to lead where nobody has asked you. Now, it could be inviting yourself to a meeting nobody is inviting. So, I had experience with this, it was probably midway through my career. It preceded the most valuable piece of work I ever did for Oracle.

And I think, at this point, like I’m the vice president of Oracle University. I ran training for the company in human resource development, and I’ve particularly been focusing on some executive development, and had been working with three top executives to build this what was our flagship leadership development program. We called it The Leaders Forum. And it really consisted of two parts, which is teach our executives around the world like our strategy so they really understood that, and then build some leadership skills.

And in the process of doing this, it became clear that the strategy was not clear. So, we were bringing executives in, like 30 people at a time, presenting the strategy to them, building some skills, setting them on their way, and they’re like, “You know, the strategy is not clear.” So, the three executives I was building this program with, we heard the feedback, and we tried to make some adjustments, and it’s still not clear.

Finally, it comes to a head and we realized we have to stop these training programs until the strategy for the company is clear. I’m in that meeting. We decide this needs to happen. One of the three executives says, “Okay, you know what, I’ll get together a meeting of all of our product heads, all of the senior executives, and we will clarify the strategy.” Okay. So, I know that meeting is happening but I’m not included in this meeting because it’s a product strategy meeting and I’m responsible for training. But the meeting was happening the next week, and I decided that I probably should go to that meeting, not just to listen in, but I felt like I could really help.

And so, this is, I don’t know, this was a meeting of, let’s say, nine of the top 12 executives in the company, and I just decided to show up. And so, I show up, I knew the president would be thrilled that I was there, maybe not some of the others, but I get there early, I sit down, and one by one, like the various executives are coming in, they’re kind of like, “Hi, Liz,” and they know this is a product strategy meeting and they’ve got the head of training there. And they’re like, “Hi, Hi.” And then one particular executive came in, his name was Jerry, and he looked at me, and he’s like, “What are you doing here? Like, you’re the training manager. This is a product strategy meeting.”

And this was an important moment for me because I kind of squared my shoulders, looked at him, and said, “Jerry, we’ve got a really convoluted strategy right now that leaders around the world aren’t able to understand. Like, this group has got to take a lot of complex information about our products and distill it down to something that’s simple and clear, and that’s actually something that I’m pretty good at and I thought I could be of help.”

And he still wasn’t entirely convinced but I think the president said something like, “Yeah, Jerry, Liz is really good at this. And trust me, we could use her help.” And then I just paid attention, and I listened, and I listened to this conversation. Now, the fact that I had taken that job teaching programming helped me to really understand what they were talking about and be trusted to even be in the room, but I’m like taking notes.

I’m like, “Okay, what about this? And I like this pattern.” So, I’m now starting to reflect back to them, “Well, here’s this issue that I see coming up and I hear this, and it seems like these seem to be the three biggest drivers.” And they’re like, “Could you say more of that?” And it’s a longer story but, cutting it short, after two or three more of these meetings, they finally decided that they’re going to kind of obliterate the whole strategy, rebuild it from scratch, and they’re like, “Liz, we want you to be the author of the strategy. Like, we’ll all give you input but we want you to be the one that puts shape to this.”

And it was something I was able to do and it made a pretty big impact in the company, and I just think it’s so funny that maybe the most valuable work I did for the company was work I kind of forced myself into just a little bit. And I wasn’t forceful and I wasn’t rude but nobody asked me to do it. I just knew it was something I could be helpful with.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Okay. Well, so then any other examples leaping to mind in terms of a particular practice that makes a load of difference, sort of a small difference but huge leverage?

Liz Wiseman
Well, one of the ones I found was so interesting was this how people handle moving targets. And do you kind stick to what you’ve agreed to? Like, someone gave you a target, “We’re trying to increase market share by 12% year-over-year.” That’s like your goal, maybe your business development meter. What we find is that ordinary contributors tend to stick to those targets and they stay focused, whereas the impact players are constantly adjusting. In some ways, they’re reactive.

I wouldn’t say they’re reactionary but they react differently. Like, they’re assuming that they’re off target. So, it’s kind of like the metaphor I would use here would be like a violinist. So, if you play the violin, you know that you have to constantly tune that instrument. And, honestly, it was kind of mysterious to me when I was younger, like maybe younger up until like just a couple of years ago when I was like, “Why can’t they tune their instrument before they get up onto that stage? Like, why do they play poorly before they play well?”

And it’s like because even that movement from their backstage to centerstage, they’ve got to tune it before they perform. And it’s this tuning mentality, like lots of little small adjustments. And what we found the impact players do is they respond well to feedback but they don’t wait for feedback. They’re asking for feedback before it’s offered.

Shawn Vanderhoven, is someone who works on my team, and when Shawn started working for me, he would ask questions when he’d start a project, “Okay, what’s the target here? What does a win look like? What are we trying to accomplish?” And once he understood that, he would then start submitting work as part of that, and then he would ask a different set of questions, like, “Are you getting what you need? What can I do differently? What do I need to change so that it better fits the need?”

And he does this with such frequency that he then goes and corrects his works, comes back, submits it. But in the five years I’ve worked with Shawn, I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever had to sit down and have a tough conversation with him. I’ve never had to sit down, and say, “You know, Shawn, this is off and I need you to get it back on.” And it’s not that he doesn’t need that correction, we all do, but he always beats me to it. He’s fixing and changing and adjusting before I ever ask. Like, he’s doing the asking. And it’s so easy to give him feedback.

And one of the other like little distinctions that makes a really big difference is that people aren’t…these impact players aren’t focusing the feedback on themselves, like, “How am I doing? What do I need to do differently?” The focus is on the work, “How can I make this work better?” So, where others are maybe reacting to feedback people give them about themselves and their performance, the impact player is getting information to help them constantly adjust and tune their work so that their work is relevant and on tune.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, maybe if there was an overarching theme that separated the impact players from everyone else, and I should say it’s not really about people. It’s more about mindsets that we tend to operate in. It’s like what separates an impact player mindset, that I and others tend to go in and out of from sort of a contributor mindset, is how we deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. And the difference we found is that the impact players, when they encounter situations that are out of their control, they tend to dive head in to these situations, kind of like the way an ocean swimmer, or a surfer, like seizes massive oncoming wave that’s kind of scary, like I would turn and run, panic, and get tumbled in the surf, but they dive head into and through this wave.

And they tend to move into uncertainty and they tend to look at that uncertainty and ambiguity through an opportunity lens rather than a threat lens. Like, where other people see, “Ooh, that’s uncomfortable. Roles are unclear. That’s messy. That’s out of my control. Let me back away from it.” The impact players kind of wear opportunity goggles and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s messy, uncertain, uncomfortable, but there’s…let me find an opportunity to add value.” So, they tend to bring clarity to situations that other people tend to steer clear of.

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

Liz Wiseman
Criss Jami, “Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live.” And when I saw that, and I just saw this today, I thought, “That really captures a lot of what I’ve learned studying these people who were having a lot of impact is that they are not like pushing an agenda, they’re not necessarily pursuing a lifestyle. It’s they’re finding a situation that needs them and contributing wholeheartedly in that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Liz Wiseman
I think maybe the one that is most useful to the work I do is just this idea that we tend to overestimate our capability, that I think it’s the Kruger-Dunning effect, that we tend to think we’re better at things than we actually are. And this is the dynamic that I’ve seen play out in my work, kind of studying the best leaders, is that when we get put into a leadership role, we tend to focus on our intent, and we tend to not see our impact on others. Like, most of my work is about looking into this space between our intent and our impact, like learning not to operate based on our best intentions but to actually operate based on the effect that we’re having on others.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Liz Wiseman
I’ll give you one that this is a book I like because it made me so mad. I was really jealous when I read it, like kind of green with jealousy because the book is Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. And the reason why I love it is because, A, it’s an amazing book, and Ed Catmull is an amazing storyteller.

And it’s a story of Pixar, if you’re not familiar with the book, so it’s really like looking into “Why does Pixar consistently produce amazing films. Like, is that an accident or is there actually a system behind that?” And the answer is there’s a system behind it, there’s a reason why, and it’s not coincidence, and it’s how they lead and it’s the culture they built. And the reason why this book made me so mad is I got that reading and it was not too long after I had written Rookie Smarts and I’m like, “Wow, this is an amazing illustration of Rookie Smarts. It’s like what happens when you’re new to something and the innovation that comes out of it.”

And it’s an amazing example of what I call multiplier leadership. Leaders like Ed Catmull who use their talent and intelligence to bring out the best in others. And I’m like, “Wow, how did he do in one book what took me two books to do? And he did it better than that.” But I really loved that book and it’s full of fun, interesting, very practical ways of leading.

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

Liz Wiseman
Index cards. Succinct is not my strength and so I have to work at succinct in writing and in speaking. And so, I use index cards, and when I’m pulling together final thoughts before giving a talk, a presentation, if it can’t get on the index card, it’s not part of it. So, I use it to really boil down my thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Liz Wiseman
I think a favorite habit would be, I guess, I call it check in before diving in. And I’ve been there, like some people would say that I’m a workhorse, like I’m definitely not a racehorse. I’m a workhorse. I’m one of those people who just like grind through stuff. And I usually like to get right to work and I’m excited about it, I jump in. And one of the things I’ve learned to do with my own team is before we start working on something, to just take sometimes up to half of our allotted time and just check in, like, “How are you? How are you doing?”

And it’s gone well beyond pleasantries, and it’s typically like a chance for people to say, “You know, I’m not doing well. I’m struggling.” And sometimes we’ve spent hours, like we had a day blocked to work on something, and we spent hours just on, “How are you?” Sometimes it’s like, “Well, I’m disappointed that I thought by now I would have this done, and I don’t.” So, there’s been these moments where you could really check in and connect with like how people really are before we work on stuff. And it’s made all the difference for our team who’s gotten us through really some tough times.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a key nugget you share that tends to be quoted back to you frequently?

Liz Wiseman
It would probably be something…it would be better said than this because I think other people would probably say it better than this. It’s just like, “Be the genius-maker not the genius.” It would be some version of that.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, I’m pretty easy to find. TheWisemanGroup.com is a little bit of information about the work that my team and I do. ImpactPlayersBook.com, MultipliersBook.com, I think RookieSmarts.com, RookieSmartsBook.com, I’m honestly sure about that one, or, like I’m @LizWiseman on Twitter.

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

Liz Wiseman
Maybe a challenge and a suggestion. The challenge would be to ask yourself, “What might I be doing with the very best of intentions that is a barrier to impact? Like, what is preventing me from doing the most valuable meaningful work?” And it’s often things that we’re doing with our best intentions.

And if someone wants to get on the path of impact, maybe a challenge to start here, which is to find out what’s important to the people that you work for, whether it’s a client, a boss, internal customers or stakeholders. Find out what’s important to them and make it important to you. And all the right things tend to flow from that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and impact in your future endeavors.

Liz Wiseman
Thank you. It’s nice talking to you.

717: How Logical and Sensitive Professionals Work Best Together with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "Work with rather than fight against your own natural personality."

Devora Zack shares approaches to understand a key personality trait–in yourself and others–so thinkers and feelers can thrive together at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to tell if you’re a cactus or a snowflake 
  2. The leadership style that harms motivation
  3. The platinum rule for giving feedback 

About Devora

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author, and a global keynote speaker with books in twenty languages. Her clients include Deloitte, the Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others.

She is the author of Managing for People Who Hate Managing, Singletasking and her upcoming book is called The Cactus and the Snowflake at Work: How the Logical and Sensitive Can Thrive Side by Side, releasing November 2021. 

Resources Mentioned

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

Devora Zack
Thanks for having me back. It’s a pleasure to be with you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, I’m excited to dig into your work here, The Cactus and Snowflake at Work. I’ve done a number of Myers-Briggs workshops in my day, and so I’m digging what you’re talking about. Can you maybe share with us what’s sort of overall the big idea or main thesis here?

Devora Zack
The big idea of this book is that some people lead with their heads and some people lead with their hearts, and they can really get on each other’s nerves. However, with the right set of tools and understanding of different personality styles, we can be each other’s best friends instead of worst enemies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well-said. And so, can you maybe share with us, for starters, something that was particularly surprising or counterintuitive that you discovered in putting together this work?

Devora Zack
I’ve actually been really interested in this dimension of personality for many, many years, and, as you know, I’ve written a couple books that feature introversion and extroversion, and those are better known in the general culture than thinkers and feelers, so I really was excited to come out with a book with a different focus about thinkers and feelers. However, since those terms aren’t as well known, we decided to give the more playful terminology and called them cactus and snowflakes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the cactus, being the thinker because they might be prickly or blunt, and the snowflake, the feeler, because they may have hurt feelings. Is that the premise here?

Devora Zack
I’ve identified three main distinctions between these two. The cactus, who leads with his head or her head, tends to be more logical, analytical, and direct. And the snowflake, who leads with his or her heart, tends to be more sensitive, empathetic, and diplomatic. One thing to keep in mind is that everyone has bits and pieces of both of them, so it’s not that there’s just two clear-cut types of personalities, but envision a continuum, a line where people are somewhere along the middle. A few people are at the far ends, but most of us can identify to a greater or lesser extent with both personality dichotomies.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. That totally resonates. And I guess I’m curious, if folks are in one camp and then the other, what might be some mistakes that they make, they don’t even know they’re making, like a straight up blind spot, like, “Oh, I had no idea that I have offended you in this way or overlooked this key thing”? What are some real watchouts that each type should look out for?

Devora Zack
Well, one watchout is to think that people are all basically the same. In fact, people are dramatically different from each other in terms of how we live in the world and how we experience the same situations and how we communicate. So, a mistake many of us make is that we tend to use what would motivate us to try and motivate others or to build rapport with us to use that on others when, in fact, often what would motivate you, if you’re a different personality style than me, is completely opposite of what I would be motivated by.

So, I introduced the big two in this book along with a bunch of other ideas and tips and techniques. The big two is to observe and ask to figure out what someone else’s preferences are, and then to calibrate your communication to meet others where they’re at.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when we’re observing, what are some of the key things we should be on the lookout for, some telltale signs that are helpful?

Devora Zack
One is the types of words people emphasize, the language people use, and I have a whole translation section in the book. However, at the most basic level, cacti tend to use the word “think” more often, and snowflakes tend to use the word “feel” more often. And in our English language, they’re mostly interchangeable. You can say, “Well, what do you think about that podcast?” “Oh, I felt like it was really interesting and enlightening.”

So, just listening, at the very beginning of learning how to flex your style, that’s what I call meeting people where they’re at, is to just notice and observe who uses “think” and uses “feel” more often, and then to match that language whenever possible. If you’re, let’s say, presenting to a large group, you can assume there’s cacti and snowflakes within the room, and you want to practice integrating both types of language into your presentation so that you can connect with as many people as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really an interesting point there in terms of just the language itself, there’s, “I think this,” “I feel that,” because a lot of times when people say, “I feel this,” it’s not actually an emotion that they’re identifying. It’s like, “I feel like we’ve been spending a lot of money lately.” It’s like that’s not an emotion. That is a thought and, yet, if someone who, a cactus, who prefers thinking would be more likely to say, “I think we’ve been spending a lot of money lately,” versus the snowflake who prefers feeling would be more likely to say, “I feel like we’re spending a lot of money lately.” And that’s really intriguing that we’re expressing the exact same thing and yet there’s a clue as to how we may be oriented in and working with the world around us.

Devora Zack
That’s right. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. We can also look at how people decorate their homes or offices, and you can do that even if you’re Zooming or working remotely. You can also calibrate how you envision or experience a situation against how others do.
Another important concept that I introduced in this book is what I call the non-event. And what that means is that something that could be a big deal to me, if I’m a snowflake, might be a complete non-event to you as a cactus. So, we may walk out of a meeting and I may think, “Wow! Everybody sure fell apart in that meeting. We’re going to have to start from scratch.” And you might respond by saying, “What are you talking about? It was totally productive. It was fine.”

And it’s easy to be judgmental to each other around that and think that each other is wrong, or insensitive, or too sensitive, when, in fact, what one person picks up on may be completely a non-event to the other person as if it didn’t even happen. Similarly, if a cactus and a snowflake are walking along together, and one of them maybe ignores the other one for a few minutes, then one person could be really offended, and the other one was thinking, “What are you talking about? We were just walking quietly.”

So, non-events are very big deal to look out for in the world to figure out if you and other people are on the same wavelength.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. Thank you. And so then, I’m curious, let’s say you got a clear sense, “Okay. Hey, I’m clearly a cactus,” or, “I’m clearly a snowflake,” and then, “I’m interacting with someone who has a differing preference,” what are your favorite tips in terms of how to do that effectively?

Devora Zack
Well, the first step, even before that, if we can just rewind it a tiny bit, is to get to know and understand your own personality style. So, the book actually has a self-assessment in it so you can figure out not only if you’re primarily a cactus or a snowflake but how strong your preference is. And then it’s to work with rather than fight against your own natural personality. So, that’s the first step, is getting acquainted with yourself and having a level of acceptance with yourself.

Then, we get to the next point, which is what you were getting at, which is, “How do we communicate with each other?” And we aren’t always going to get it right, particularly because we may not know what personality style people have when we first meet them. However, by listening carefully, that’s a very useful tool in finding out where someone is coming from, and asking general questions and letting the other person decide how specific to get in their responses. That helps us in building rapport and also communicating with people that we may or may not know where they’re coming from.

That presupposes also that we are open to understanding and working with different types of people. It’s easy to say, “Oh, if you’re the opposite personality style of me, that we’re just going to aggravate each other.” However, we can be each other’s greatest resources because, let’s say, if I’m cactus and I’m very logical and analytical, and I work with you, and you might be more of a snowflake, and you’re more empathetic, we can give each other tips and help each other out in areas that we’re not gifted in by filling in the blanks for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, can you share some cool stories and examples that bring this to life?

Devora Zack
Sure. Here’s one and it is “do good” versus “feel good” leadership. So, a lot of people who read my books are interested in how they can work with other people, particularly if they’re managing other people. And what’s tempting, as a leader, is to be what I call a “feel good” leader to just make people feel good and to say, “Oh, that was great. Keep up the good work. I’m so proud of you. Keep at it,” but, in fact, it’s also very helpful, and that’s more of a snowflake tendency.

What the cacti is more likely to do is what I call “do good” leadership, which is to say, “Well, you can do better than that. I know that you can achieve higher aspirations than what you’re settling for, and I know you can try harder.” So, a snowflake might initially be really put off by the fact that someone is telling them that they can do better and it’s not good enough. However, what’s interesting is that when I work with different groups, the “do good” leadership style actually motivates people more and makes them feel better than the “feel good” leadership style, which just says to people, “Oh, you’re fine. You’re fine as it is,” and then they don’t achieve their potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now that’s quite an insight right there, and I think those who are practicing the “feel good” approach will probably have a better resistance to making a switch because one that could be rather uncomfortable. Yet, the prize is twofold there. That’s pretty awesome in terms of not only are you getting better results but people are feeling better, like, “Hey, I did great work and I’m improving and I’m making cool stuff in the world.” So, that’s powerful.

So, can you underscore that a little bit for the skeptic or the resistant snowflake? What’s some of the most compelling evidence that really confirms, “Yeah, this is absolutely true, so go for it even though it’s uncomfortable”?

Devora Zack
What I do, when I’m working with people and I’m trying to convince them that there’s a lot of benefit to “do good” leadership, is I ask them to reflect upon an important and meaningful coach that they’ve had in their life, and it can be an actual coach like from a team, or it could be a leader, or a family member, or somebody that inspired them, and to write down traits of that coach, and how the coach inspired that person.

And more often than not, the lists are full of things like, “Pushed me harder than I’d been pushed before,” “Didn’t take half an effort for…” “Didn’t accept half an effort.” And they’ve soon discovered that the people that have made the biggest positive impact in their life have often been people that pushed them further than they thought they could go, which is a trait of “do good” leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s beautiful. As you say this, I’m thinking right now about a high school English teacher, Judy Federmeyer, and how I was kind of accustomed to getting great grades all the time fairly easily. And then I think with our first writing assignment with her, I got like a B or a B+, I thought, “What’s going on? I’m not accustomed to such things.” And it was kind of unsettling in the moment but, boy, it was so valuable in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I actually need to exert some effort,” in so doing, my writing got a lot better. And so, I am forever grateful to Mrs. Federmeyer.

Devora Zack
Pete, I loved that you gave that example because my best coach was also my high school English teacher, Mr. James Killian.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Devora Zack
And my first essay that came back covered in red ink was quite a blow. However, the fact that I could write books now, I give him all the credit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Certainly, and it does feel good in terms of the growth in the moment, and then the long-term abilities that you have. And then my fondness for her, as you share, to this day. So, that’s beautiful. Cool. Well, so tell us, any other transformational tidbits along those lines in terms of, “You might think this but, in fact, here’s this other thing that’s true that you might want to get on board with”?

Devora Zack
Sure thing. So, another idea I have in the book is what I call “nay.” And it stands for “not about you.” So, whether you’re a cactus or snowflake, when you’re put off by another person’s behavior or language or style, is to think, “It’s not about me.” N-A-Y, “Not about you. Not about you.” Because we often tend to take other people’s personalities personally when, in fact, they just have different personalities than us.

And the more we can accept, once again, as I mentioned before, that we’re really different from each other and stop trying to correct other people, particularly in our own minds, the more effective we’ll be. So, if I want to improve the world, the best thing I can do is focus on myself and focus on the three things that I can control, which are my thoughts, words, and actions. And that’s it. I can only control what I say, do, and experience in the world.

And to this end, I encourage people to mind their own business. So often, when you hear, “Mind your own business,” it’s considered something kind of rude or impolite. However, it can be inspirational, too, that I don’t have to live outside of my own business. I don’t have to worry about other people achieving their potential by meeting me where I’m at, instead I can just always say, “It’s my responsibility to meet others where they’re at regardless of what our relationship is like, or if I report to them, or if they’re more senior than I am.” It’s to always just say, “I’m going to focus on my own thoughts, words, and actions and take responsibility for how I engage with others.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that “Not about you,” and sometimes it’s not about you even if they’re talking about you in certain occasions in terms of like just the mood, right? If folks are, I want to say, sometimes it’s lashing out. Or, if you’re in a mood, it can sort of color everything in terms of how you are communicating with other people and/or if you’re the cactus and have a certain bluntness, then it can be super helpful to remember, in the snowflake position, “Oh, I’m not horrible at my job. This person doesn’t hate me. It’s not about you at all. It’s just how they express it.” That’s lovely.

Could you give us some more cool examples of collaboration then when it comes to how we might complement each other’s temperaments extra nicely?

Devora Zack
Sure. So, let’s say, for example, I’m a cactus and I believe that this touchy-feely stuff can make a difference in building rapport, but I’m not really gifted at it, and so I think, “Well, my team is better off without us attempting to have this motivation of rapport. Our team is better off without having these touch-feely interactions.” Instead, what I can do is identify someone who I work with who seems to have a snowflake quality, and ask them to take the lead on maybe some get-to-know-you activities or building connections among team members.

And so, finding out who’s good at what, and you don’t have to always be the smart one in the room, or the one who’s leading, and instead finding people who match certain objectives you have and letting them take the reins. So, it takes a little bit of humility to do that. And, in the end, you’ll be having a more productive team because you’ll have all different perspectives introduced from the cactus and the snowflake perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And I think it can go vice versa in terms of I’m thinking about days where we interviewed a bunch of candidates, and then we made our decisions, and then we needed to call all of them and the vast majority were told, “No, you will not be moving forward in this interview process,” which I have a lot of snowflake tendencies myself, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. Oh, I really, really don’t want to do that, killing dreams, after dream after dream on the phone.” And then someone else on the team is like, “Oh, that’s fine. I don’t mind. Just like no problems.” So, it’s intriguing how it can take just way more or way less sort of emotional energy, depending on the nature of the task and the nature of their temperament.

Devora Zack
That’s right. And when you’re working with someone more long term, and let’s say you need or want or don’t want to but have to give someone feedback, it’s easy to give feedback in the way that you like to hear it as opposed to what resonates with the other person. So, that’s why I don’t totally believe in the golden rule, which is treat others how you want to be treated. I use the platinum rule instead, which is treat others how they want to be treated.

So, if I am a snowflake and I like to get feedback in the following way, like, “Oh, Devora, it’s so nice to see you. You look really nice today and we all really appreciate your input,” and then that might ease the blow of things I need to fix, or work on, or improve upon, or things I might not be aware of that are not in my realm of consciousness.

On the other hand, someone who’s a strong cactus, if I started giving feedback to that person in the same way, it would really get on their nerves and make them feel like it was just fluff and I was beating around the bush and so on. So, they might much prefer, and in my experience, this is true, feedback that’s very direct, like, “I want to give you feedback on three behaviors that I think we can switch and improve so that you can be more effective when working with the board of directors.” And that can actually make their eyes light up, like, “Oh, great. Thanks for the feedback.”

And I’ve seen this play out in real-life situations again and again, that flexing our style, in other words, giving feedback or communicating with someone in a way that works for them is way more effective than giving feedback in a way that works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nice. So, the platinum rule is a nice example of a best practice that sort of cuts across here in terms of regardless of whether you are a cactus or a snowflake, or the person you’re communicating with is a cactus or a snowflake, that notion of thinking about their style in a manner that works with their style works well. Are there any other “universal” best practices that kind of, “Hey, regardless of who you are and your preferences and temperament, and the person you’re interacting with,” some things that tend to work well across the temperaments?

Devora Zack
Yes, another concept that I introduced in the book is what I call “beans up the nose.” And its roots come from, perhaps you might recall in first grade or so, if a teacher might do an art project with dried beans and Elmer’s Glue and paper, and what you would do is glue the beans to the paper in artful designs, and that was your project. Does this ring a bell? Did you ever do that as a kid?

So, the worst thing the teacher can say, as the students start working away with their projects, is, “Now, class, whatever you do, don’t put beans up your nose.” And, sure enough, beans start flying up noses, and the school nurse has to come running in and help out. So, I’m using that as a metaphor, we put beans up people’s noses all the time, and whether we’re snowflakes or cacti, we just have different tendencies in how we do it.

So, what I caution people about is be careful what you say because you might be putting beans up someone else’s nose. So, always pause before you speak, and think, “Is this putting beans up the nose?” And I have to say, I do it myself, and it’s amazing how often I almost suggest to people to put beans up their nose in terms of, “Oh, I’m really not good at speaking off the cuff so I’m probably going to mess up this Q&A at the end of the speech.”

Or, if someone says, “I’m really very sensitive as a snowflake, so I might start crying in the middle of the performance feedback.” In other words, making people think about things that they didn’t have in their mind beforehand. And this happens in interviews a lot, and it happens when people are working with opposite types a lot, so just be careful about putting beans up people’s noses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects in terms of some folks talking about certain kind of rules or guidelines or principles, and it’s like, “That wouldn’t have even occurred to me to do this thing that I’m not supposed to do.”

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

Devora Zack
Well, to know that everyone has times when they are their own opposite, and sometimes that can be by design because they want to be effective and so they’re using tools that come from the other side of the spectrum, which is fine. And other times it can be because we’re in a difficult spot and we kind of go into our own shadow state, which is based on some of Carl Jung’s concepts.

So, sometimes we short-circuit and become our own opposites. So, I might, for example, if I’m a sensitive snowflake, suddenly start being very insensitive to people around me, or if I’m a cactus who’s very straightforward, and I might start beating around the bush and not tell people really what I’m thinking. So, it’s to be understanding of ourselves and to be able to recognize when we’re in a shadow state, and that’ll help us get out of it.

And, also, if you have worked with someone, or live with someone, or know someone pretty well, and they start acting like their own opposite, to know that they might be short-circuiting also, and to respond in a way that’s supportive as oppose to amplifying the issues that someone is dealing with.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say short-circuited, I’m curious, what are some things that sort of trigger you to go opposite or shadow state?

Devora Zack
So, sometimes it’s unanticipated change, sometimes it’s when you’re sleep-deprived, or mentally or physically drained, sometimes it’s when you feel misunderstood or when you are unclear about what direction you want to head in. So, when you’re in challenging situations is when you’re most likely to go into a shadow state, and I call that being in the grip. Like, in the grip of your own personality short-circuiting.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, those are sort of stressors. And then, ideally, someone will be supportive and encouraging when we’re in that place. And if we’re only kind of working on ourselves without that support, any pro tips in terms of kind of getting back to center?

Devora Zack
Yeah, and it actually a similar tip to people trying to be supportive also. A lot of times, people try and be supportive by saying, “You shouldn’t be upset,” or, “It’s not a big deal,” downplaying it either in your mind if you’re taking care of yourself or to someone else if you’re attempting to make them feel better by letting them know that they’re overreacting, and that completely backfires.

So, instead, is validating yourself and others when they’re in a shadow state, and to not say, “You shouldn’t feel this way,” but to say, “I can see that you’re really upset.” Or, if it’s just you dealing with something inside your own head, is saying, “It’s valid for me to be upset,” as opposed to saying, “There’s something wrong with me,” and then you get more upset about the fact that you’re upset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. All right. Well, now, can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Devora Zack
Sure. So, this is a Henry Miller quote, he’s an author. And I love it so much that it’s taped to my computer when I’m writing a book, “Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly whatever is in hand.”

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

Devora Zack
Well, I really just love following any up-and-coming neuroscience because I find it really fascinating to see how our brains work according to scientists, and how that plays into organizational behavior, and supports a lot of stuff that people in my field in general management have been professing for a long time, but then finding out what is happening with our neurotransmitter signals in our brain, to me, it’s just fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book has always been The Phantom Tollbooth since I was about 11 years old, and I just think it’s the greatest book I’ve read in a million times.

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

Devora Zack
I actually have a brand-new favorite tool, I’m so excited. It’s a 1960 typewriter that still works. And to be able to do writing on a real typewriter is very exciting, and it’s called The Torpedo, which I think is kind of cool. But really, it gets a whole different part of the brain going when I write on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. What part of the brain? How would you articulate the difference?

Devora Zack
Well, you can’t backpedal like you can when you’re typing on a computer. And so, you have to just move forward and do a pure stream of consciousness writing without rearranging things or deleting things. And what you come up with then is very visceral and often more raw than what happens when you’re writing on a computer, and a lot of great insights come of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Journaling every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And a key nugget you share that really seems to resonate and connect with people; they quote it back to you often?

Devora Zack
Be true to yourself. Work with rather fighting against your true personality.

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

Devora Zack
My company website MyOnlyConnect.com, and currently, there’s also a link to it for CactusSnowflake.com.

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

Devora Zack
Everyone is exactly how they’re supposed to be. Nobody needs to be fixed.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Devora, this has been a treat. Thank you. And I wish you many happy collaborations.

Devora Zack
Thank you. With this being one of them.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.