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546: Choosing Better Words for Better Leadership with David Marquet

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David Marquet says: "You want to be curious before compelling."

Former nuclear submarine commander and David Marquet shares how subtle language changes can make a huge impact.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How language impacts your leadership
  2. How to use dissent in the workplace to your advantage
  3. How we’re mistaking coercion for leadership

About David:

David Marquet is a student of leadership and organizational design and a former nuclear submarine Commander. He was named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine and is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller: Turn the Ship Around!, and The Turn the Ship Around Workbook.  David’s new book, Leadership is Language was released recently by Penguin Random House.

Items Mentioned in the Show

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David Marquet Interview Transcript

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

David Marquet
Thanks for having me on your show, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing I need to address is have you, in fact, crossed the United States on your bicycle?

David Marquet
Yeah, I have done segments of it, not all at the same time, but I’ve done various things. So, last summer, I went from Boise, Idaho to Casper, Wyoming which was epic because it took me over the Tetons and through Teton Pass. I live in Florida, like an overpass is a hill. So, I’m out there, and as I turn left, summit 20 miles that way, 4,000 feet that way, I just looked at that, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” But I made it through.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, good work. Good work.

David Marquet
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
My dad was a big bicyclist and so respect. We have hosted bicyclists at our childhood home, I recall, as they were crossing the nation. They were from Australia. My mom said, “They sure eat a lot.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s why you’re a cyclist so you can eat a lot. You broke a code.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so speaking of breaking the code, just as we were chitchatting before pushing record, you keyed in on my bookshelf, Stephen Covey’s “The 8th Habit,” and you’ve got a cool Stephen Covey connection. Can you lay it on us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, when I was a submarine commander on the Santa Fe, we were doing a lot of seven habits stuff, and in some respects, everything that we did, which I write about in “Turn Your Ship Around” was simply applying the seven habits which is kind of written at the individual level and an organizational level. So, level one, be proactive, and we kept asking the question, “What would it sound like if everybody in the organization acted proactively?” And then we would put some words to it, then we practiced those words. Imagine, it worked, and so we would do that.

And so, when we started winning all these awards, the story got out, and Dr. Covey was doing this work with the Navy back on the East Coast, and he heard about it. And I get this phone call, “Dr. Covey wants to come ride your submarine.” And I’m like, “Doggone, Dr. Covey!” and I was just like running around in circles, like, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.” And he came, it was such an amazing day. We picked him up off of Maui, it was crystal clear, dolphins were jumping. I mean, it was just one of those magic moments.

And he’s really quiet and kind of nervous, and he walks around the ship. And he finally comes up to me at the end, we’re driving into Pearl Harbor, standing on the bridge, and he says, “I know, I’ve figured it out.” First, he said, “It’s the most empowering workplace I’ve ever seen.” I said, “Well, thank you very much.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Superlative from the man who’s seen a lot. That’s awesome. Congrats.

David Marquet
Yeah, right. Right. But I didn’t like the word empowerment. I didn’t use it because I thought it’s…I labeled it a polluted word because it meant everyone had already attached meaning to it, so it was…when you said the word, you’ve got whatever you got. I mean, everyone sort of look at it through their own lens.

But, anyway, and we talked, but it was magic, and he said, “I’m going to write about you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, sure.” And then in “The 8th Habit,” which I see on your bookshelf behind you, I was like this spy, looking at the bookshelf behind, and I see “The 8th Habit.” And that was really amazing. And then he wrote the Foreword for “Turn Your Ship Around.” Unfortunately, he passed away, like a month after he wrote. We got the Foreword like on the 1st of April, and he went in, he had his bicycle rides. Later that month, this was like 20th or something, about three weeks later, really tragic. He never came out of his coma.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, his legacy is living on through those who he teaches and he’s taught and touched, and you’re a shining example. And you, in turn, are passing the wisdom along, and one of your big areas of focus is the language, the actual word choice that folks use. Can you kind of lay that on us? Like, what’s your big kind of aha or insight or discovery into the notion of language and leading?

David Marquet
So, here’s the deal, all the words that seem natural and normal to us, they sound normal in our ear, like, “All-hands meeting,” or, “We have a can-do organization.” All those words, the reason they’re natural is because we’ve heard from our bosses and our parents, who heard them from their bosses and their parents, which means they’re from the industrial age.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
And, essentially, it amounts to a programming, a playbook, I like to think of it, so that in a certain situation we’re going to react in a certain way. So, someone comes up to you and tells you, give you news that you don’t like, like, “Hey, I think we should delay product release next week,” and this comes as unwelcome news, of course. People react in different ways, but I predict it’s going to be react, response, reply. They’re going to either explain why they’re wrong, they’re going to defend themselves, or something like that.

Rarely, will I see curiosity, “Oh, what do you see that I’m missing? What do you know that I don’t know?” And the question is, that I was always struggling with is, “Why does my programming take me in the unhelpful direction?” Here’s another example, we tend to ask binary questions, and especially the least helpful binary question is a self-affirming binary question, “Does that make sense?” “Right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Does that make sense?

David Marquet
“Are we good?” “Right?” So, it’s not really a question. I just want to get everyone to agree and go along with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just thinking about how lame my podcast would be if those were the questions I ask, “This is really the Pete Show, you’re just an accessory.”

David Marquet
Right. Exactly. But I see leaders doing it, I hear doing this all the time, and I think the reason is because, in the industrial age, that’s what you wanted. You just wanted people to do what you wanted them to do. You didn’t want a big discussion, and I didn’t need the workers to be involved in decision-making. But, of course, now that doesn’t work anymore. We need to let the people doing the work be involved in making decisions about the work. And so, what this means is all these language patterns, which we’ve been programmed to do, are no longer helpful. So, we have to go through the great reprogramming of the English language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so can you lay it on us in terms of we have a few examples of things that don’t work, “Are we good?” “Yup.” “Makes sense?”

David Marquet
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, those are not ideal, not optimal, and the principle is that it doesn’t encourage conversation, engagement, discussion. It’s just sort of like, “Okay, let’s move it along here.”

David Marquet
And, in particular, dissenting, diverse, and outline opinions. These things reduce the likelihood, they don’t squish it to zero, but these are biases, one direction or the other. They just make it a little bit harder for the person who doesn’t agree with the group to speak up, and it’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I think it is a problem. And, it’s funny, as we record these words, Mitt Romney got some attention for a dissenting opinion.

David Marquet
Yeah, but look at the reaction, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

David Marquet
Well, Pete, I didn’t hear anybody. I was flying today so I missed a bunch of the news. But I didn’t hear any responses, “Oh, Mitt, tell us more about that. I’m so curious about your perspective.” I didn’t hear that. What I heard was, “Oh, you’re wrong. You screwed up. You’re blah, blah, blah, blah,” or, “You’re right. We agree with you, blah, blah, blah.” So, this is a good example of these programmed responses and you see it all the time and everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, yes, there seems to be a bias against dissent. So, let’s dig in. So, how do we get better language? Can you give us some core fundamental principles as well as some particular examples of, “Hey, let’s stop saying this, and say that instead”?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, the key way, one way to think about it is, “Are you embracing variability or are you reducing variability?” Now, there are things, there are lots of work following a procedure, manufacturing a part, that benefit from reducing variability. Actually, this is a problem because this is what we’ve inherited from the industrial age.

Imagine making Lego blocks, “I don’t want the holes to be like a little bit fatter or a little bit skinnier because it really won’t stack up very well. I want it always the same,” so variability is an enemy, and we’ve even gotten really good at tuning out variability. But decision-making and thinking benefits from embracing variability. The fact that we have special rules when we go, “Hey, guys, we’re going to do a brainstorming session. We have some special rules so we can invoke creativity.” What that means is the normal way we do work at work kills creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there you go.

David Marquet
It’s just an admission of that. So, what we need to do is have the language of work which allows dissenting opinions. So, here’s one thing that a lot of people are doing wrong. If you’re doing a decision meeting, what you want to do is vote first then discuss. But what most people do is they’ll talk about it, all this does is serve to anchor the group, that’s group-think build up, less the people who think different than the group, they start shrinking down in their chair and it becomes very hard to disagree, “Well, I don’t think 737 Max software is safe. I don’t think we should do the launch,” or whatever happened.

Every innovation starts as an outline and dissenting opinion. The water in Flint, Michigan is poisoned, whatever. They always start on the fringes, and sometimes they deserve to stay out there on the fringes, but sometimes they don’t, but you don’t know that if, A, you suppress them so you don’t even hear them, or, B, you don’t listen to them or their voice. So, what you want to do is vote in a probabilistic way. Here’s the trick, start the question with the word how, “How sure are you?” “How strongly do you support this?” “How likely is this assumption to be true?” Not, “Will it be true?” “Is it safe?” “Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?” Any question about the future is going to be probabilistic, should be probabilistic because we don’t know.

And then, after the vote, you look for the people who voted highest for and highest against. These are the outliers, they’re on the fringes, and you invite them to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, timeout there. So, highest for and highest against, so then it’s not a simple “I’m for this” “I’m against this,” but rather “I’m a zero” “I’m a 100.” Or, how are you thinking about the voting?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, you can use your hand. If it’s just really quick, you’re out on the field, it’s a team, a construction site team, “Hey, we’re ready to start the next phase, we’re ready to pour concrete. How ready are we to do this?” and people put their hands up, five, five, five, four, five, five, four.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

David Marquet
It’s a lot easier because it’s easy for someone to say four instead of five but it’s very difficult for someone to actually put their hand up than do a thumbs down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

David Marquet
There’s a big cultural stigma to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome.

David Marquet
Yeah, yeah. and in the office, we have a set of cards that go 1 to 99; 1, 5, 20, 50, 80, 95, 99, 1 to 99, because you don’t want to do 0 and 100 because what you’re trying to do is reprogram people’s brains to think probabilistically so that nothing is a 100 or 1. It’s like there’s never a zero chance and there’s never a hundred chance of something happening, “Will this product work?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, I am loving this so much. And I just, recently, with my team, as we’re assessing, this is pretty meta, a podcast guest. I said, “Okay, this numbering system might not make sense to you but it’d be really easy for me if in our system you were to give me a number between 0 and 100 based upon the probability, your best guess that this guest will be in the top 10% of engagement amongst all of our guests.”

David Marquet
Yeah, beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then it makes it easy for me. I just sort, like, “All right. These are the people my team loves. Let’s start at the top and move on down.”

David Marquet
Yeah, that’s so much better than saying, “Will this be in the top 10%?” which is impossible.

Pete Mockaitis
“Yes or no to David,” you know, it’s much broader.

David Marquet
Right, “What’s your sense?” Yeah. So, yeah, I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so all right, I’m jiving here. So, we’re thinking probabilistically, we’re voting in advance. What are some of the other best practices?

David Marquet
So, when it comes to asking questions, there’s a whole bunch of things. The key is when you’re asking questions, most people ask questions, they’re either actively inserting their own viewpoint in the question, like, “Why would you want to do that?” “Hey, I think we should delay launch, product launch?” “Why would you want…?” So, you’re sending the signal, “Hey, you’re wrong. This is unwelcome news. You need to defend it.” Versus, “Oh, what do you see that’s behind that thinking?” in a very sort of neutral way.

So, the idea is you want to be curious before compelling. You want to ask questions. You want to wipe your mind clean and not inject your point of view. Even when you’re not deliberately trying to inject your point of view, we sometimes inject our point of view. There’s this sub-school of asking questions called Clean Language, which I pulled some inspirations from, really interesting. So, for example, if your friend comes up to you and says, “I’m having trouble with this coworker,” you might say, “Well, do you have the guts to stand up to them?”

Well, this implies a whole bunch of things, like, A, “You should…” like standing up to them is the right thing to do, it’s the right metaphor, not punch them in the face, or not let them alone, and, “Do you have the guts?” suggest that the limiting resource is courage not maybe it’s time. So, you’re injecting all these…all your basic experience of what you think they’re saying into the question. So, what you want to try and do is just say, “Oh, tell me more,” or, “What kind of a problem is that?” and just be as neutral as possible about it.

The way I think about it is I wipe my mind clean, which is easier some days. I just try and make a big white tableau in my head and say, “I don’t know anything, and my job is to learn as much as possible in the next couple of minutes.” Now, I’m not saying you have to agree. They can often say, “Hey, I think we should delay product launch.” I’m not saying automatically delay product launch. Not at all. What I’m saying is make the decision after you’ve listened to them. If you find yourself saying the words, “I hear you but…” that’s code for “I’m not listening to you,” because the only reason you feel compelled to say “I heard you” is because you have a sense that they think you’re not hearing them so you feel compelled to say “I hear you.” No one ever felt more heard because someone said, “Oh, I hear you,” so just listen to them and you’ll never feel that compulsion to say “I hear you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is awesome.

David Marquet
“Trust me” is another one. If you find yourself saying “Trust me,” then you’re on the wrong track. You should never have to say that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, these are…keep it going. So, you’re sharing some phrases that are indicative of something beneath the surface that’s not working and it’s hitting home. I think I’ve said “I hear you.”

David Marquet
Me too. All the time. So, it goes back to the industrial age, and what I’m calling this playbook. So, the key thing in the industrial age, the key play, so to speak, is I label “obey the clock.” That’s why we have words like clockwork, that’s why we pay people by the hour, especially the people, the workers. You can pay the thinkers by a salary, but the workers get paid by the hour because of so obey the clock. So, there’s all these cultural statements, again, saying, “Time out. I think we got to delay product launch because it runs against the ‘obey the clock’ play.”

Now the problem to obey the clock is, of course, it’s very hard to think when you have the pressure of the clock, tick, tick, tick, and you got to make so many wishes per hour. So, what leaders wanted to do is what I call control the clock. Leaders need to say, “Hey, time out. You guys are doing a great job chopping down this fort. Now I want to talk about is this the right fort and should we be chopping at that?” And let’s give the team the ability to say, “Time out.”

Now, it’s not enough to just say, “Oh, team, everyone can say time out.” I’ve seen this in, say, for example, in a hospital situation or…

Pete Mockaitis
Or some manufacturing plants that’s a rule.

David Marquet
Yeah, a manufacturing plant, with the power plant. Then there’s this lip service, “Oh, anyone can stop.” But if you don’t actually give them a mechanism, “Okay, here’s a yellow card. If you think we need to take a pause, raise it, or say the following code word.” And practice. If it’s never practiced, the same stigmas will build up. But if we practice it, and then it’s like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. Time out. Quit.” It doesn’t need to be a long time, you have to make it easy to exit production and go into thinking, but you also have to make it easy to say, “Okay, we’re done thinking. Now we’re going to go back to work,” otherwise we end up biased in one direction or the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And so, you encourage it, you practice it, you give a mechanism, and I think you appreciate it I guess when they use the mechanism, as oppose to, “Oh, dang it, David. What is it now?”

David Marquet
Yeah. So, a perfect example of this is the Andon cord in the Toyota Production System. This is Andon, it’s the Japanese word for lantern. And so, they’ve equipped the stations with what used to be a cord, now a button, for the workers. They’re in the production line, parts are moving past them, they have a problem. So, they can’t solve the problem while the parts are moving, there’s too much time pressure, so they have to push the button which signals, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I need to shift into problem-solving mode. I need to pause. I need to call a pause and shift to problem-solving mode.” And so, that’s what that serves. That serves as a way for them.

So, you go to a construction site and say, “Well, how do the guys signal that they have a problem?” The guys on the third floor installing windows and they’ve got a problem, there’s no way, we haven’t instituted a mechanism like Toyota Production System so there’s no way for the workers.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re still yelling, “Hey!”

David Marquet
Yeah, they just yell at each other, right. Or we come down at the end of shift to say, “Yeah, I had to bang a few windows in because they really didn’t fit quite right. Oh, it would’ve been nice to actually solve the root problem.” No. So, that’s obey the clock.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so that’s about the clock.

David Marquet
So, yeah, that’s the core play. So, everything kind of stems out of that. And the second thing about the industrial age organization is we separate thinkers from doers, that’s why we have these phrases like white collar, blue collars, leaders, followers, thinkers, doers, salary.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some terms in Hebrew like rosh gadol and the other one. Anyway, so, we’ve got these dichotomies, yeah.

David Marquet
Yeah, exactly. They’re binary dichotomies and we bend people into one of two tribes. And so, when I think about, “Well, what’s it like to be a doer?” Well, all you do is do. Do what you’re told. So, all leadership is coercive because it’s one group of people choosing what the other group of people how to do it. And then their role is to then comply and continue the production line as long as possible. And so, again, these are unhelpful patterns because coercion isn’t a good way to treat people. It’s much better to have collaboration and commitment.

Now, here’s the trick. We talked about the meeting thing. So, I had 10 executives from a big company, two tables of five, and I gave them a problem. It was like, “How many countries are in Africa? You can’t look it up.” And someone at the end of one table blurts a number, let’s say they say 50, and pretty soon that table comes at 50. And here’s the other thing, your table has to agree, so it’s a decision-making exercise for a group. Your table has to agree so they have to decide their number. Pretty soon 50. And guess what? Thirty seconds later the other table said 50. And who’s the person who said 50? It was the CEO and the co-founder.

So, that person is paying a lot of people a lot of money simply to echo back what that person is thinking. Now, here’s the key. When I said, “Oh, did you guys collaborate on this?” “Oh, yeah, sure. Everyone’s voice was heard.” No, it wasn’t. This is called coercion. And so, people use the word influence, inspire, but it’s really coercion. Like, let’s not pretend it’s not coercion. I’m getting you to do what I want you to do, and that’s coercion.

So, what you want is true collaboration and that happens first, say, “Everybody write down what you think the number is before we contaminate you with any group-think. Then everyone flips their cards up and, just like before, let’s look at the high and the low. Okay, how did you come up with your number? How did you come up with your number? And now we can call us on a number.” The maximum amount of variability in the group, the maximum amount of cognitive diversity will occur before any conversation, and you want to capture that moment in time.

David Marquet
Yes. I should know the answer to that. I think it’s 89. No, that’s 54. Sorry, my bad. Yeah, 54.
Now, here’s another thing that’s interesting. If you ask people, say, “Okay, write down the last two digits of your phone number. Now, write down how many countries there are you think in Africa. Do those number correlate?” Answer? Yes. “Should they?” No. And this is anchoring. Even when you explain to people that anchoring is a phenomenon, it will still happen. So, these are the perils of throwing out your answer first but we do it because we want to move so quickly away from that uncertainty and variability. We want to collapse variability prematurely without giving it the cognitive respect that it’s owed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, David, this is so good. This is just really getting my wheels turning here.

David Marquet
I’m so glad. That’s the highest praise.

Pete Mockaitis
And anchoring, well, I heard another study about anchoring, like, that even judges, right, like perhaps the most impartial of all would be anchored by the address on a piece of stationery or in like a mock case that they presented to them, in terms of like, “What should the settlement amount or judgment arbitration amount be in a case?” Like, it has nothing to do with that. These are supposed to be our most impartial and brilliant arbiters of decision-making that we have in our society, and they succumb to it, so nobody is immune.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we all have these biases and they’re wired into us, and you want to inoculate yourself and your team as much as possible, but it’s very difficult. Here’s another thing. The bias is called escalation of commitment, which means that if you made a decision, you’ve basically tainted yourself from evaluating that decision. And in the face of evidence that the decision was not a good one, basically you double-down. Now, we have phrases like “in for a penny, in for a pound” “sunk cost fallacy” but the way this plays out in organizations is let’s say the captain of a crew ship makes a decision to do something and someone low on the team starts to…or there’s evidence that this is not a good idea. It’s going to be very difficult for that person to reverse their decision.

On the other hand, if you separate decision-maker from the decision-evaluator, so the senior person should reserve their cognitive efforts to simply evaluate, but that means the team has got to be making decisions. Another way to think about it is the senior person should only ever break pedal. The next tier below needs to have a gas pedal and a break pedal. But as soon as the senior person starts stepping on the gas, they then tainted themselves, “Hey, we all should keep selling print film,” “Hey, we should all rent DVDs,” whatever it is, we taint ourselves, and it’s very, very difficult to then reverse. So, think about that, “Am I decision-maker or a decision-evaluator?” And if you want to be the decision-evaluator, you really got to work hard not to be the maker of the decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I’m thinking back to consulting at Bain where we would have a decision-making tool for teams called RAPID in terms of different roles and decision, who recommends something, who approves something, who performs inputs, decides, it’s an acronym RAPID. And then I thought that was great. It’s like the approve is like you have veto power and that, indeed, makes great sense to put in sort of senior leadership level, and you just add another layer there in terms of if they’re also the one sort of putting forward, “Hey, this would be really cool, don’t you think?” it’s going to taint things.

David Marquet
Yeah, and obviously they don’t do it that obviously but everybody knows the CEO wants the product to launch, or everybody knows the situation when we have the meeting, “The purpose of the meeting…” Really? It’s so the CEO can later say, “Oh, you all were there. You had a chance to say no but you didn’t,” that’s the real purpose mainly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, David, you’ve laid out a couple of what you’re calling the six plays for all leaders about the clock and collaborating instead of coercing. Let’s go ahead just rock out the others since we’re on a hot streak?

David Marquet
Okay. So, on the industrial-age side, we have “obey the clock,” which leads to coercing and the team complying with the purpose of continuing the production line as long as possible. When Henry Ford started making Model Ts in 1904, he made the same car for almost 20 years. If you worked on that line, you basically didn’t have to learn any new tools, any new skills, you’d work there almost 20 years making the same car.

What you want to do now is control the clock, collaborate, then commit, because commitment comes from within. True collaboration will result in the team making a commitment with the idea of completing, so doing the work in chunks, “Hey, we’re going to do a segment.” So, I like to think of it in terms of an expiration date or running experiments, “Hey, we’re going to do…we’re going to change the process. We’re going to run an ad campaign but not we just want to run an ad campaign. It almost feels like we’re going to stop running it. We’re going to run this ad campaign for three months and then we’ll see not only what we’ve achieved but what we learned.”

And that gets us to the fifth play which is improve versus just prove. We have this approach during the industrial age, “I got to get it done. I got to show. I got to demonstrate competence. I got to feel good. I got to justify my salary,” but that moves us away from this idea of, “How can I learn? How can I be curious? How can I get better?” And a lot of cold companies have these quarterly goals, and when you look at them, they’re goals, like, “What are we going to do? We’re going to sell 8% more of this and we’re going to ship this,” but they’re lacking when I ask them, “Well, show me what you’re going to learn this quarter.”

Even university, I worked with a university, like, even they didn’t have learning goals. So, I’m not saying don’t have doing goals. Do, but balance them, “Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s what we’re going to learn, and then we’re going to pause, complete.” Complete allows two things. It allows you to pause and reflect and improve the work, but it also allows you to celebrate. No completion, no celebration. No celebration, no sense of progress. No sense of progress, no fun at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. And what’s interesting, when it comes to doing versus learning, I guess in my brain I see maybe an overlap in a Venn diagram stuff, like, if I’m saying, “Hey, want to learn about audio, and what I want to do is make our podcast sound as amazing as possible,” sort of both are happening, learning and doing.

David Marquet
Yeah. So, here’s what I think the formula is. Learning results from thinking about something. So, you had the thought, “I want the podcast to be amazing.” Then you say, “You know what, if we tried a different kind of microphone, or if we tried SquadCast as opposed to Skype,” so you have a hypothesis. But then you actually have to do it. Just thinking about it doesn’t result in learning. Then you do it. You can’t just do one because it might’ve been a one-off, like maybe the internet connection to Pittsburgh was bad that day, who knows.

So, you say, “Let’s do 10. Now, we’re going to pause with complete. First of all, we’re going to celebrate what we achieved.” Then we’re going to say, “Hey, what did we learn?” “Well, nine out of ten of them were significantly better. One was worse. It was some special case.” So, that’s it. So, I think this is the cycle of learning: thinking, doing, reflecting. It’s like this, I draw an H because thinking is broad perspective, doing is focused, because once you made the commitment, you don’t want to say, “We’re going to use SquadCast most of the time. Well, a couple of them we did Skype but I wasn’t really sure.” No, you want to be precise, you want to do SquadCast 10 out of 10.

Then we’re going to pause, not while in the middle of podcast but, “Okay, we’ve done ten, now let’s pause. What does everybody think?” Best to do that, and that, that, that.

Pete Mockaitis
I see what you’re saying.

David Marquet
So, it’s this flip between reducing focus which means reducing variability, reducing perspective, of being focused, and embracing variability, and it’s this flip that we have to do. If we don’t recognize that we’re using our brains in two different ways, what I see is people are sort of crappily-focused and then sort of broadly expansive but their expansiveness is like this, it’s like looking through a periscope on a submarine, there’s a whole world out there, “Oh, yeah, we’re embracing new ideas,” but they’re four to six when I could be one to nine. How do you know there’s a world beyond my tennis line?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, David, so many of your ideas are really resonating for me here. I guess I’d love to hear if it’s a client or someone who just took and ran with these easy ideas and saw cool results as a result of doing so, can you give us a transformation tip?
David Marquet
Yeah, I’ll tell you another story. So, one that might resonate with readers is McDonald’s. We’re working with their franchise out in Oregon and they have 15 stores, and the ops manager was stressed, and she would, every morning, “Oh, do this, check on that, do that,” and she drives from store to store frantically, telling what to do, and checking in on them. We flipped the whole thing around, so she now would get these texts every morning and the store managers would be checking in with her, “Hey, here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I intend to do about it. Come on by if you want. We’d love to see you. Invite your feedback, but we don’t need you. We’ll do it anyway.”

And she had so much less stress over the next 12 months she lost 50 pounds, a pound a week. And she had some bad health markers and were sort of prediabetic, and all that stuff went away because we simply flipped it, we got rid of that old industrial-age playbook.

Pete Mockaitis
And she may be eating at places other than McDonald’s because she didn’t have to go there often. You can smell those fries.

David Marquet
Yeah, it’s so hard. They’re so good.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if I can follow up, so that sounds like a tidy little framework there. So, each person said, “Here’s what I got, here’s what I see, here’s what I’m going to do.” Can you lay that out for us?

David Marquet
Yeah. So, we have a framework that we applied to empowerment, which we call the ladder of leadership, and it’s simply the words that you say. We cast away the word empowerment, and it sounds like this, “At the bottom, they tell me what to do.” That’s obviously very low. And then there’s, “Here’s what I see, here’s what I think, here’s what I would like to do.” Now, the key there is unless you get approval, you don’t do it, so you wait.

And then level five is, “Here’s what I intend to do. Tomorrow at noontime, I intend to launch a new ad campaign. Next week on Wednesday, I intend to launch a product as scheduled.” Now, the key about intent is unless you say no, it’s going to happen. So, if you don’t get your email that day, you’re not holding the team up. And here’s the key, the team, knowing that there is going to happen, it’s on them. They can never…they own it. They can’t say, “Oh, well, the boss told me. I knew it was a bad idea but blah, blah, blah.”

So, it’s a trick, so to speak, mechanism better. It’s a mechanism to get thinking, because when you know, if you say something, and your boss gets a little in email, it’s going to happen, you become…you check with the person, “Hey, does everyone this is a good idea? I want to make sure it’s good because it’s going to be on me if we do this.” So, the way we would make reports is, so imagine in a submarine, or oil refinery, nuclear power plant, operating room, we always report in that sequence, “Here’s what we see,” so it’s description, “And then here’s what I think,” which is analysis, “And then here’s what I think we should do,” action.

So, the first step is detect, “I have to notice something,” so it’s D2A2, detect, describe, assess, act. And we always go in that order because we’re moving from safe to less safe because description is pretty safe, “Hey, I notice the patient is turning yellow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t argue with that.

David Marquet
You may not know what you need to do. That’s okay. If you couple, if you say, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” guess what you’re going to get?

Pete Mockaitis
Crickets.

David Marquet
Fewer people telling you problems. That’s what you’re going to get because every time you make a speedbump to a behavior you want. You’re going to get less of a behavior that you want. So, you just put a speedbump on the behavior of reporting problems. So, you say, “Bring me problems. You don’t have to have a solution. If you have a solution, bonus points for you.” So, anyway. And studies have showed that’s exactly the impact. Because we have these well-meaning words but they often counterfire.
Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the final play?

David Marquet
So, the final play is in the industrial age, because leaders were coercing workers what to do, the final play in the industrial age is conform. We don’t want to appear approachable because that just makes it harder for us to get them to do what we want them to do, so we conform to our role in hierarchy. The new play is connect, connect as humans. If you’re going to ask people to make decisions, decisions passed through the emotional wiring in our brain, we want to think that we’re all rational but we’re not. I mean, “Who am I going to marry? Where am I going to school? What’s my…?” At the end of the day, always an emotional complement to that decision.

Healthy decisions come from healthy emotions. Healthy emotions come from feeling human at work, which means we have to connect as human beings. And so, there’s a lot of legacy behavior at work, posturing. And I was in a big global corporation. You could tell you’re getting closer to the more important people because the carpet was getting thicker. And there’s all these trappings of hierarchy. We don’t need to reinforce hierarchy. What you want to do is actually reduce hierarchy, not to zero, A, you can’t, B, I don’t think you want to. But we’ve got to get the humanity, the connection of humanity back into work if you want your people to be involved in decision-making. If you’re going to ask them what they think, then that’s decision-making. So, that’s what the final play is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Marquet
Yeah, I really like, I sound maybe like I’m a geek, but I really love Churchill’s use of a language, and so when you take your quote like this, “We shall fight on the beaches,” and you look at the words he used. Now, I had an opportunity to see a museum exhibit where he had some drafts of his speeches, and he had different words. And the pattern was he was always going back to the Anglo-Saxon variance. So, he could’ve said, “We shall travois on the shoreline,” but those are French.

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

David Marquet
What’s popping in my head right now “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She talks about having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Kahneman. Tversky is so good. I just read also Michael Lewis’ book “The Undoing Project” which is about the work that Kahneman and Tversky did where they came up with a lot of these biases. There’s a guy, here’s one of most of your listeners might not have heard of, a guy named Panksepp, a psychologist who tickles rats to hear them laugh.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sounds like fun.

David Marquet
Anyone who does that has got to be interesting. And he’s got a number of books. I don’t understand half of what he says, but one of the things he talks about is we’re wired with…one of the systems that we’re wired with is called the seeking system, this is the curious system. This is the one that says, “I wonder what’s behind that corner? I wonder what’s over that mountain range?” And a lot of our social ills can be traced to some sort of dysfunction in our seeking system. And I just think this stuff is really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, intriguing. And, tell me is there a particular nugget you share that people quote back to you and you’re known for?

David Marquet
Well, we say build leaders at every level. One of the things I’ve been saying, recently I’ve been hearing all that back, is “Push authority to information not information to authority.” And what we’re referring to is in a hierarchy, oh, hierarchy is the same characteristic, which is the information rest that’s peripheral of the hierarchy at the people at the periphery of the hierarchy, the ones in the coat, talking to the client face to face, in the operating room, flying the airplane, whatever. But the authority for making decisions rest typically in the middle.

So, the 20th century approach was to create systems and scorecards and software where we aggregated the information from the periphery and channeled it into the middle for a decision, and what we say is what you’d want to do is take the authority for making decisions and push it out to the periphery as close to the person, people, who natively have that information and you’d get much faster feedback loops, you get much more resilience, agility, adaptability, and you get more responsible behavior by those people, and it’s more fun and they feel like their jobs matter.

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

David Marquet
So, our program is called intent-based leadership, so go to the website Intent Based Leadership. And I am on social media. I give myself a grade of like D+ for social media but I’m on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn at L. David Marquet. And the other thing we have is a thing called leadership nudges, we have almost 300 now, come out once a week, a one-minute…a lot of these things we talked about are in these little leadership nudges, so one-minute video, low-production quality, me just talking into the camera, saying, “Hey, when you got to ask the question, start the question with how. It’ll be impossible to ask a binary question and it’ll be a better question.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, David, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and keep up the good stuff you’re doing.

David Marquet
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

545: What High-Performers Do Differently with Alan Stein Jr.

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Alan Stein Jr. says: "Fall in love with the fundamentals."

Alan Stein Jr. discusses the fundamental habits and mindsets that separate the best from the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The universal skill every professional needs
  2. The secret to making remarkable change last
  3. A powerful mantra to keep you grounded and present

About Alan:

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author who spent 15+ years as a performance coach working with famous, high-performing basketball players. He now teaches audiences how to utilize the same strategies in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.

Alan specializes in improving individual and organizational leadership, performance and accountability.  He inspires and empowers everyone he works with to take immediate action and improve mindset, habits and productivity which is what makes him one of the top motivational speakers around.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, let’s hear just a smidge about your background. So, you used to work as a performance coach for professional basketball players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. May he rest in peace. What exactly does that mean, a performance coach? What do you do and how does that translate into better results?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the original moniker was strength and conditioning coach. So, I was always responsible for kind of the fitness and athleticism side of training. But, as that industry progressed, we, I say we as in I’m uniting all coaches, decided that strength and conditioning were just two of the pillars of performance that we actually worked on. So, most coaches today that are in that field go by performance coach.

And, yeah, I was responsible for every facet of performance except for the actual skill work. So, things like improving hand-eye coordination, and explosiveness, and acceleration and deceleration, everything that goes under the umbrella of athleticism. And I was able to work with some really good players and really good coaches who taught me every bit as much as I’d like to believe I taught them, and then decided I was going to take all of those lessons and pivot those to a new audience, which is what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so can you tell us an example maybe of, hey, here’s something that you did in that realm, beyond just strength, and then what result that emerged there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, I think the foundation of it all, and I know you had mentioned with the rest in peace with the very sudden and untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from Kobe at a camp that I worked for him back in 2007, and it’s actually how I open every single keynote with that story of meeting him. And the lesson that he taught me was that if you want to be great at something, you never get bored with the basics, that you fall in love with the fundamentals and you fall in love with the process of doing the basics over and over during the unseen hours until you come as close to mastery as possible.

That is incredibly applicable to every walk of life. I mean, that’s something that is very true on the basketball court. With a basketball player, you have to work on your footwork because your footwork is involved in everything you do on the court. And then I translate that same message to folks in the corporate world, about figuring out, “What are your basics and your fundamentals that you need to master to be awesome at your job?” And once folks have an understanding of those, then they just need to have the humility and the consistency to do them every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could highlight what are some of those basics that show up a lot for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Almost unilaterally in any industry, I can’t think of anything where being a better listener wouldn’t serve you very well. If you’re in any type of leadership position, you’re a manager, or a director, or a supervisor, an executive, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in customer service or customer experience, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be drastically heightened if you improved your ability to actively listen, to ask insightful questions, then listen to the response, and then make sure that either your response or your behavior pivots accordingly based on what they said.

And not only does this help you take in more accurate information and make better decisions, but anytime we listen to someone, it unconsciously shows them that we care about them. Because, in today’s day and age, our attention in the present moment is our most valuable currency. And when you show someone by listening with good eye contact and warm body language and nodding your head, you’re showing them that you’re willing to invest your most precious resource and your most precious currency into them. And that is a glue that strengthens human connection. And, regardless of what vocation you’re in, we’re all in the relationship and people business, and anytime we can strengthen those connections, it’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’m on board. Listening sounds great and more of it would be good. We’ve had a couple episodes about listening and, boy, I think we’d have a whole lot more. So, let’s dig in a little bit here.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’ve put a lot of these insights into your book Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best. What are some of the top high-performance secrets from the best of the best? One of them we talked about was basics. And I think we’re going to revisit that one some more. But what do you say is the big idea and some of those top secrets we should all know?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what’s kind of funny is my publisher always gets irritated with me when they think I’m disparaging the subtitle, but I told them, in jest, “We’re going to use the word secrets because it’s something that attracts people, and we want to get as many eyes on this book as possible, but there really are no secrets to high performance.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve lied to us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
I have. What it takes to be awesome at your job, those pillars are readily available to anyone. In fact, there are things that most people already know intuitively and intellectually, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing them. That’s really the big idea of the book is what’s called a performance gap. And that’s the gap between what we know we’re supposed to do and what we actually do. And if you want to be awesome at your job, you have to learn how to close that gap.

A perfect example would be I bet everyone of your listeners right now knows what healthy foods are, knows that they’re supposed to get adequate sleep every night, and knows that they’re supposed to do some type of physical fitness workout throughout the week, a couple of times a week. I mean, I don’t think there’s a functioning adult on the planet that doesn’t know those three things to improve health, vitality, longevity, so everybody knows that but we can even look at the statistics, not very many people are doing that. Not many people eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and workout consistently.

And that’s a perfect example of, in health and fitness, performance gap. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but very few people do it. And when I bring that up, it’s never to disparage or diminish someone, it’s never to call them out or to make them feel bad, it’s simply to shine the light on the fact that you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it. And that’s where we have to start making progress.

I just use health and fitness as an example because it’s an easy one. We could easily say the same thing for our financial lives or for relationships. There’s not a person alive that doesn’t know what things they should do to continue to have a thriving marriage, yet many people, after 10 to 20 years of being married, they no longer do those things, and then they wonder why their relationship is on the rocks. Or financially. Does anyone know you’re not supposed to save some money and put some money away for the future? Everybody knows that but not very many people do it.

And, to me, I’ve always been fascinated why groups of really intelligent people, which is what we all are walking around as human beings, why would we not do the things that we know we’re supposed to do. And the answer comes down to these things aren’t always easy to do. And we all, as human beings, usually default to what’s easiest and most comfortable, yet that’s not very often the path to growth, is ease and comfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there’s lots there. I like it. So, there’s quite the distinction there between it’s basic, in other words it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy. It takes some effort from you. So, they call it entropy or whatever the concept is. We like our comfort and kind of doing what feels good in a given moment and not maybe what seems super boring because it’s basic and you’ve done it a lot of times. So, yeah, I think you did a fine job of teeing up the challenge, there’s a performance gap, that we’re not doing the things that we know we should or could do to get the results that would be helpful.

So, let’s talk about some ways to push through that then if you want to do more of the basics. And I’m just going to say for being awesome at your job, boy, we could talk about a lot. I think sleep is a big one. Listening is a big one. I think maybe one would be not checking your email constantly but rather just take, I don’t know, a couple batch times a day. Email is easier and maybe interesting, like, “What I have to do now is kind of boring and hard, but my email might be cool and easy, so let me go over there.” Maybe making a list of things that are the most critical to do during this day or week or month, and then making sure that you attack them.

So, those are some of the basics. We’ve heard it from many guests many times. So, if you’re not doing it, you’re not feeling it, how do you start doing it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, absolutely. I’ve got a basic process to follow but not necessarily an easy one. I’m so glad that you brought up the difference between those two because many people do use basic and easy as if they’re interchangeable, as if they’re synonymous, and they’re not. I tell folks all the time during my keynotes, “Everything I’m going to share with you today is going to be very basic. Nothing I’m going to share with you today is going to be easy to implement because if it was, you’d already be doing it.”

So, first and foremost, and this is just kind of the ground level, you have to have the self-awareness enough to know that you have a performance gap. Like, you have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I know I’m supposed to get enough sleep but I don’t. I know I’m supposed to save money but I’m not.” So, without awareness, then you just continue to go through life a loop. So, once you have the awareness then there’s a very distinct three-step process.

The first process is once you’ve narrowed it down to the performance gap that you’re talking about, and let’s just say it’s getting more sleep, then you just have to pick one habit or one behavior that you want to change. You see, especially with a lot of high performers and high drivers, they’re enticed into wanting to change several things at once, “I’m going to get blackout curtains for my room. I’m going to get an easy Nest Thermostat for my room. I’m going to buy a sleep mask. I’m going to take this cocktail of melatonin supplements at night.” And they come up with this long list of things they’re going to do, and then they up getting so stifled by it that they end up doing none of it. The key is just picking one thing to have hyper focus on.

So, if you realize that you’re not getting adequate sleep, pick one thing, and let’s just say that one thing is going to be, “I’m going to set a consistent bedtime.” So, that’s the only thing you’re going to focus on. You’re not going to worry about anything else right now, just the one thing. Then the next thing you need to do, so once you’ve established that one thing, is you want to aim to do that for 66 straight days. You want to start to build some momentum and some continuity.

Now, there’s nothing really magical about 66 except there is some research out there that says that when you do something daily for 66 days in a row, it starts to reduce the friction. So, I just like that because it’s an easy number to remember and it could be something very visual. I’m a visual guy so, for me, I’ll go get an old-school calendar from Office Depot and a big red Sharpie, and every night that I go to bed, at this bedtime that I set, I’m going to put a big red X on my calendar, and I’m going to be committed to doing this until there’s 66 red X’s in a row.

Now, anyone that’s into habits, I highly recommend you read James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits. Most of everything I teach on habits has come from James, and he’s got a lot deeper insight into that concept. But let’s just try to build some momentum, so that’s the second step. So, we pick one thing, we’re committed to doing it for 66 days. And then the third piece is you need to keep the spotlight of accountability on, and you do this by insulating yourself with an accountability partner or an accountability group of people that is going to hold you to that.

So, in this example, I might say, “Hey, Pete, I’m really trying to get better sleep at night. I promised myself I’m going to go to bed every night at 9:30. I’m going to make a commitment to doing this for the next 66 days, but would you mind checking in with me? Since you’re my buddy, would you mind texting me every morning and asking me if I did go to bed at 9:30 so that way I’ve got someone else keeping that light on me?”

And, statistically, if you’re willing to focus on one thing at a time, you’re committed to doing it for 66 days and you have some self-accountability, and you get people that you know want to see you successful hold you accountable, if you do those three things, you have a really good chance of changing that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, then I suppose that you lock one in over the course of 66 days, and then start another, as opposed to doing multiples at once. You focus on one at a time, and then you give it that amount of time before you take on another.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You nailed it. And, to me, that’s the main reason that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work it’s because of the plural part, because most people wake up on January 1st and say, “I’m going to eat better. I’m going to get more sleep. I’m going to start working out. I’m going to start saving money. I’m going to start doing this. I’m going to call on my…” and they want to do all of these things. While I certainly applaud how noble their intentions are, and I love that they’re trying to better themselves, statistically, by the third or fourth week of January, most of those people aren’t doing most of those things. And it’s because, as human beings, we’re wired to have that hyper focus. So, set yourself up for success by only picking that one thing and having hyper focus.

And that, in and of itself, is hard to do because most people think, “Oh, I can handle two or three changes at once. Oh, those statistics are for normal people. I can do it.” Well, you might be the exception, but let’s play the odds in our favor, let’s use the statistics and the research to say, “I’m going to do my very best to stay focused on this one thing.” Very basic in premise, very hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve fallen for that myself, “Oh, I can handle doing that more and more.” The compromise I try to reach myself when I’m having this argument is like, “Okay. Well, only one of them counts.” It’s like for the X, if you will, on the calendar, the points, or to report to the accountability partner, it’s like, “The rest are like extra credit. If you really feel like it or you’re in the mood, go for it, but I’m not bending over backwards to pull those off.” It’s like it’s the one thing that gets the point scored and gets supported out.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Exactly. And I think we can all fall victim to that. And, once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change more than one thing at a time, and I’m not saying people can’t do it. I’m just saying we should all have the humility to go into it not thinking that we’re the exception and let’s do our best with this. And, of course, these, I’m throwing out a very general prescription.

I don’t think anything is one size fits all, but I think if you’re going to start, you’re better off starting conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. So, then let’s talk about some of the basics that make a world of difference. Sleep, I think, is huge, and so we’ve given that as an example. What have you found, I’d say particularly for professionals, are some basics, some habits, that are often real top contenders for being things that unlock a whole lot of power for you?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’ll do is I’m going to give you a framework so that your listeners can actually figure out what those things are for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’d say is, for your listeners, to take five or ten minutes, and I just want you to reflect on the four or five activities that really fill your own bucket, that charge you up physically, mentally, emotionally. Sit with pen to paper and think, “What things get me going?” Maybe it’s taking a yoga class or a spin class. Maybe it’s prayer or meditation. Maybe it’s quietly reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, or taking a hot bath, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever activities fill your bucket, I want you to come up with a list of those four or five things.

And then take another few minutes, and I want you to reflect on what your morning and evening routine looks like. Jot down what you do most mornings and what you do most evenings. Now, I’m aware that most people listening, if you work a conventional job, your Wednesday morning is not going to be the same as your Sunday morning, or your Saturday evening is not the same as your Tuesday evening. That’s okay. But I’m willing to bet that what you do most Wednesday mornings and what you do most Sunday evenings is probably fairly similar because, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit.

So, just start to etch out what you do on the bookends of your day, and then you’ve got these two sets of notes. And what I want you to do is compare those two sets. I want you to see if you’re actually making time in the beginning and end of your day to do the things that you know fill your bucket. And for most people, this is when they start to find some glaring performance gaps. They know that taking a yoga class or meditating or taking their dog for a walk are the things that jive them up, and yet they don’t make the time to do those things near as often as they should. And that’s why I want folks to start making the first little tweaks is using the bookends of your day, the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you go to bed, to do things that refill your bucket, because that’s the only way for you to be awesome at your job, is if your bucket is full. It’s the only way you can serve others.

There’s an old adage that’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been breathing that says, “You can’t pour anything out of an empty cup,” which means if your cup is empty, you have nothing to give other people. So, in order for you to be the most awesome you can be at your job, you have to make sure your battery is always charged and your bucket is always full. And the last way I’ll illustrate that, since I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if the Lakers are playing tonight or not, but I know if they had a game tonight and LeBron showed up, and he didn’t get good sleep, he wasn’t well-hydrated, he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t do his stretches or his corrective exercises, if he didn’t do all of those things, and he showed up tonight, he would give the Lakers less of a chance to win because he chose not to fill his bucket before he showed up.

And we all have to view ourselves as kind of the LeBron of our jobs in that, “When I show up, I need to show up as my best self. And in order to be my best self, I have to make the time to take care of myself.” And when we’re all willing to do that, that’s the most basic principle we should all be living by to become the best versions of ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much good stuff there. Thank you. Thank you, Alan. So, let’s talk about the game day, if you will. You talk about playing present, and so, I guess, part of the game was, hey, prepping in advance, and then another part of the game is really being present while you’re there. First of all, what do you mean by this term?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’ve heard both Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, and I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey, who I probably need to say her last name because she’s that famous. They’ve both used the term “Be where your feet are.” And I love that because, to me, it has such a strong connotation of being in the present moment. Be where your feet are.

Now, if anyone listening is going, “Well, how could you be anywhere other than your feet?” Now, I’m talking about the connection between mind and body, because in today’s day and age of digital distractions, there’s plenty of times where we’re somewhere, well, we’re not really somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
He was using his fingers on the phone since we’re not recording the video.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, and that’s ultimately the problem. And I think a lot of us do that. You’re out to lunch with someone, and you’re so preoccupied with your phone that you’re not really with that person. And the key to high performance is making sure mind, body, and soul are all aligned right where you are. And, once again, very basic premise, very, very difficult to do, especially with all of these digital distractions that we have. So, learning how to be in the moment, not distracted by the past, not worried about the future, not worried about the play that just happened, but completely focused on the next play is vital to being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I buy it. And so then, how do we get there? In terms of if we’re naturally distracted by our devices or other thoughts, worries, what else we need to be doing, how do we develop the capacity to be present?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Like anything else, it’ll take some practice. And, as I said before, it starts with awareness. So, first, you have to be aware of when you’re not present. You have to be able to catch yourself saying, “Man, there I go thinking about yesterday,” or, “Here I am worried about tomorrow,” or, “Here I’m constantly letting my phone own me instead of me owning it.” So, you have to have the awareness. And once you have the awareness, then you’ll start to catch yourself more quickly. And once you do that, the other part is really important, is giving yourself some grace and some compassion. Just know that even a Tibetan monk of 80 years isn’t present every moment of every day.

Now, they’re present more consistently than probably guys like you and I are, but nobody is perfect, and I don’t ever want someone to get stifled by perfection. I want you to be motivated and inspired by progress not stifled by perfection. So, just know that you’re never going to have a day where you’re 100% present every moment of every day. But can you be more present today than you’ve been in the past? Can you have a self-talk or a triggering mechanism that you catch yourself when you’re not present to snap yourself back into the moment?

I, literally, say to myself, not out loud, they’d have me committed, I’d say to myself, “Be where your feet are. Be where your feet are. Don’t worry about that, that one is over, Alan. Get back to the present.” And I really believe that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to refocus the lens on the next most important thing regardless of the environment. It’s the acronym WIN, W-I-N, what’s important now. And as long as you can always stay focused on what’s important now, you’ll be in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, be where your feet are. I’ve heard some variations. I think it’s from Joseph Goldstein, a mindfulness teacher, talking about, “Sit and know that you are sitting.” I don’t know if he made it up but I think it’s really good, or just sort of breathe and know that you’re breathing. Because, in a way, it’s like, “Well, of course, I know I’m sitting. Of course.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not really sort of there-there in terms of what’s going on.” So, be where your feet are, another way to convey that. I dig it.

And so then, I’d also want to get your view, if we’re kind of focused in the present moment, is it possible to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall goal because we’re just, maybe, I don’t know, reacting, responding, we’re so in the now moment of what’s happening, we’re not sort of charting a course and driving to wherever we’re trying to go? Is that a risk?

Alan Stein, Jr.
That’s an excellent perspective, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with numerous times, because we can look both ways on that. I mean, for one, even though I want to be focused on the present, I still want to make sure I’m learning from the past. If I step on a landmine today, I want to make sure tomorrow I don’t step on the same ones. So, part of us does need to have a system in place where we’re constantly looking at previous performances and finding ways to tweak those and move it forward so that we continue to get better.

And then, along the same lines, what you just brought up so insightfully is we also want to make sure we’re prepared for the future. I mean, right now I’m focused on the present moment, but I’m hoping tomorrow does come around and I want to make sure I’m ready for tomorrow. So, I think we want to make sure that we pay homage to both, that learning from the past and being prepared for the future, but we don’t live in either one of those spaces. We’re aware of them, we’re doing our due diligence on both sides, but we’re still in the present moment.

A perfect example would be somebody in sales. They’ve got a yearly quota, or a quarterly quota, of things they’re suppose to sell, and it’s okay to have that number off into the distance, “I’m suppose to sell a hundred whatever by the end of February,” and that’s great to know that but I don’t want to live there. What I want to constantly ask myself is, “What do I need to do today to get me closer to that 100 goal? What do I need to do this hour that will take me closer to that goal? What do I need to do right now, in this very moment, that will take me closer to that goal? And if I can stay in the moment and in the process, there is a very good chance that outcome of 100 will simply take care of itself.” Especially, if you have some analytics behind it.

If you know that every 10 prospects you reach out to, one of them buys, well, now it’s simple math. If every 10, one of them buys and you have to sell a hundred, well, it sounds like you need to reach out to a thousand people over the course of a month. Well, if we divide that thousand by a five-day workweek, four weeks by 20, that tells me how many calls I need to make every single day to be in the process of being able to reach that actual goal. Some days you’ll go higher, some days you’ll go lower, but then if I know that I have to make X number of calls today, I don’t want to worry about any of the calls except for the one I’m about to make right now. That is the only call that matters because it’s the only one that’s directly in front of me.

And then no matter whether this call goes well or not, it’s in the rearview mirror and now I focus on the next call. And this is very similar to building a brick wall. If you’re tasked with building a brick wall, the best advice I have for you is lay each and every brick with care and precision. And if you put your focus on laying each brick perfectly, there’s a very good chance that wall will just take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you are an excellent mason in the Chicago area, get in touch with me because I need to hire one. Thank you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, perfect. And whoever that person is, you make sure you lay Pete’s bricks brick by brick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, right. Well, that’s a whole another talk, that’s a whole another conversation, in terms of people being awesome at their job in the home renovation world. That could be hard to find at times. So, anyway, refocusing on here and now, huh? How’s that for presence and tie-in.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Oh, that was perfect. Look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. So, I want to get your take on is there anything else you really want to make sure we mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, those are really the big ones. And I readily acknowledge that there’s really nothing sexy about anything I’ve just shared. There’s nothing flashy, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing trendy. Master the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. Do your best to stay present. Those things aren’t sexy, that’s why they’re not tons of Facebook memes or Nike slogans with those in them, but those are what’s required at being awesome at your job. And once you’ve found something that you love to do, if you can fall in love with that process and doing that work on a daily basis, you will be awesome at your job.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
“If you do the things others won’t do, you’ll have the things others won’t have.” And that really is something that piggybacks on everything that I just shared. If you’re willing to commit to the basics, which most people aren’t, you’ll have plenty of things that other people don’t have. If you’re willing to be an active listener to the people you care about, you’ll have deeper relationships than most other people have. If you’re willing to lay each brick with care and precision, you’ll probably build sounder and nicer walls than anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ll get a lot of referrals.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yes, absolutely. Without question.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, there was an interesting on that goes back on that why I told your listeners to pick one thing. There’s a gentleman named John Berardi, who was the Founder and CEO of a company called Precision Nutrition, and he did a study and he found that when you try to focus on one behavior change, you have an 85% chance of being successful, that as soon as you try to split that in half and change two behaviors at the same time, rate of success drops to 40% to 45%, so almost cut in half.

And then if you try to focus on three things at once, it drops down to 4% or 5%. So, once again, the statistics will show and the research will show that if you want to change a behavior, just focus and get hyper clear on that one thing to change. I remember when I read that for the first time, that was eye-opening to me because at the time, I was trying to juggle many changes at once all of the time and was getting frustrated with myself that none of it was working.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Leading with the Heart by Coach K. That was one of the first, like epiphanic books that I read from cover to cover in one sitting that just completely jolted the way that I look at building teams, and leading, and creating cohesion with an organization. It’s an old book but it’s still just as good as the day it came out.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I use the Headspace, the meditation app, the guided meditation, and I use it daily. It’s a 10-minute guided meditation which allows me to start my day in a much more present way, it allows me start my day in a grounded and mindful way, and it just kind of, in a very soothing way, talks you through 10 minutes of keeping you present. And I really love it because I’m a pretty competitive guy, and there’s kind of a daily run clock on it which will say how many days in a row is your Headspace streak. And as of this morning, at the time of this recording, I have done this for 929 straight days without missing a Headspace daily meditation. And, for me, I just love that.

Back to the brick-by-brick analogy, most people will think, “Well, 10 minutes of meditation, what’s that going to do?” Well, I agree, a one-time 10 minutes slice of meditation will do nothing for you, but I’m living proof that 10 minutes a day, for 929 straight days, can have a seismic effect on your presence, and awareness, and mindfulness, and mood, and the way you start your day. So, it goes back to the brick-by-brick. One brick doesn’t make a wall. Several bricks laid perfectly, now you’ve got yourself a sound, sturdy wall.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because here you are, a case study, 900 plus days, so not a lifetime, under three years, but an awesome habit that’s locked in. So, you say it’s made quite a difference. Can you sort of lay that out for us? Because I think there’s a lot like borderline, fence-riding, half-meditators listening to this show, and I’m one of them in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I did that. That felt kind of good. okay, I’m glad I did that.” And then I got busy, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” So, it’s up and down, and I’m generally on board that the data is clear, the research that the benefits exceed the costs, and then sometimes I just get wrapped up, and it’s like, “That sounds boring. I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.” I’m a little sassy or self-indulgent, and at other times I do it and I’m so glad I did. Other times I do it, I was like, “Okay, well, that happened.” So, let’s get your take so that myself and listeners may be convinced. What is different for you now as compared to 900 plus days ago?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I mean, the biggest difference I would say is kind of my mood and outlook in how I start the day. Like many people, I used to wake up and the first thing I would do would be check my phone, check text messages, email, social increase, and I started to find, like most people, that I was giving my power away, that. I was putting my mood and rolling the dice into the hands of anyone that text me, emailed me, or sent me something on social, and many times I was losing that battle. I would get something that would frustrate me, or irritate me, or upset me, and it’s the very first thing I’m putting on my hard drive in the morning, and I just decided that enough was enough.

And I wanted to make sure that that was not what I was doing to start my day, and I needed something else to replace it. And around this time, somebody that was a mentor and very influential to me, was talking about his own Headspace meditation journey and how much it had helped him, and I think it was just perfect timing.

Everything that you just said, I found true especially in those first few months. There were times I didn’t feel like doing it, there were times where, even in that 10 minutes, I couldn’t stay present for more than 10 seconds. My mind would start racing about all of the things I had to do that day. But over time, it just started to chip away, and, over time, I just found that I was becoming more mindful. I was becoming better with just sitting in silence for 10 minutes, that I was starting my day with a little more pep in my step, with a little wider smile because I was in this rounded fashion.

I also like the consistency of it. I travel a ton as a professional speaker and this is something that I can do whether I’m home or whether I’m traveling. It’s something I can do whether my kids are with me or they’re not with me, so I had some control over it. And then, as I mentioned, I’m rather competitive, so once I had done it for 10 straight days, I was like, “Well, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep it going.” And, yes, there were definitely a few times where I did not feel like doing it but I was like, “You know what, I can’t let my streak break.”

I started putting it out on social because that’s a form of accountability. I had people come up to me at my talks all the time and say, “Hey, Alan, what’s your Headspace streak up to?” because they remember a few months ago I posted how many days I had in a row. So, it’s kind of a self-accountability, like I mentioned earlier with that spotlight, but it’s definitely allowed me to start my day in a much more mindful and controlled manner. And I know that’s very hard to measure, once again it’s not super sexy, but I’ve found that it’s a great tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the most compelling there was you’re not putting your mood in other’s hands, so, I mean, it’s powerful right there. So, then, some meditation, Headspace is the tool. I was going to ask about a favorite habit. That might be it, but if you have another one, lay it on us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You know, the longest running habit that I’m aware of that I have is probably going on 26, 27 years now, and it’s similar to the meditation. I make my bed first thing every single morning. I do that because I’m a firm believer that it takes discipline to make your bed. I mean, it might only take 8 to 10 seconds but it takes a little discipline, and that discipline is the key to freedom. Discipline is the key to everything that we want in life. If your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, well, self-discipline is what’s going to allow you to achieve that.

If you’re a hard-driver and your goal is success and significance in the board room, discipline is what’s going to allow you to do that. So, I love knowing that I start every single day with a very small simple act of discipline, and then I’d parlay that right into my meditation, and the first 11 minutes of my day, I’ve kind of set the groundwork for the rest of the day. And if the rest of the day is going to be filled with adversity and challenge and chaos, and I’m expected to respond and put out fires, I’m able to handle those things much better just by laying that foundation first thing in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really resonates with folks and they quote it back to you, you’re known for it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The number one, and this is not an Alan Stein, Jr. original, I think Coach K was the first to do it, but where I really learned it was from Mike Jones, who was the head basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I worked for him for six years, and was just phenomenal. And he always talks about this concept of next play, and it’s part of being present. And, basically, what he says, anytime during a basketball game when things don’t go well, Coach Jones says, “Next play.”

So, a player turns the ball over. No worries. Next play. You missed a wide-open layup. It’s all right. Next play. I know, the referee missed that call. Next play. And that mindset is what allows you to be in the present moment. You don’t worry about what just happened, you’re focused on now and what’s about to happen next. And I’ve had many people in my keynotes, you know, I’ll give a 90-minute keynote and they’ll say that was the stickiest most helpful thing I shared was the ability to move to the next play. And many people have told me, I mean, they use it with their children, they use it with their families, I know I use it with my kids all the time.

My kids would get into arguing about something, and I’ll say, “All right, let’s resolve this,” and then we’re moving to the next play. My kids will say they want a dessert after dinner, and I’ll say, “Well, not tonight,” and they whine about it. I say, “Hey, we’re moving onto the next play.” And that terminology, I found to be really sticky and something that’s been very helpful for not only myself but lots of people that I’ve worked with.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com if they want to learn more about the book. And if they want to hear more about my speaking services and what I do on social, they can go to AlanSteinJr.com.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I would say, actually, what you just said, is to put something that we talked about today into action, that knowledge without action is useless. I mean, it’s no different than the book on your shelf that you haven’t read. It’s doing nothing to help you. So, while you may have been sitting here listening to this episode and nodding your head, maybe even taking some notes and thinking, “Wow, this is great stuff they’re talking about,” if you don’t actually put it into motion, it’s not going to change anything. So, just remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in your future adventures.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you.

544: How to Build Exceptional Influence in a Noisy Digital Age with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "Transaction is the opposite of influence."

Richard Medcalf shares strategies to grow your influence despite the noise and overwhelm of the digital world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The language that gets people to listen to you
  2. The two ways of effectively relating with anyone
  3. A quick trick to exude charisma and confidence

About Richard:

Richard Medcalf has advised exceptional founders and senior executives in complex, fast-moving industries for over 20 years. After earning a first-class degree at Oxford University, Richard became the youngest-ever partner at tech-sector strategy consultancy Analysys Mason. He then moved to tech giant Cisco, where he held various senior positions over 11 years, most notably being hand-picked for an elite team set up by Cisco’s CEO to lead new board-level business initiatives. Believing that there’s no business transformation without personal transformation, he founded Xquadrant to work at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose and help digital-age leaders create extraordinary positive impact.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

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

Richard Medcalf
Hi, Pete. Fantastic to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to have you and I really appreciate you staying up extra late in France to have this conversation with us.

Richard Medcalf    
No, that’s great. It’s 11:00 p.m. here but I’m energized and ready to go, so let’s do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I see it and I’m excited. Well, I want to kick it off, you have a very impressive bio but at the same time you also discuss vulnerability in some of your work. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask for you to publicly admit something that you’re terrible at. I’ll start just to break the ice. And that is I’m not good at drawing three-dimensional shapes. I had a new product design class and that was actually a reasonable part of it and I didn’t do so well and it was so embarrassing, they’re like, “What is wrong with you?” So, now, the world knows that. But, meanwhile, I’m looking at your bio, I was like, “Man, this guy looks like he’s amazing at everything he touches.” But that’s never quite true, and it’s always comforting, so lay it on us.

Richard Medcalf
No, yeah, I can give you that. Well, I think my kids would say that I’m just bad at animals, like any animal comes near me, I’m jumping around, freaking out. Really bad. Like, when my daughter was one, we went to Australia to see some family there, and she stroke a baby kangaroo or something, and I was like, “Okay, Richard, come on. You’re 40, whatever it is, years old. Go and stroke that damn kangaroo.” So, that’s probably the funny one. And then probably I think I come from a long line of people in my family who are just not particularly good at sports, and that’s all we’ve been like. I was always the last to be chosen in school teams and all that kind of stuff. So, I think I had a school report that said, “Richard tries hard at a subject to which he’s not naturally gifted.” So, I said, “All right.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the kindest possible way that they could articulate that. I, likewise, didn’t do well in most sports. I was good at swimming. Weightlifting, depending on the lift. But, anyway, now we know. Thank you. You’re on the record. But I want to mostly talk about influence today, that’s one of your areas of expertise and so let’s dig in. And maybe if you could tee this up for us with maybe a compelling story that captures just what’s at stake when it comes to professionals being influential or just what is possible when a typical professional upgrades their influence game.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, going to my story a little bit, and, again, be a bit vulnerable about times when I actually didn’t sure I have the influence I needed. So, my story in a nutshell is I studied in Oxford University, I got like a top grade there, ran into consulting, strategy consulting, became a partner very fast in that. I think it was just a lucky fit having to be good at that as a bit of random choice but it worked well. And then I moved into Cisco, it’s obviously a massive global company, a smaller fish in a bigger pond. And I think I didn’t manage that transition actually particularly well. It took me a while because I had a lot of expertise to bring but I hadn’t quite understood quite how much you needed to work that broader organization to really have an impact.

And so, I think if I look back and I’m honest, I think I kind of got a bit pigeonholed into the next big role for a while, and they’re quite high-profile projects, they’re quite having a certain impact but I kind of knew that there was more that I should’ve been doing and there was more of me that I wasn’t bringing to the table. And so, I think there was this gap where I was kind of trying to struggle with, “How do I actually do this?” And nothing was bad but I just knew that there were others perhaps who’d made a much better transition in, and I was seeing I was a bit envious.

So, I started to kind of dig into this and think about it and a bit of self-reflection and I started to realize, actually, as often the case, that all of these answers are actually under our nose, and we have to kind of do the thinking and do the searching and come back to it, and say, “Well, what have I really got to offer and to whom?” a number of other things. And the net of that was my last role in Cisco, before I then left and setup my own company Xquadrant, was actually part of a small group setup by the CEO and global head of sales of Cisco to really have influence, to really capitalize strategic partnerships between Cisco and some of its large customers and partners.

And so, that was a role where it wasn’t a hierarchical power role. It was very much about, “How do we actually get people who are not under my direct control, not even in my own company, to perhaps collaborate in ways that they weren’t used to?” And so, that for me was really where that whole journey was where I got passionate about this idea of, “How do we all take our impact up a game, up a notch, play a bigger game and channel our natural skills in the best possible way to have the impact that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that is pretty cool transformation from, okay, you’re kind of hanging out and treading water for a little while in the career because of not having those influence skills, and then you’re selected for a role that is just chock-full of this influencing-type activities and requirements, so that’s pretty cool. So, it seems like you learned a thing or two to get that role and to flourish within that role. So, can you lay it on us, what are some of the foundational principles that can make a professional influential?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, let me give you a few of the models that I’ve been using and I found really helpful. But, perhaps just to go back a second and just to realize that the context that we’re in, whether we lead or whether we’re an individual contributor, the whole world has shifted, as we know, with digital technology and everything else, and so there are these very unique contexts for making things happen. As I said before, most of this is actually in the roles where we can’t just tell our subordinates what to do and get everything done, right? Almost every role, even if you have a big team, is going to involve influencing across those boundaries. But there are some traps that I see.

So, the first one is this always on culture, right? Everyone is always connected, there’s always things going on. I call it managing infinity because it’s an infinity of people to speak to, movies to watch, books to read, emails to address, tasks to write. It’s never finished. It’s always on. But we often find ourselves neither really productive, or neither really present, and more to the point, we often do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we’re trying to be productive when we should be present with people, and we’re perhaps getting distracted when we should be being productive.

So, we’ve all been in that situation where it’s a social event and somebody’s on their phone doing emails, it’s just not the right time, an undermine of influence. Or if you’re in a meeting, and the boss is like on his phone and not listening to your presentation, he actually undermines his or her influence at that point with you, you think, “What’s going on? Is something wrong with this work? What’s going on?” And so, the first thing is to realize that always on actually has a bit of a trap because if we’re not in the right mode at the right time, we don’t see it, we see it in others.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And that undermines it. And I think the other one that I’d speak to is the virtual world. In other words, we have distributed teams, and a lot of times we get onto conference calls for a lot of our work, and the issue is it can become very transactional at that point. We all know that example, anyone who’s been in a distributed team where there’s a conference call, people get on, people are in awkward silence, perhaps the odd comment here and there, the odd bit of banter but it’s pretty quiet, people are doing their emails, typing away, people are joining, it’s a bit awkward, and then suddenly, “Okay, let’s go. Right.” And we start.

And so, if you imagine in the real world, if you’re all in the same office, those five minutes would be spent finding out about each other’s weekend, the family, “What’s going on? You look a bit tired, stressed,” and so forth. And so, relationships can get very transactional because of the digital culture. And I think that is actually something, if you are working in a distributed team, you need to be careful about, because transaction is the opposite of influence, really, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued then, I think some people worry they might lose influence if they are not responsive and fast enough in replying to whether it’s Slack or email or whatnot. So, how do you think about the, if it’s tradeoff or it’s just a matter of, “Hey, you schedule time to do both, and then you do both, then you engage appropriately based on what you’re doing”? I guess this is all vary organization by organization, and request by request, but how fast do you got to respond to maintain influence?

Richard Medcalf
I think there’s a lot of fear around this topic, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, and as ever, it’s always the other side of the fear, that you actually get into a safer place, and probably few, a more secure place. And so, think of people that you really admire and respect, they’re not always easy to get in touch with. The people who are available at the drop of a hat, your esteem of them doesn’t necessarily go zooming up just because they’re super responsive. They’re super responsive, it’s useful, it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an excellent distinction. “Yes, I appreciate it, that’s cool of them, it’s convenient, but my esteem doesn’t go up. It’s like, “That is a true professional, rock star, person of influence I respect.” It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that. Thanks.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. And so, I think there’s a time in my consulting career where I think I pretty got a promotion delayed by that six months because I took on too many projects because they’re all really high-profile projects and I thought, “This is fantastic opportunity,” but I took on like all three of them. Frankly, if I’d done one of them really, really well, I would’ve been promoted. As it was, I did three of them okay but I did not knock the ball out the park. It was fine. It was okay. The client was happy. We got signed up. But I think less can be more, and we forget that, and we think more is more, and it’s not. They don’t actually notice the quantity so much as the quality, right?

So, even if we’re in a job like sales where you got to get through, it’s actually, “Who are those 20% of clients that are really going to make the 80% of your revenues, right?” Yes, so I kind of try to force myself, as there’s barriers in place, and to realize that we’re often playing this game with ourselves and our mind about having to jump in. But when you’re always trying to be super responsive, you don’t create the space for the deep work that actually sets you apart.

In Cisco, one of the things I did do to increase my influence was I remember I actually carved out once, literally it’s just one day, where I took on some work I had done and turned it into a piece of thought leadership, like really said, “Okay, what have I learned? What is cutting edge here?” And I developed this little model and some material with it, and I remembered about 3:00 p.m. on that day, I was like, “What am I doing wasting my day writing this stuff?” I was like writer’s block and all that trying to do this stuff. And that day, I spent the time, I was like, “Well, was that just a waste of time?”

But, no, because suddenly I’ve created something that was valuable, that was unique, and the people had not seen it before. And, suddenly, it was in demand, the customers wanted to see it, I was flown here and there to deliver it. So, this investment of one day where I was not being responsive and much more impact than if I was just doing my emails all day. You know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, yeah. That’s very tactical, practical, tangible, and real, I love it, in terms of if we really look back, we can probably think there were a couple deliverables that changed everything, and they weren’t made with the email box open on the side with being interrupted every 10 minutes.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I say, often when I’m working with executives, I work a lot with senior executives in a kind of coaching capacity, and one thing I’ll say is there’s a slowdown because often we advance in the first part of our career by sheer churning things out, but we get to a stage where it’s like, “Okay, just stop a second. What’s the one phone call that’s going to make all the difference right now? What’s the one partnership to form? What’s the one thing you need to shift, the one conversation you need to have, whatever it is, that’s really slowing it down? What is that number one lever that’s going to have the most impact?” And I think when you do that, then you differentiate yourself, and people’s estimation of you rises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s excellent. Okay, cool. Well, then you mentioned there’s some traps, and we covered a couple. Are there more?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’d say there’s a number of traps. I think the other one is around noise, I suppose. We could use that one. So, just the sheer volume of content and information coming our way. So, when we want to create influence, this does matter because what we say can easily get lost in the mass of everything going on, that infinity I talked about.

So, one of the things that I do, I actually have a saying, my saying is, “Do you have a saying?” You see what I just did there? So, what I did is, the point is when you actually say, “I have a saying,” you actually put a context around what you’re about to say next and it becomes a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Richard Medcalf
Right? So, if I say to you, “I’ve got sayings. Slow down to speed up,” it’s a good saying, right? But it has more impact than if I just say “Slow down, to speed  up,” in the middle of a sentence that I’m rattling through.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. The receiver of that message naturally thinks, as I do, it’s like, “Well, what is it, Richard?” It’s like, “I’m listening. Bring it on.”

Richard Medcalf
And having a saying is important because language, we adopt language really powerfully. It’s a natural human instinct, right? I say language creates culture. So, if you want to change a culture, or a team, or your family, then think of the words that you use, because it’s how we celebrate. It’s how we relate. And so, as you kind of introduce words, and you use phrases, that does have a big impact.

The idea of a thing as a phrase, as a saying, is about context. So, I always say this, “You should never really have content without context.” So, the context is a frame around the content. So, if I’m going to say, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got something that’s really important for you to hear right now, and it’s going to change your life,” then you’re suddenly ready for it, you know what I mean? Whereas, if I just said it, you wouldn’t perhaps appreciate it, the fact that I really believe this was something important for you.

And so, say, if you’re talking to your boss, it might be one important issue you really want to raise and a load of tactical issues you do every with him. So, you might want to say, “Hey, today, there’s three or four things that we need to rattle through as normal, but there’s also one big topic that I think is really going to be important for how we work together in the coming year.” So, suddenly, they’re kind of mentally getting ready for that, and they’re kind of more ready to receive it. Whereas, if you suddenly launched in with whatever it is you want to say, they’re not mentally prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so powerful. And you said a couple of things that both reminded me of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion, which is outstanding. And in terms of language, how that shapes things, he told a story about how he did a presentation for a health, was it hospital or…it was health-oriented, and the presentations, they’re not allowed to call them bullet points, it’s like, “Bullets are weapons that harm people, so we don’t use those words here.” And at first he thought, “That’s kind of ridiculous,” but they’re saying, “Oh, this really does shape things in terms of the culture.” And then the context creating content, or shaping, making more impact, how do you say it? You don’t want content without context.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I say it frames. The context frames the content.

Pete Mockaitis
It frames. And I guess I’m thinking it amplifies in terms of it makes all the difference in terms of like, “What should I be paying attention to?” And I think this is all connecting in terms of, yes, in this digital noisy always-on and managing-infinity world, that becomes extra important to know. It’s like, “I’m looking at this here in a matter.” So, maybe, I would love it if you could just give us some more of your favorite content phrases. So, one is “I have a saying,” the other one is, “Hey, the really important thing is this.” What are some other just tried and true winners?

Richard Medcalf
I think a lot of them, to be honest, are kind of quite natural and would depend on the people, right? So, what I mean by that, you create context whenever you just create that sense of anticipation. And so, it’s as simple as, “Hey, I’ve something important to tell you.” That’s what we’re saying all the time to people. That already sets up a context.

So, as a leader, one of the things you’re trying to do actually is instill the way you think in other people, not to make everyone robots but to help them kind of make the decisions that you would need them to make rather than making all those decisions yourself. And so, for example, I was working with a leader at a global kind of industrial process engineering company, so it might’ve been chemical products and various things, and so safety is very important. And he was complaining that his team were not autonomous and coming to him for all sorts of decisions.

So, I said, “Well, how do you make decisions?” So, he talked about it, and it came down to he looks at the business impact of the decision and he looks at the safety impact, and those two things are so important because this stuff is so dangerous that they’ve got to be both up there equally. So, those were the basic questions. So, I said, “Well, when somebody comes to you with a question, would you say to them, ‘Hey…’”

“Well, first of all, you will tell them, ‘Well, you know, these are my criteria.’ But when they come to you with a question, you say, ‘You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you?’” Once again, it’s a bit of context. “Oh, yeah, you’re going to say, ‘What’s the business impact and what’s the safety impact?’” “You got it. So, please answer the question for me.”

And so, that’s another one. Slightly different framing the content because, first of all, you would have to deliver the content to say, “Hey, this is the way I would think about it, safety and…” Again, he’d probably say, “I have a rule of thumb.” Again, you’re kind of phrasing it, “I have a rule of thumb,” or, “I have a…” how could you put it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly, yeah. Mantra or guideline, yeah. I always look at the two big factors, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Anything like that. Yeah, exactly. So, “I have a manta.” It has to be positive on the business and positive for safety. So, you say that to them. And then, afterwards, when they come to you, you can then refer to that and they start to embed that way of thinking about the world. So, I think that’s just another way of doing it.

But it can just be as simple as starting a meeting by saying, or starting a conversation by really just explaining the relevance of what you’re going to say to somebody. If you want to have influence, you need them to put their ears up, right? So, you want to say, “Look, we’ve come up with a project proposal that we think is probably one of the most significant things that we can do this year. And, as well, we think we’ve really mitigated the risks, breaking it up.” But, suddenly, your boss is going to be interested in that, right? Whereas, if you just launched straight it, they might be checking their email still.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, my next question will forever transform the way every listener thinks about influence forever. See, I’m practicing.

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I can deliver. I was just practicing setting up some contexts. But I guess I am curious, so these are really great tools. And so, we’re talking in this context of technology. Can you share, are there some rules or guidelines or principles about influence that used to be true but now are not so much true? Like, “Hey, stop doing this,” given how we’re living today.

Richard Medcalf
It’s a great question. My instinctive reply to that is I think that it’s back to less is more, right? It’s back to everyone has lower attention spans, more solicitations, and so we need to make our interactions count I think even more. So, it’s not that it’s totally changed but I do think mistakes are risen on that because people don’t have time to listen to all of that stuff that you might want to tell them often. So, I’d say it’s more there’s dialed up, those things. It’s always been a good idea to be succinct and to say things and to have high quality when you open your mouth. But I think it’s probably gone up.

I have a little model which, I think, worked in the past but definitely works now, and I think could be helpful for people and certainly it worked with me and I can give you an example of this in a second, of this working out in practice. But it’s really this idea that, I’d say there’s two levels of relationship and influence. There’s the kind of transactional level, which is kind of about basic transactional trust which is important to establish. And then the second level is a deeper level of relational influence where you’re really seen as a trusted mentor or ally or somebody who’s really able to speak into your life.

So, on the transactional level, you might’ve heard of something similar to this, there’s various models around. It’s really these four Cs that’s very simple. So, there’s competency, chemistry, character, and criticality. So, first of all, character. So, character literally is like, “Do I believe the assembly with integrity? They’re not going to stab me in the back.” Who’s basically a good person, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
“In fact, are we going to work together with some degree of trust?” Chemistry is, “Well, are we going to basically enjoy working together enough, for that to be not a horrible experience?” Competency is, “Yeah, are you somebody that can actually do this job? Are you actually going to do the work and get it done?” And around that one, there’s often this question of confidence, so, “Are you confident in your own competency?” Often, there’s a whole load of people who are extremely competent but they actually kind of the traffic light goes red, one of the people think of them because they’re just not confident enough in their skills. So, that can be a real…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. There are some who are over-confident in their skills and they say things so assertively, like, “Oh, okay.” And then they’re like, “Wow, you were so wrong. I’m surprised based on how empathically you said that.” And then I think that diminishes influence in a hurry, it’s like, “Hmm, just because that guy seems really forceful and convinced doesn’t mean it’s true as experience has taught me.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so these traffic lights, I kind of imagine these four Cs with the traffic lights, and sometimes they all go green at the start for some people, a rare number, like when you meet them, they all go green. The question is, “Can these people deliver?” Often, those people are great at winning you over but then the delivery doesn’t quite match the elevated expectations.

And the fourth one is criticality. And the criticality, for me, is really essential. It’s about relevance. It’s, “Can you combine all these skills and character and everything else you’ve got and solve one of my top problems, actually do something meaningful? So, you’ve got the skill, but is it what I really need right now or is this a conversation for another day?” And so, here’s the thing, so in order to really get that good level of working together, you need green on all of those, okay? Character, chemistry, competency, and criticality.

The funny thing though is that we all naturally focus on two to start with. We want to unlock all four but we often look for two to start with, and once they’re validated, we move onto the other two. But we also project the thing to ourselves, to other people. So, for example, I know that, for me, whether it’s by birth or by training in consulting through my career, competency and criticality are really important. I’m always like, “Okay, how am I going to show to add my value, show that I know my stuff, show that I can speak into the situation right now?”

So, I tend to probably project that to other people as the first things, and also looking for, “Are these the people? Are they relevant to my strategic plans? Are they competent? Are they the people I’ll be working with?” Once I have that, I’ll then switch into, “Okay, as a person, are they the right fit, the right feel?”

Other people will start the other way. First of all, they want to build that relationship, that feeling, “Oh, yeah, this person, I get that they’re trustworthy, they’re really nice. Oh, yeah, they’re great people. Now, actually, can they do this job or this task that I have in mind?” And they’ll kind of work the other way around. So, they’ll start more in the relational side. And so, of course, what happens is that when somebody is more task-focused and somebody is more relational-focused meet up, they’re kind of projecting the wrong signals for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And it’s so funny, I’m often task-focused when I’m evaluating or early stages of evaluating like, “Am I going to buy something, like sign up for service or whatnot?” And so, I think it’s funny because a lot of salespeople have been trained, “Hey, you got to build that rapport and that relationship.” And so, I’m just thinking, “I already have my criteria. You have to check five boxes for us to continue this conversation,” and they’re like, “Yes, so where did you grow up?” It’s like, “I don’t want to talk about that now. Maybe we’ll discuss that if we end up having a longstanding business relationship. What I need to know from you is A, B, C, D, E, F.” So, yeah, that mismatch is annoying.

Richard Medcalf
So, they’re losing influence in that moment because what’s happening is they’re not picking up. You’re actually very task-focused in that moment and some people are probably, “I need a sales advisor. And is this person trustworthy? Do I want to talk to this person?” And so, it’s their reading. So, actually, when I work with sales teams, I talk so much about finding your own personality or be aware of your tendencies. Essentially, it’s about, “Can you read the person opposite and what are they looking for? What mode are they in? Are they trying to relate at this moment? Or are they trying to get down to business?” And you do need both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to identify. Just having that frame of mind, “Hey, is it more A, more B?” as you’re kind of assessing things. This is great. And then what are some of the telltale signs and indicators, “Ooh, this person is in business mode. Okay,” or, “Oh, this person is in relate mode.” What are some of your key…?

Richard Medcalf
I think you can pretty much detect, right? I think it’s kind of leaning forward versus leaning back effectively. Are we leaning forward, getting down, is it, “Okay, are we starting to talk about that always”? Or is it the opposite, actually not so pressed for time? They’re kind of more just interested in you, they haven’t got quite to the topic yet. Even just on their face, right? If they’re kind of smiley, they’d probably be more in relational mode. And if they’re kind of a bit more serious, they’re more in the processing stuff and they want to proceed on their role.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I relate to my nanny right now. I’m often in task mode because it’s like, “I’ve got to get this day started. I’ve been with the kids this morning and it’s been fun, but now the time is coming, there’s things to do.” And so, it’s like, “You know, I just changed the diaper and they woke up at this time, and welcome.”

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But then every once in a while, it’s sort of like the exception, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, how is it going? How’s your weekend?” I think that can be your indicator right there in terms of, “How was your weekend?” and they say, “Oh, it’s fine. We fixed our furnace.” Like, “Okay, that’s a quick fact.” As opposed to, “Oh, we just had the loveliest time. My mom came into town and she brought this delicious chili.” And I guess at the same time, and then sometimes I guess there’s a whole continuum as well. Like, some people maybe kind of overshare, it’s like, “Oh, I was just kind of being polite. I didn’t expect this level of detail about what you ate for each meal over the course of your weekend.”

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, so match and lead in those situations. So, matching is if they’re being relational, be relational. But then if you don’t want to stay there, then you can move the subject on.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that before, I was like, “Well, boy, I could talk about chili for a couple hours.” But, Richard, I want to make sure that we figure out the key principles of influence, so that’s good.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So, you’re talking here about environment as well, about presence and productivity. It’s really about, “What environment are we going into and what’s appropriate?” So, for example, if you’re going into basically some social setting, it might be a business social setting, it might be lunch break or whatever, and everyone is kind of chatting about social stuff, or they’re networking, or whatever they’re doing. And, suddenly, you walk up to your colleague and you start giving them all, “Oh, I got to catch up on the project, A, B, and C,” right? It’s just like, “What are you doing that for? Look around you, it’s not the right moment,” and that can create awkward stuff.

But we do it all the time. We get off the phone, we walk into the house, we’re on the phone, our family is happy to see us, and we’re still in task mode and we’re not present. Or the boss who has an open-door policy. I tend to say to a leader, “Don’t have an open-door policy. Be very intentional about when do you need to do your focused-work, when you need to do your task-level work, and actually when do you actually, when are you going to look up and actually be totally present for people?” So, actually have a smaller window but where you’re not secretly a bit annoyed if somebody walked in because you really are halfway through an email you need to finish. Because I think we can have an open-door policy, often you don’t quite focus on your work you’re meant to be doing, you’re not quite focused on the person who wants your attention unless you’re very, very disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, I’m really liking this. Do you have some slides, diagrams, charts, tables? Because it really seems like I’m seeing two columns and, like, side by side to make this contrast come alive. Do you have that? Can you make that? Can we link to that? I’m putting you on the spot.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, so I’ve actually already got a little thing on influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Richard Medcalf
Which is basically a three-step very simple process based on this kind of framework I’ve been explaining, very simple process to figure out. Who, right now, do you need most to exert your influence with? And where are you and where do you need to get to? What is the lever that you really need to focus on to do that? And so, I’ve set it up already. I can add in a couple of extra slides based on this conversation. But if you go to my, for the show notes, my company, Xquadrant.com/awesome and that’ll be there for you and for everybody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I appreciate that. And, boy, we had some fun getting deep into it. Tell me, Richard, anything you wanted to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Richard Medcalf
I think we’ve covered a lot. I think perhaps there’s one little extra thing which is almost another topic in itself, but I think it could really help, which is that sometimes we know there is a moment of truth, as I call it, when we need to step up and have influence. It’s a meeting, it’s a presentation, it’s one of those keys, perhaps it’s a high-stakes situation. And sometimes we can do the four Cs and we can map it out and everything, but, it’s like, “How am I going to show up more powerfully in that moment?”

And what I find is really powerful and is probably along the conversation, but it’s about deciding who do you want to be rather than the techniques. And so, I’ll give you a personal example. I’m a big Queen fan, the rock band Queen, ever since I was a teenager. I got into the band, I played electric guitar because I got inspired by them, everything else. And at one stage, it occurred to me that I really respected Freddie Mercury’s ability to be bold and be flamboyant and really communicate with the back of mass of stadium in an epoch where a lot of rock bands were very kind of like trying to be cool and not really moving around and so forth, and he just went for it and he totally embodied his message.

And so, somebody once said to me, “Hey, Richard, actually, you should be like Freddie Mercury of consulting,” or whatever they said, and I kind of took that away. And, actually, for me, that’s a really powerful kind of alter ego that I can use, which is when I’m about to go into a meeting, a presentation, I kind of think, “Okay, can I release a bit of my inner Freddie Mercury in this moment and be a bit less in my head? I can get very intellectual and a bit kind of in my head. How can I embody this, be totally, powerfully demonstrating the message that I bring, not being afraid, not like doing a half-baked thing, but totally all in in this moment?”

And so, for me, it’s just a really simple shift but it helps me kind of get into that zone. And so, I think sometimes it can be helpful. And it’s not being inauthentic. It’s just another part of my personality. I already have a bit of that slightly extravagant side to me. I don’t mind prancing around. I mean, I don’t prance in front my clients. You know what I mean? I won’t play any guitar in front of another party or whatever. I don’t mind that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit a part of me but it’s a reminder to bring out this part of me that’s kind of latent or perhaps that I’ve been trained not to use in certain circumstances.

And it has an impact because, actually, I’m fully living my message in that moment where I’m freely delivering what I’m there to say. And so, I think that my influence goes up in that moment because it’s like, “Wow, this guy is really on. He really believes what he’s saying. He’s there.” And I think we all have perhaps those moments where we know, oh, perhaps we’re too hesitant, or perhaps we’re too bold, perhaps we need to be the more smoother relational individual rather than the abrupt decision-making machine, or whatever it is. But if we just identify that a bit of a name to it, again, it kind of creates that context again for that next interaction.

So, perhaps that’s just another thing that we didn’t talk, which I think could be helpful for people because it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I totally agree. So, “Who do I need to be or who do I need to be like in this moment?” And we’ve had some guests use some phrases like enclothed cognition, alter egos, psychological Halloweenism, that kind of get after this notion, it’s like, “I am stepping into this role,” whether it’s someone that you admire or fiction or non-fiction. Was someone I want to step into a number of times in high school and college. I’m excited that there will be a TV Series in which he comes back to that role.

Well, thank you. That’s a great extra point in terms of to show up and embody and deliver that. That can be a much more direct path to getting it done. So, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, apart from “Make it so.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

Richard Medcalf
One of my favorite quotes is by an author called Kary Oberbrunner, he said, “We don’t get what we want. We get who we are.”

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I recently read this book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, and he interviewed 80,000 professionals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, over his career, he’s been going for many decades, to rate their performance. And he had 98.5% placed themselves in the top half of their peer group, and 70% believe they’re in the top 10%.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Richard Medcalf
I call it the 70/10 fallacy. The point is it’s like I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, yeah, so do I.” He said that just using that to really realize, “Okay, what is it that I need to see in myself that makes part of growth?” And with the CEO, asked them to rate his team from one to ten just how they’re doing, and then we actually looked at their level of self-awareness basically. So, the people actually who were scoring the highest in terms of his evaluation were also the ones who really felt they had to work a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
So, it’s actually the ones who felt they had the biggest problems were actually the least problems. The one who felt they’re pretty much sorted were the ones that he was the most concerned about. So, I just love that, so I call it the 70/10 deception, you know, 70% of people think they’re in the top 10%, which I think we need to be aware of that because that’s actually where we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. So, thank you for that context. And how about a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
I think probably 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a gamechanger for me. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we just had John C. Maxwell, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I think it’s helpful because it kind of just made me realize how much of our impact starts with us. He has those great phrases, “The leader is the lid,” the leader sets the lid on the whole organization, these kinds of things. It’s just powerful stuff. So, yes, those are probably two. Let’s keep it there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Richard Medcalf
I probably live my life with a mixture of Evernote and Todoist. Those are probably my two kind of structuring apps I guess of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Richard Medcalf
My favorite habit, which I’ve learned recently, well, not recently, but I’ve been doing more and more, is breathing out. I’ve just done it and it’s changed already. Breathing out, it just takes you down and it’s also probably a good influence tip, thinking about it. Just by breathing out, you just slow down that a notch, and the gravitas comes a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a particular nugget you share, I guess a saying, if you will, that you have, and maybe it’s just, “I have a saying”?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, there’s lots of nuggets. I like the one which is “What kind of person has already achieved his goal?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

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

Richard Medcalf
So, I guess my website Xquadrant.com. LinkedIn is where I’m happy to connect with people, on LinkedIn. That’s probably where I publish the most, kind of most of my fresh content and videos and things because most of my clients are kind of there in the business world. Of course, you’ll find me on Twitter, too, a little bit there.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’d simply say let’s focus on the behaviors. Pick one behavior that you would like to change and don’t actually even worry about changing it but just start to ask yourself every day, “Did I do my best to do that behavior?” and just score it from one to ten, it just raises your awareness, and then just keep scoring it at the end of every day, “Did you do your best?” because that kind of connects to that emotional component. And I think what you’ll find is if you actually stick with it, and if you write down on a piece of paper those numbers from one to ten over a period of time, you’ll find that you just start doing that behavior naturally. It will just start to emerge because you’ve got that little feedback loop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you tons of luck in all the ways you’re influencing.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for all the great stuff you put out. It’s pretty impressive the amount of material you’ve been able to build up over the years, and it’s such high quality. So, thank you.

Episode 538: How to Size People Up and Predict Behavior to Build Better Relationships with Robin Dreeke

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Robin Dreeke says: "It's not how you make people feel about you. It's how you make them feel about themselves."

Former FBI agent Robin Dreeke shares how sizing people up can help you build trusting, strong relationships at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The overlooked activities that build healthy work relationships
  2. The six fundamental principles of trust
  3. The code of trust that builds relationships

About Robin:

Robin Dreeke is a best-selling author, professional speaker, trainer, facilitator and retired FBI Special Agent and Chief of the Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. He is the founder of People Formula, an organization that offers Advanced Rapport Building Training and Consultation. Robin has taken his life’s work of recruiting spies and broken down the art of leadership, communication, and relationship into FIVE Steps to TRUST and Six Signs of who you can TRUST.

Since 2010, Robin has been working with large corporations as well small companies in every aspect of their business. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and served in the US Marine Corps. Robin lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

Robin Dreeke
Thanks for having me. What could be a better podcast than that? That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I like it. It’s just clear. Like, “Okay, I know what we’re getting here.”

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you, boy, I’m sure you have a lot of stories. So, maybe, could you kick us off, to get things rolling, with an exciting story coming from your time as the chief of counterintelligence behavioral analysis at the FBI? Feel free to omit any classified details but, yeah, what can you share with us?

Robin Dreeke
I think it’s probably easier just to say, in broad spectrum, what my job actually was, and I can go into different stories but they’re all roughly the same. My job was to recruit spies.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
And I always called it the toughest sales job on the face of the planet because, in a nutshell, I’m selling a product, and my product was US patriotism. And so that, these days, can be a tough challenge as it is anyway. Anyway, my client, and all my clients, were foreign intelligence officer that worked for other countries to get our intelligence on behalf of their countries, and so that’s my client. So, the first challenge in my life was I’m selling a product of American patriotism to people that generally do not want to buy that product.

Pete Mockaitis
From their perspective, they might call it treason, if you will.

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely, it would be. See, I always call it just buying a product. I like to soften it. And then the second challenge is, so who are these intelligence officers? Ninety-nine percent of the time, intelligence officers are foreign diplomats under diplomatic cover at establishments across the country. Most of them are at the embassies in Washington, D.C. or the consulates of the mission to the United Nations in New York, or any of the consulates around the country, so they’re diplomats.

And so, as diplomats, they’re actually, they have rights and privileges that no one can mess with them, especially, by law and treaty, it was illegal for me to initiate contact with them. So, the first challenge is I’m selling a product that they probably don’t want to buy. Second challenge is it’s illegal for me to actually approach them and try to sell the product. So, that was the great challenge especially if you have a type A personality, you know, a hard charger like myself where you think you have to convince people of things, you’re going to really fail majestically at this.

And so, it really comes down to selling the toughest product, and really selling any product in the world, it’s the simplest thing, all you have to do is figure out the priorities of the other individual, of the things that they need, the resources that they’re looking for. And if I offer resources in terms of those priorities, they’re willing to buy them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is intriguing. And, wow, boy, there’s so much to go on there.

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Were there particular angles or offers you made that seemed to work frequently?

Robin Dreeke
So, I would say the most common priorities, because I always talk in terms of priorities of others, because here’s a truth of life, human beings are exceptionally predictable, and they’re predictable because all human beings are always going to act in their own best interests, which is safety, security, and prosperity for themselves and their families. My job, and the job of anyone, is just to figure out what they see from their perspective as success and prosperity, and then you see if you have resources in terms of that. That’s all we do when you work in sales. You’re trying to understand the priorities of someone else and offer them resources whether it’s goods, commodities, or services in terms of those priorities and see if you can come to an agreement.

So, the same thing with selling my product. I’d say, by and large, the most predominant thing that foreign spies were looking for was safety, security, and prosperity for their children. You know, it might’ve been a dying wish of a father or a grandfather that their grandchildren wouldn’t grow up under the regime that they grew up under, that it was not a safe place to live, that it was biased or unfair. Whatever it was, that was a priority for theirs, was that their children would not grow up in that kind of environment.

And so, that’s something that I have resources that I can offer in terms of those things if they wanted to immigrate here or to some other country. And now my priorities, where I wanted to understand what their goals, objectives, and the things that they’re trying to take from our country, and so that’s where you come to an agreement, or not, that, “Hey, you have priorities and resources, I have priorities and resources, can we have an accommodation?” That’s pretty simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Well, now, I want to spend most of our time talking about sizing people up. You’ve done a lot of thinking, writing, and research on this topic. And maybe, first, I want to just address, is that even a fair and appropriate thing for a human being to do, to size someone up? Isn’t that like judge-y, you’re judging them, and that should be not done? Or what do you mean by that term and how would you distinguish it?

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, it’s a catchy term because it catches your eye, but the first thing you find out when you dive into this book, or anything else I’ve written or done, is that it has absolutely nothing to do with judging.
And part of that is, as human beings, we’re also genetically, and biologically, and socially coded to want to belong to meaningful groups and organizations and to be valued by those same organizations. And so, I always tell the story about years ago when I was in the Marine Corps, I was a horrible…I am not a natural-born leader. I am a natural-born narcissist, you know, it’s that type A personality. I thought being successful in life was, “How do I make myself look good and get ahead?”

And I remember the first time I was ranked against the other second lieutenants of my first squadron I was in, I was ranked last. I believed everyone’s born with at least one gift. At least, at that time of my life, I was at least born with enough humility to say, “All right, I’m doing something wrong.” And I went to my major and asked him, I said, “What am I doing wrong?” And he says, “You just need to be a better leader.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

Robin Dreeke
“That’s easy. All right.” I said, “Great. How do I do that?” And he goes, “Well, just make it about everyone else but yourself. Be selfless.” And I’m like, “And I wasn’t doing that? All right. Specifically, how do I do that?” And he couldn’t tell me because he was a natural-born leader, he’s just being who he was. And so, all these years I’ve tried to figure this out, and I have. So, how do you make a conversation about everyone else but yourself? How do you demonstrate value and affiliation to others? It’s simple. If you build into your language one of these four things in everything you say and everything you write, the entire conversation becomes about them and they’re genetically and biologically being rewarded chemically in the brain for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, you seek the thoughts and opinions of others. Because we only see the thoughts and opinions of others that we value and we want to affiliate with. Second, you talk in terms of their priorities. And we’ve already been talking about the importance of priorities. You talk in terms of their priorities, of what’s important to them, because if you’re not talking in terms of their priorities, they’re being polite at best. They’re not paying attention.

Third, you validate them non-judgmentally. And validation just means that you’re seeking to understand them at a deeper level, and not necessarily agreeing with them but seeking to understand them without judging them. And, fourth, if appropriate, you empower them with choices. Again, you only give people choices if you value them and you want to affiliate with them.

So, when you build one of those four things into everything you say, write, and do, the other person’s brain is chemically rewarded for engaging with you because you’re demonstrating that value and affiliation. So, that’s where it all started, is that very granular look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is helpful. And I love your vantage point where you’re coming at it from in terms of, “No, really, how do you do that?” So, you had to break it down and to arrive in that. So, I think that is really connecting, resonating, making sense in terms of, “Yes, I do like it when people do that. And when I do those things with others, they respond well.” Let’s hear about the third one – validating non-judgmentally. What are some of the best ways you go about doing that?

Robin Dreeke
So, the best ways about doing that is you ask them challenging questions. Like, not challenge like challenging, but what kind of challenges they’re having in their lives, discover their priorities. Try to get deeper about understanding how they think the way they think, the experiences they’ve had, the background they have, how they grew up, I mean, if they’re at liberty to share all these things with you. But seeking to understand how the other person seeks to build affiliations with you and others, and how they see the world through their particular optic.

It’s basically building a curiosity into yourself about others. Because when you build that curiosity in, instead of judging, ask yourself why. Why did they think the way they think? Why do they believe the things they believe? Why do they perform the way they perform? Without taking a side on it, just seek to understand it. Because when you have congruence between the word you’re saying and the emotion you have, that makes it genuine and sincere. So, it’s building in that curiosity because that’s what validation ultimately needs in order for it to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s how that’s done. And then I’d love to get your view. So, the subtitle of your book “Sizing People Up” is “A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction.”

Robin Dreeke
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, boy, there’s so much there associated with behavior prediction. Could you maybe kick us off there by talking about what’s perhaps the most counterintuitive thing about behavior prediction that you’ve discovered in your years of work?

Robin Dreeke
So, when we look at the title “Sizing People Up,” hey, it’s about to be judge-y. No, the whole purpose is so I can reasonably predict what you’re going to do in every situation so that I don’t get emotionally hijacked, and I don’t have negative thoughts, feelings, or emotions towards you because I had an expectation that was unreasonable based on what you’re reasonably going to do.

Because, again, it’s about building trust and building relationships, because without relationships, you’re not going anywhere. There’s not one person in this world that achieves anything without at least one other person being part of that team or being that inspiration or coming up with that idea and helps you move forward. So, this is all about building healthy relationships.

And so, from there, I think probably not the aha moment in this. But what happened was, when I started really focusing on others and trying to build trust by making sure my behavior was aligned with was good for building trust, I started realizing that, “Wow, I’m focusing on this other person and I’m starting to be able to predict what they’re going to do because I’m so focused on what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations, priorities are, I know that they’re always going to take actions in terms of those things, which makes them start to become very predictable in what they do.”

And we’ve all heard this too. We’ve all heard the expression, I believe, there was a definition of crazy, doing the same thing, expecting different results. Well, when you reverse it, when you see someone else doing the same things two, three or four times, you can reasonably expect they’re probably going to do it five or six times the same way.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Robin Dreeke
So, that’s part of this whole equation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Intriguing. Well, so then that adds up in terms of in immersing yourself and understanding their perspectives, needs, wants, priorities, values, you in turn are able to predict kind of where things are going. So, then can you share with us, how do you come to gain that understanding? What are the kinds of things you’re watching for, listening for, asking in order to develop that profile?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, I came up with these six signs that a lot of human beings, we’re all intuitively doing this, but when you can place a label and meaning on it, it actually allows you to do it quicker and more accurately and more cognitively without subjective observation. And so, I call that new car effect. By placing on labels on anything, you start recognizing it quicker. So, the same thing when you buy a new car. All of a sudden, as soon as you buy that car, you start recognizing that same make and model going down the road or in a parking lot without even trying to because it has a meaning and value to you.

And so, the first one, the first sign for the six signs for this, the first sign is a sign of vesting. In other words, are the use and language and behaviors that demonstrates that they’re actually as much vested in your success as they are on their own? Because if they’re demonstrating that, well, that’s pretty predictable that, “All right, I can probably reasonably predict that they’re going to continue to do that.”

The second sign is longevity. Are they using language and behaviors that’s demonstrating that they actually are seeing the relationship as long term versus short term? The third one is reliability. Are they demonstrating both competence and diligence in the task at hand or what they’re assigned to do? Competence is do they have the skills appropriate for what it is they’re doing? And diligence, do they have the energy and tenacity to follow through on it?

Actions, sign four. And we’ve already talked about this, actions, these past patterns of key behaviors. Have you observed them multiple times doing something a certain way so you can reasonably predict they’re probably going to continue to do it that way if not better? Five is language. Are they using language that’s demonstrating that they’re valuing you as much as yourself? And so, this is where we reverse it. I said before, when you include one of those four things in everything you say and do by seeking thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of their priorities, validating without judging them, and giving them choices, are they likewise doing that to you or are they using that language when talking and discussing with you?

And the sixth sign is stability, emotional stability. During times of stress and discontent and whatever comes along, do they have the ability to maintain emotional stability and thoughtfulness, or do they over-emotionally react to things? Now, each one of these six things, you don’t have to have all six to predict behavior. But what you do is you’re pretty much trying to key in on, because everyone has got strengths and everyone has things that are working well for them, so you’re just kind of keying in.

And what you’re doing is you’re establishing a baseline of what you can reasonably expect in all these areas from people and see what the results are. And then, all of a sudden, and so you’re setting that expectation at a reasonable level. The analogy I love to use is, because this takes the place of that intuitive “I like someone so I can trust them,” because liking and trust and predictability are vastly different because just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can predict what they’re going to do or trust them.

So, the analogy I use is flying. I’m a small pilot, I do angel flights. I volunteer for that stuff, and I have a great friend. I have a great friend that I trust with my life because he’s a great guy but he’s not a pilot. And because I trust him, it’s not like I can throw him the keys of the plane and say, “All right, I trust you to fly this plane.” No, because you don’t have competence in that area or reliability, so they’d kill us. So, I like making this very predictable behavior so you can reasonably manage expectations of others. So, again, you don’t set the bar too high so they don’t meet it and then you get angry or discontent toward them.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, essentially, when you say predictable, it’s sort of like reliability. I guess there’s some distinctions here. So, it’s predictable in the sense of I might not know, be able to predict the exact sentence out of their mouth, or the exact choice that they’re going to make amongst the sea of options they might not be even familiar with yet, but they can be predictably, I guess, relied upon if they have these things going on to follow through and not disappoint, or backstab, or betray, etc. Is that kind of where you’re going at?

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely. And in certain lanes as well because one thing I love to try to do is just because I can’t count on you or trust you/predict you in one area, I don’t want to hold that against them in another area I don’t allow one thing to ruin a relationship. Because I can’t trust you to fly a plane doesn’t mean I’m going to not like you or distrust you in all these other areas because you have displayed massive trustworthy and predictability in these other areas. So, I’ll definitely engage you in those lanes. So, this is just helping you manage your expectations in specific areas so that, again, the purpose of it is to maintain those good, healthy, strong professional relationships so that everyone can move forward together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, so those are the indicators that I’m watching out for, and if I have those things then we’re likely to feel good that things are going to be followed through upon reliably in a predictable way, so that’s great. And so then, I’d like to get your take on when we’re trying to go about building that trust and rapport and relationship with folks, how do we make that happen?

Robin Dreeke
We do it the same way. First, we demonstrate it to them. So, I have my process called the code of trust which is my behaviors that I’m trying to do and exude to inspire them to want to align with me as well. So, the first step in that is you need to understand what their goals and priorities because that’s what makes this a leadership kind of thing because I always believe everyone is a leader. Because any time you have a goal and objective you’re trying to achieve, and you have a methodology in which to get there, which is about, “How do I get people to align with me and come along?” that’s leadership.

And so, the first one is to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. And part two of that is, “How can I inspire someone to want to do that to be part of this?” So, step two of it is understand the priorities of others so that I’m making sure I understand what those priorities are, so I’m giving labels and meaning to mine, I’m giving labels and meaning to theirs, so their brain automatically starts aligning these things together.

Step three is understand their context, how they see their world through their particular optic. And when we’re understanding context, we’re discovering their demographic, their orientation, their thoughts, their beliefs, their gender, all these things. We’re understanding how they see the world through their point of view. And this is also where we’re starting to understand to build affiliations with others because we have commonalities in these different areas because, again, we’re trying to demonstrate value and demonstrate affiliation.

And then, step four, we want to make sure we’re using, that I’m using the language they’re looking for, that’s the same thing as the language in sign five of “Sizing People Up” and that is, “Am I seeking thoughts and opinions, talk in terms of their priorities, validating them, and giving them choices?” And, finally, I put this all together and I’m crafting, “How do I demonstrate to them that I see who they are, I see their priorities, and I want to be a resource for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Certainly. Well, that is a lot going on there. Could you perhaps tie it together for us in terms of a whole scenario and story with regard to, “All right. I was trying to pull this off with this person, and here’s what I observed and said, and how it unfolded”?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, right from the book, I remember when I was first a newer agent in New York, this was like right after 9/11 in New York City when I’m serving there. One of my potential confidential human sources, the people that are helping giving us information, he was brand-new to me, he’d been cooperating with the FBI for about 25 years, he had 16 guys like me before me come along, and he was really known as pretty cantankerous guy, kind of an alcoholic, but he had some great access and some great information.

And so, he had come to me and said, “Hey, I have someone that might be, that I think is going to be a good use for you in the FBI and for national security because associated, he’s a relative of a foreign leader in the Middle East.” And so, at this point, I had to quickly assess, “Does this guy…can I trust him? Because this is urgent information potentially and normally it takes time.” And vetting of information, over a period of time, and once you do this, but when you don’t have time, I had to really zero in. And, luckily, though I had a good mentor and a guide, and his name is Jessie, and we went through this process where we’re asking ourselves, “All right. What kind of language? Why is he doing this?”

And one of the things that he was actually doing was he had immediately taken a liking to me just because he liked teaching, mentoring, and guiding others, and so he actually literally started tying and using language of tying, wanted me to be successful because he enjoyed helping the United States. And so, the only way he knew he could help and serve the United States was if I was successful. So, he was actually using language by saying, “Hey, Robin, if we do this and we can solve this problem, we can hopefully identify some foreign actors that can help us, then you’re going to be successful because your success is my success.” So, that was the first thing he did was demonstrating that vesting sign.

And the second one that really struck me right away was the longevity because he was actually talking in terms of not what we’re going to accomplish just today or tomorrow. We actually, when you work in the world of counterintelligence, some of these operations take years and years and years. I mean, heck, the day I retired after 21 years, there was some operations I had started in the first couple of years of my career that are still going. And so, he used that language. He talked about things that would go on much longer than just when you hunt a bank robbery or something, and you solve the crime and you move on. He was talking in terms of how we can come up in lots of things over long periods of time.

And the other thing I thought was really good with him was he was emotionally stable. Every time a new situation would pop up, he immediately went into what I call science experiment mode. He immediately came up with cognitively thinking about, “All right. So, here’s where the situation is. What’s the cause and effect if we do this? What’s the cause and effect if we do this?” I mean, one way he demonstrated that to me is, I remember, every time, especially in this very scenario, we’re going to introduce me to this contact of his that was going to help us on a major problem, and we role-played it. He was big on role-playing things out because he was very cognitively thinking, “All right. If we say this, what’s going to be the reaction? He said this, what’s going to be his reaction.”

So, that’s where I first started to get exposed to, I mean, we’re doing this intuitively because he’s teaching and training as I’m teaching and training him, but when I took that step back years later, and looked at, “What were we actually doing? Why did I trust him?” Because he was demonstrating these signs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s great. And so then, I’d love your view, if you think about sort of typical workplaces, maybe they have a little bit less life or death, or, you know, nation versus nation impacts, but what are some of the best simple actions you think people can take at work day in, day out that demonstrate these things well?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. I can give you some positives and negatives on this because I think we’ve all experienced this in workplaces. So, if you’re looking in the work environment, is your boss, how is he regarding you? When he or she is communicating with you, are they demonstrating that they’re vested in your success with the company? Are they actually giving you opportunities to learn, to grow, to take on new challenges, or are they keeping you shunned away? Are they not engaging you? Are they keeping you out of group meetings? Are they keeping you out of discussions because you’re not part of it? So, are they vested in you? That’s a great sign whether things are going sideways or they’re going well.

Longevity. Are they using language and they’re using behaviors and taking actions that demonstrate, and they see you here for the long haul? Are they putting you in those long-term training or managing programs? Are they putting you in for advanced placement things? Are they giving you opportunities to grow and expand because they see you here for the long haul?

Their actions. Are their actions towards you consistent or are they erratic? Again, go back to the language again. Are they engaging you and valuing you by seeking your thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of what’s important to you, and validating you without judging you, and then giving you choices along the way? So, those are just a few of them but it’s very easy to see these things in the workplace, and I think we all have.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then I’d love to get your view in terms of you mentioned some of those behaviors that are not desirable. When folks are actually making an effort to do these kinds of things, do you see any sorts of mistakes or roadblocks are popping up that make it hard for folks?

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

Pete Mockaitis
Hard for folks to invest and build these relationships and demonstrate these things for others.

Robin Dreeke
I think the underlying thing that undermines all of us in many situations is our own ego, vanity, and sense of superiority.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, so I have these three core anchors I believe very firmly in, and that will enable us to accomplish anything that we’re seeking to do and achieve in life. Now, number one is I’m always asking myself before I open my mouth, or send an email off, is, “What I’m about to say or do going to help or hinder that healthy professional relationship?”

Number two, “Am I open, honest, and transparent with my communication because I can’t have that healthy relationship without open, honest, and transparency in communication?” And my third is, “I’m an available resource for the success and prosperity of others without expectation or reciprocity.” And so, that’s where that ego check comes in place, “Am I doing this for self-gain, at the cost of other people, or am I actually doing it to be a resource for others?” Because if I do that, and I have no expectation or reciprocity, that’s because we’re suspending our ego, we’re suspending our vanity, and we’re being a resource for others.

Now, when you do this, what’s the likelihood of reciprocity? Very high because, again, we’re genetically coded to want to reciprocate things given. But if you do it with the intent of that, then our own priorities start leaking out of our language. Remember, if we’re talking in terms of our priorities and they go and overlap with someone else’s, their mind shuts down.

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

Robin Dreeke
No, I think that covers it pretty good. You know, healthy, strong, professional relationships are absolutely the key to everything. And this is exactly how you do it. And the purpose of “Sizing People Up,” which is really predicting people’s behavior, at the core, is, “How can I make sure that you’ll never let me down?”

Now, here’s a great thing. If you fall short of that bar I set because I took all the time to understand what I can reasonably predict you’re going to do, then something happened in their lives, something went sideways. And so, now you can be a resource again to discover what priorities shifted and, again, you’re managing their expectations and you’re being there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Can you give us an example of that shift? Like, a life thing happened which caused a shift, and then you’re responding. How might that play out?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably the most common ones I’ve seen where you got colleagues at work and you know exactly what to expect they’re going to do in every day in every kind of situation. And, all of a sudden, their performance falls off and you’re like, “That’s weird.” And instead of getting angry at them, you figure something went wrong, or something is going on, whether it’s a sick child, someone in the family, kids are failing out of school, their own health, there’s something going on with their own health that they’re not sharing. So, it’s just understanding that, “All right. It’s not them. There’s an outside influence that is coming into and impact them.” And so, instead of getting angry at them, you automatically go into the mode of, “All right. What’s causing this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s just sort of a beautiful way to live in terms of if something undesirable is coming forth from a colleague, to not just assume that they’re no good but that there’s something up and how can you help.

Robin Dreeke
It keeps life very common, very simple. There is no doubt. That’s why I love doing this because my frustrations that I had at work and things not going my way or people not doing the things the way I want them doing, when I started really living this and understand this and practice, then it’s all that evaporated. It just went away because you understand, you just understand people and why they do what they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I liked it how you zeroed in on your frustrations evaporated away. And so, can we get another example perhaps of, all right, there’s some behavior transpiring, it’s frustrating you, how you took a step back and came to understand some things, and then how did frustrations disappear?

Robin Dreeke
Sure.Basically, I was trying to sell my product to someone that didn’t want to buy this product. I wasn’t even allowed to go talk to the individual as I couldn’t get my boss’s bosses to approve us doing this.

And so, in those situations where you’re trying to do something and get something done but you’re being roadblocked by an individual, what people generally do is they start pounding on that individual or pounding on that situation, and that’s where all that frustration, anger, and resentment starts building in, and I think we’ve all experienced this. Sometimes you get so frustrated that the last minute you say, “Screw it,” and you let go. “I’m done. I’m not doing this.”

[30:04]

And when you do that, all of a sudden you see the answer in a different area, “Oh, wow, it’s easy if I just went over here, here’s where the answer is. Here’s how I can do it.” And where did that come from? It came from another relationship, they moved you to the area or the thing you wanted to do. So, the thing I do now is as soon as I feel a roadblock someplace, I always give a little push, I call it. Let’s say if a door comes up in front of me, or the thing I’m trying to do, or the thing I’m trying to accomplish, and if a roadblock comes up in front of me and a door slams, I’d give a little push on the door with the way the direction I’m trying to go, but that door is closed.

The first thing I now do, instead of starting to beat my head against the door, I take a step back, I talk to the healthy people in my life, all the other relationships, and I say to them, I state to them my purpose, “Hey, folks, here’s where I’m trying to go, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. Does anyone else have any ideas about how to get over there?” And that’s where the magic happens because, inevitably, someone else comes in with a great idea I never thought of in a million years, and you’re through that door, all because I wasn’t trying to beat it down by myself in a direction that wasn’t meant to be. You take that step back, you maintain good cognitive thought, and you think about the relationships you have, the strong healthy ones, to how to get through.

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

Robin Dreeke
The favorite quote is probably “The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt but I’m going to keep it even simpler than a long one. So, years and years ago, when I was still in the Marine Corps, everyone in life gets these little profound things dripped on them without even realizing it. I worked for this colonel, and he once said to me, he said, “Captain, never tell me no, only tell me yes. But tell me what it’ll cost me.”

And what he was saying was very profound. He goes, “I don’t want to hear no. I just want to hear yes. But what I want is choices. Tell me the cause and effect, the cost benefit analysis of every choice you’re offering me.” And so, that is a great way I thought of framing, “How do you communicate with someone?” Don’t start with a negative. You start with a positive, “Yes, we can do this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. if we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. Which way do you want to proceed?” And the great thing about this is if we only give people choices that we actually like as well also.

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

Robin Dreeke
Probably the study that Harvard University did in the spring of 2012 where a lot of the scientific basis in neurology came where a lot of things I’m talking about. And that is what they did is they wired up people’s brains, and what they found is when they wired up their brains, and they found that people on average share their own thoughts and opinions and talk about themselves roughly 40% of every single day.

And when they’re sharing their own thoughts and opinions, basically testing the world around them for, “Do you accept me for what I am not judgmentally?” When they’re sharing their thoughts and opinions about themselves, dopamine was being released in their brain. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, blood stream. In other words, pleasure centers in the brain are firing when we’re sharing our thoughts and opinions with others because we’re testing, “Do you accept me?”

So, now, if you can take your 40% and give it over to someone else so they can share their thoughts and opinions more, and then you add those four things we talked about, especially validating those thoughts and opinions, their brain is chemically rewarding them for the engagement with you because you are demonstrating to them their value, their affiliation, and it’s good for their survival.

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

Robin Dreeke
I’m a lover of history, and David McCullough is my favorite author. And so, I love every single book he put out, but the first one that got me hooked on him was “1776.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve just read excerpts, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is thrilling.” Like, I kind of know how the story goes and yet I’m riveted. I should just hunker down and read the whole thing.

Robin Dreeke
And, also, the last book I read by him, I love to death. I’m going to actually read a couple more times, and that’s “The Wright Brothers.”

Pete Mockaitis
That keeps coming up, actually, on the show.

Robin Dreeke
Does it? Good. The story of powered aviation. It’s riveting. What amazing human beings. All the people I’ve read about, just amazing human beings overcoming odds.

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

Robin Dreeke
All the books around me of all the great people, I try to emulate. My tool is my mouth and sometimes it really gets in my way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably going to CrossFit. I’m getting older and trying to keep everything healthy, that’s it. Also, because it’s a very nice social group I hang out with there.

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

Robin Dreeke
Probably it’s not how you make people feel about you. It’s how you make them feel about themselves.

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

Robin Dreeke
To my website, it’s probably the hub of where to go and start from, and that’s www.PeopleFormula.com. Lots of videos on there of me doing keynote speeches, other great podcasts like yours, and lots of videos on YouTube, and I also have a free online course on there. Others will be coming out. Don’t worry, I won’t try to upsell people too much. And you can also have links to all my books on there as well.

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

Robin Dreeke
If you want to start down the path of really making these stronger connections, identify three people personally, and three people professionally in your life that is tied to the things you do as you’re trying to achieve. And with each one of these people, make sure you identify at least one strength in each of them, and start identifying top three priorities of each one of these individuals.

Because when you start identifying strengths and you’re seeking to understand what their priorities are, your brain is going to naturally start aligning how you can be a resource for them. And when you start doing those things, they’re going to start noticing, “Wow, this person is actually here for my success and prosperity,” and it’s going to start changing your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Robin, thank you for taking the time, and keep up the great work you’re doing what you’re doing.

Robin Dreeke
Hey, thanks, Pete. I can’t thank you enough as well. Thanks for sharing.

537: How to Develop and Multiply Leaders with John C. Maxwell

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John C. Maxwell says: "Any leader's greatest return is to develop other leaders."

John C. Maxwell shares powerful wisdom on how to develop and transform budding leaders.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple questions that encourage growth
  2. Why training programs don’t work–and what does
  3. What the most beloved leaders do differently

About John:

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 31 million books in fifty languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from every country of the world. A recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, as well as the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He lives in South Florida.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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John C. Maxwell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
John, thanks so much for coming back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

John C. Maxwell
Hey, it’s great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting again. And, first, I’m curious, did you end up getting some corkscrews made associated with the wedding gift?

John C. Maxwell
I knew you were going to ask me that question. And, Pete, I flunked.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s okay.

John C. Maxwell
I loved the idea. I tell you what, I loved the idea. In fact, I told a couple of my team members, “I’m going to do this,” put it aside, and then just kind of forgot about it. Then you sent me, I don’t know, maybe a couple of months ago, an email and it jogged my mind, I thought, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” I sound like a procrastinator. I’m really not. But then I kind of forgot what we had on it. I knew it was from the wedding feast at Cana, and I forgot, “Well, now, what did he put on that?” I’m probably going to really ask you, could you get me one of those and I’ll pay you for it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. You don’t have to pay me for it. Thank you. I will and I’m happy to. And you did not flunk. I imagine that you had a lot of high-priority stuff beyond getting knickknacks engraved.

And so, you have written a bundle of leadership books, and you’re not done yet. You got another one here The Leader’s Greatest Return. Tells us, sort of what’s the big idea here and what made you think, “There’s something that I have not yet said that needs to be recorded”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, this is, I think, a kind of an amusing story, Pete. As you know, 25 years ago, I wrote the book Developing the Leader Within You. And that book is what really put me on the leadership track as far as people looking at me and saying, “This guy can teach me something about leadership.” It was the first leadership book that basically could’ve came out that says you can develop yourself.

Well, I followed that book up the next year with the book called Developing the Leaders Around You. Well, at the 25th anniversary at my publisher, Harper Collins, said, “John, could you do a kind of a revised edition of that?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I’d be glad to.” So, I went back and looked at Developing the Leaders Around You and I had written it 25 years earlier and, boy, Pete, I was so discouraged, to be honest with you. It wasn’t any good side.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a good sign if you look at your prior work and they’re kind of disgusting.

John C. Maxwell
The space of 25 years, you know what I’m saying, is kind of like, “Oh, there’s so little I knew back then, and I’ve learned so much more.” So, I started revising the book, and on chapter one, I didn’t take anything out of the first book to revise, so I wrote a new chapter. Then I went to chapter two and I think I took one story and a quote, and that’s it. The third chapter, nothing at all.

By the fourth chapter, I realized, “I’m not revising a book. I’m writing a new book,” because I’ve just learned so much more about, “How do you develop leaders and people around you to get on your leadership teams? And how do you really multiply yourself by this process?”

So, I called Harper Collins and I said, “Hey, let’s just do a new book,” and so we did. And I love the title The Leader’s Greatest Return. The reason I love that title is because I do believe that any leader’s greatest return is to develop other leaders. Because if you just have followers on your team, that’s good, and that adds, but if you really want to multiply, if you really want to compound, Pete, you’ve really got to develop leaders who can go out and then develop other people also. Leaders build the organization and grow it. And so, it is the leader’s greatest return.

And so, that’s how the book got written. It was supposed to be a revised edition, but my first edition didn’t make the cut for revision so I just wrote a new one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is fun, and the story of how the book came to be itself has some leadership lessons there in terms of the humility and the growing. And then I think, in many ways, that kind of puts you in a great maybe feedback-receptive mindset as a whole in terms of it just as it’s possible to look at something you’ve done yourself in the past and say, “Hmm, this could be a lot better.” So, too, is it possible to receive feedback from an outside source in the present and say, “Yes, indeed, it could be a lot better,” and you may well agree… your future self, I guess, looking back.

John C. Maxwell
Right. You know, Pete, you’re exactly right. It is a leadership lesson itself in the fact that, as I look back on my past, I tell people, “If you can look back even five years and be really thoroughly satisfied with what you accomplished or what you did, you just probably are not growing like you could or should be,” because, for me, the pages on a book never change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with that learning and growing, I’d love it if maybe you could highlight perhaps a lesson or two that you’ve done close to a 180 on in terms of, “You know, I said this, and I think maybe almost the opposite is closer to true.”

John C. Maxwell
Oh, sure. Well, it happens all the time. I was being interviewed recently, and somebody asked me what the greatest change in my leadership was, and I’ve gone through a lot of changes. Again, because if you’re growing, you’re just always changing. And so, as I said, as I thought about it for a moment, I thought, “Well, you know, I think the greatest change I’ve had in my life is that as a young leader, I was very directional, kind of top-down, and I always knew where I wanted to go, and I always had clarity and vision. So, I’d say, ‘Okay, here’s where we’re going to go. Let’s get on the team,’ and I’d rally the troops. And over the years, I realized that I was kind of leading by assumption. I was kind of assuming that everybody else kind of wanted to go where I was going and be on the team, which was not true at all.”

And so, I began to slowly be less directional and start to ask more questions. And, until today, it’s a total change. Whereas, I used to just kind of sit down and say, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going, and let’s shake hands and let’s get going on it.” And, now, I just ask questions continually. I lead by asking questions. In fact, I wrote a book, I don’t know, that maybe six or seven years ago, called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. And, really, that was the catalyst for helping me and helping others know that, really, I lead now by sitting down with my team and finding out where they are.

In fact, the statement I say, “You have to find them before you can lead them.” For years I just led them or I wanted them to find me and then get on the team. And so, yeah, it’s a total change. But that’s what happens when you grow. Every day I learn something new that I didn’t know, but almost every day I’ve got to unlearn something that I embraced that just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe they didn’t even work when I raised it but I didn’t know any better. And then I re-learn.

And then one other quick thought of that, Pete, every person needs to have a sense of teachability and learn not only from life but to learn from others and let them speak into your heart, and not only have an open-door policy but have an open-ear policy. And through teachability and humility comes an awareness. And awareness is huge in a person’s life. I need to constantly be aware of what I do well, what I don’t do well, what I need to change.

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing golf with Ed Bastian, who’s the CEO of Delta, and so we’re having nice long leadership lunch afterward. And, Ed, here’s this incredible CEO of a major company, and very successful, had a long-term relationship with him, but Ed said, “You know, I’m always asking my people three things, ‘What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to keep doing? And what do I need to start doing?’” And he said, “Those three simple questions just allow me as a leader to be aware and hear from others who really do know more and sometimes just help me with my blind spots.” And I thought, “That’s just simple. Anybody can do that. What do I need to stop doing, start doing, and keep doing?” And I thought, “I just love that.”

But I think leaders, the great leaders, are continually growing and they’re continually growing because they want people to speak in their life and they have an acute awareness of what they don’t yet know and have a great hunker to learn and to get better, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m right with you there. I think that totally adds up and those are some handy simple questions. So, let’s talk about multiplying leaders and how that is done. Maybe could you kick us off by sharing a cool story of an organization that has done this supremely well, like you’ve gotten to witness a transformation there?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think that there are some companies that really have done this very well, Pete, and I think Chick-fil-A comes to mind right at the top. And the reason I think they’ve done it well is because they have a leadership culture. And I think developing leaders begins with an attitude and an environment that is conducive for leaders to grow, to learn, to practice leadership.

Now, the way that people are developed as leaders is they have to practice leadership, so there has to be a time in your organization or your life where you not only teach people how to lead but you give them an opportunity to lead, and you empower them, and you let them kind of run with the ball. So, I think Chick-fil-A just has such a leadership culture. They’re constantly pushing their people to grow, to learn, to take on more responsibility, to have leadership experiences in their life.

You know, it’s very interesting, one of my nonprofit organizations EQUIP, we really work hard on helping countries to be transformed through values. And we come in by the invitation of the president of the countries. We do it in little roundtables of about six to eight people.

So, we’re also doing it in schools, and we have about a million and a half kids in junior high there that are going through these values lessons in their curriculum. It’s not before school or after school, it’s right in their regular curriculum. So, one of the great things that’s happened out of this, teaching leaders how to lead and creating a leadership environment culture, is that we have the kids do the facilitating of the roundtables not the teachers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

John C. Maxwell
So, it’s very peer-led. It’s very peer-led. So, I’m sitting with five of my schoolmates and this lesson is mine. So, I facilitate it and help them go through the material that’s written there and ask the questions. And then next week, Susan does that. And every week, we go around the table and every student gets a chance to lead.

Well, what are we doing? We’re letting them practice leadership. And one of the side benefits I know that’s going to happen to all these countries that we’re doing these leadership teaching in a curriculum schools is that they’re going to find leaders. The leaders are going to find themselves. Kids in junior high are going to, all of a sudden, have a conscious awareness that, “I like facilitating. I like helping people and leading them through a lesson.”

And so, any time an environment lets people practice leadership, they are then creating leaders. And I think that’s a very important lesson because I think a lot of times, we give assignments out but we keep the leadership reins. And I think that’s not wise. I think this book The Leader’s Greatest Return is all about, “How do you empower people? How do you release them? How do you embrace them even in their mistakes as they learn to lead until they really do understand what it is to lead?” It’s not a theory in their life, it’s a practice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I totally buy that. That makes sense to me. And so then, I’d love to get your view then in terms of is it sort of just everybody all the time that we want to be engaging in leadership activities or are there some particular means by which you try to identify a sub-segment of folks that you want to invest more greatly into?

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, I have a chapter in the book called the basics that says Invite People to the Leadership Table which is the culture where leadership is discussed and you hear other leaders talk about leadership things and issues. And what I think on this, Pete, is that it’s very essential to let everybody have a shot. And it begins by giving them more empowerment than what they would normally have.

So, you take a receptionist, for example. I would sit with him or with her, and I would just sit and say, “Look, greeting people, coordinating appointments, etc., all this stuff is the key to this job. But I also want you to know that you probably have within yourself some leadership potential. And what that means is that you’re going to be able sometimes to go beyond what a request is and be aware of perhaps a need beyond what’s out there in that lobby. And it might come to the fact that you have to make some decisions.”

And what you do, as I found, that you teach a person how to do their job well, and then you start opening and broadening the parameters, such as, “Okay, now that you’ve been out there as a receptionist for a couple of months, let’s talk about the things that aren’t working and the frustrations.” And what I find is when they talk about that, almost always it’s their inability to maybe make a decision that they have to go wait on somebody else to make, or rely on someone else to make, or just some common sense thing that they could’ve or should’ve done.

And so, it’s out of what’s not working that you begin to get the playing ground for developing leaders. And so, when they say, “You know, this person that came for an appointment, they sat there for 30 minutes. And, obviously, there was a lateness to it.” “Okay, let’s talk about that. When somebody has to wait that long and we’re having a little bit of miss on our side, what can you do that would kind of make it better for that person during that time?” “Well, maybe I’ll go get them a cup of coffee,” solve this stuff. “And so, you do that. And I empower you. You go do that and it’s on the house.”

It’s that kind of leadership development of people that lets them practice leadership that lets them develop the leaders. Now, Pete, obviously there are some people that are just more gifted in this area than others. And so, what happens is this, if you let everybody practice leadership, you very quickly learn the ones who perhaps have the highest aptitude for it. And that crème rises to the top. And now you’re looking at somebody and you’re saying, “Okay, you’re a leader.”

Let me give you an example. One of the countries we’re working is in Guatemala, and so we did leadership training for the second largest bank in the country. They have about 10,000 employees and so we did these values roundtables for all the employees. The bank said, “All of our people will go through values roundtables.” So, I was recently down there, and the CEO asked me to speak to about 2,000 of their clients.

So, they bring in their business clients, and the CEO said, “Let me just share with you what’s happened since we’ve done these values roundtables.” He said, “Three things have happened. Number one, we developed a leadership culture.” And he said, “What’s happening is our employees facilitate the roundtable.” And he said, “One time we had to go looking for leaders. Now, they’re popping up all the time.” He said, “We don’t look for any leaders now. In fact, we have an excess of leaders because we’re seeing people that we didn’t even know have leadership ability, and they’re facilitating these roundtables really good, and it’s working.”

And they said, “Because in the values we talk about integrity, honesty, and hard work has become part of the values system of our bank, and so our bottom line is better.” And he said, “The third thing is they’re taking these values home to their families that they’re learning at work. And it’s changing their families.” And I thought how beautiful. But, again, leaders were beginning to arise on their own because they were given an opportunity to practice leadership. And that’s really essential in developing leaders. You just don’t develop a leadership culture without giving people that kind of empowerment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much in there that I really dig. It’s funny, when you talk about that story with the receptionist being empowered to get coffee and it’s on the house, like it can seem like a small thing. But I remember my first normal paycheck job in high school was working at Kmart in the pantry, they called me Pantry Pete, and I was so excited in the training videos when they talked about how, as Kmart employees, we’ve got the power to please. And so, if we were out of the 24 pack of Pepsi, I could give them two 12-packs at the sort of sale price. And I just thought that was so cool is that I had some leeway to do something to make someone’s life better, and they would be surprised and smile. It felt awesome. It was like my favorite thing to do when I was working at Kmart.

John C. Maxwell
That’s a great example right there. And it’s from there that you began. Leaders, they’ll surface themselves, really, but they don’t surface themselves if they don’t have an arena to practice that leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these roundtables, I mean, we don’t need to go into every detail associated with how these are conducted. But I’d love it if you could give us just a bit of a rundown in terms of so we’ve got some values, we got some discussion questions, and different people are facilitating. What are some of the other kind of key things that are happening here that leaders might try to integrate in an organization?

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting, Pete, because in my EQUIP organization, for a 19-year period, we just trained leaders around the world. And after 19 years, we had trained 6 million people, And when that was complete, sat there and said, “Well, let’s have a party and celebrate,” which we did. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.

And then I looked at them and I said, “We’re really not done yet. We taught these leaders how to lead but these trained leaders, there’s another level of helping them become transformational.” And transformational leaders bring positive change into people’s lives. It’s more than how to lead. There’s a positive transformation that happens in people’s lives and that comes through learning and living out good values. And so I said, “Let’s develop a transformational culture by teaching values, and let’s do it in small groups because, again, that’s where it happens where you can have interaction, where you can hear other people’s story. It’s highly experiential which is very contagious.”

And so, we developed a transformation, we call them transformation tables, a curriculum for adults. And we go into a country and we go to the top leaders, we go to what we call the eight streams of influence, which is government, education, media, arts, sports, health, religion, and business, and we get permission from the top of those areas in a country to do these roundtables, and we call it the waterfall effect. If the top buys into it, it just flows all the way down through the company or the country.

And so, that’s what we do, and our goal, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about The Tipping Point, so our goal is to get 10% of the people in a country in these transformation tables. And it’s just phenomenal what’s happened. We have, I think, what is it, 1.3 million now in roundtables, and it keeps just multiplying and growing. But when people learn good values and then they begin to live them, what happens is they become more valuable to themselves, they become more valuable to their family and to their community, and there begins to be what we call a values lift in that community and in that culture.

And so, that’s what we’re going for. And, again, it’s all about developing leaders and helping them to do more than how to lead, but to be people whose lives have been changed, which begins to create a contagiousness that other people want to have that also. So, that’s kind of what we do, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a values lift sounds like a great thing that I’d love to see all around me. So, could you maybe give us an example then of, “All right, so here’s what it might look, sound, feel like. Here’s a value and here’s some discussion questions, and here’s how that can really come to life for folks”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, for example, in Guatemala, that was the country we started first, and went to Paraguay, Costa Rica, and then we have two more countries we’ll launched into this year. But in these transformation tables, because the government is involved in also, so there was a table that the attorney general was involved in, so we’re talking about values and honesty and integrity are part of it.

And she, during the roundtable, felt that there was a lot of corruption and dishonesty in the government, so she went to one table, then she facilitated the second table. And while she was doing that, she said, “Why am I facilitating this table when I’m, as an attorney general, not doing something about the government?” So, make a long story short, she began to prosecute people in government that were corrupt and tried them in front of the Supreme Court. And, 18 months later, over 300 of them were in prison.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

John C. Maxwell
Including the president. It’s the only time a Latin American country has overthrown a leader because of corruption. And she has began to make a major change in the country. That’s a big example. A little example, a mother of a son who was in prison went to the training of the values table. And so, she went to the warden and asked if she could do that with her son and a few of the inmates. He said yes, so she started that transformation table with them.

There are 16 values that they go through over a period of time and it just changed the seven or eight inmates. And they were sharing with their other inmates about what they were doing. And to make a long story short, in two years, all the inmates in the prison plus the guards were in these transformation tables. It had come from a very kind of rowdy prison to kind of the model prison in the country because of what had happened.

And so, again, it’s a values lift. And, again, it’s creating a leadership culture which The Leader’s Greatest Return is that what’s it all about, “How do you and I create a leadership culture to raise up other leaders so that we can have a compounding return on the things that we’re trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on so within these transformation tables and these values discussions, it seems noteworthy just how fruitful this is, and that things are really taking root. And I guess I’m thinking about Michael Scott and the TV Show The Office and how they had an ethics seminar. And I guess that’s just comedy but I think it’s quite common that these kinds of messages can go in one ear, out the other. What do you think makes it stick in terms of folks are really adopting it and doing some things differently in their lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, what makes it stick is when it’s more than a training program.
It’s that sharing around a table that is experiential that brings life change.

And nothing happens in a company, Pete, unless the leaders are involved in the roundtable too, that’s why we say, “You have to be in. The presidents of these countries are in these transformation tables.” They’re all there, Pete, because nothing is worst than being in a company, and so my level where we’re having some training on leadership or whatever it is, and all the executives aren’t there. It’s kind of like, “Okay, it’s not that important or else they’d be in the meeting also.”

And so, you have to have what I call a connecting identifying factor to make it stick, and that’s why the tables do such a better job than a lecture. That’s why I devoted a whole chapter in The Leader’s Greatest Return on the leadership table. What’s it like to have people sit around the table and be able to get into leadership discussion and hear leaders ask questions, and hear leadership thought? This all is what allows people to be and to develop themselves as a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, that sounds perfect. It’s the connecting identifying factor. And so, when folks are sharing experiences over time, how big are these tables?

John C. Maxwell
Oh, six to eight.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, six to eight people. So, I guess a way I’m thinking about it there is like, “Okay, well, in your first session, maybe only one person is bought in and does something, and then they share it. And then, by the next session, folks go, ‘Huh, that’s kind of cool. Something happened there. All right. Maybe this is worth paying a little more attention to.’” And then you get this really get the juices flowing over time.

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, the buy-in is in the process. So, they sit around the table, their arms are folded the first time, say, “What are we doing here?” And then when people begin to share and ask questions, it begins to get them involved. I mean, there are six or eight. You can’t hide. If you’re in a lecture hall, you can hide. You can’t hide and so pretty soon it comes to you, and you kind of got to do something about it. And then when you begin to see people having improvement in their life, it begins to be contagious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned a concept, I think, is important, I want to make sure we give a few minutes to. So, you distinguished between influence and control. Can you tell us what is that distinction and why is it important?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think, first of all, I teach that leadership is influence and nothing more, really, nothing less.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I quoted you in an interview once. Someone made me define leadership. I was in college and I was doing it for the campus record department had some sort of leadership team-building roles, like, “I want that.” They said, “How would you define leadership?” I was like, “You know what, I’ll take John C. Maxwell’s.” And they’re like, “All right.” I got the job.

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s such a simple little definition, but it’s so right on. Leadership is influence. And the difference is influence is, if I have influence with you, it can either be controlling or it can be voluntary. If it’s controlling, it’s kind of like I’m the boss, I have a leadership position, and to be honest with you, Pete, you don’t have any choice. You have to follow me. You follow me whether I can lead well or not. I mean, everybody listening to this podcast knows what it’s like to have a bad boss. I mean, we all go back and say, “Oh, that was a nightmare.” Well, why was it a nightmare? Because you had somebody in a leadership position that you had to follow that couldn’t lead but they had control.

And so, you never know if you can lead if people have to follow. I mean, it’s like prison where the warden gets up and says, “You know, there are a thousand people here that came to see me.” Well, they didn’t have any choice. In fact, they’d like to break out if they could. So, control is where I have no choice. The influence I’m talking about here is where I don’t follow you because I have to, but I follow you because I want to. And why do I want to? Because you’re a good leader, because you care for me, because you’re trustworthy, because you’re competent, and so, yeah, I want to be on your team because if I’m on your team, life is going to get a little bit better.

So, when I think of influence, in fact, sometimes I’m with companies and they’re saying, “I’ve got three or four really key executives, and I’m thinking about another leadership position and advancing one of the three.” And they’ll ask me, they’ll say, “What do you suggest as far as which of the three I pick?” And I say, “Why don’t you give all three of them a volunteer project? Have all three of them go do something in their community that’s pure volunteer and let them be in charge and just see how good they are with volunteers. Because if they can lead people who don’t have to follow them, you have a good leader.” And that’s influence. That’s not control at all. That’s not relying on titles or positions to get what I want.
I mean, how many times have we heard the boss say, “Yeah, you do it because I said so.” “Okay. Well, here we go. That’s a great reason to do something.” And so, the influence that we talk about in leadership and the influence we talk about in The Leader’s Greatest Return is influence based upon your ability to connect with people and make things better for them not because you have a title or a position which is control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is a nice distinction. And then, generally speaking, how do you recommend we go about being more influential in our colleagues’ lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, because I teach that leadership is influence, people, many times will say, “Well, how do I…?” because, in fact, it is true and it is. The question is, “How do I increase my influence? Because the more influence I increase, the better I am at that, the more people I can lead.” And what I always say is very simple, there’s a very simple path to increasing influence, and that is, intentionally, every day, adding value to people. And I encourage people to have this kind of a lifestyle that every morning, for example, in my life, every morning, and I ask myself one simple question, “Okay, how can I add value to people today? And who am I going to see?”

I sat down early this morning and I went through the fact that I was going to be on a podcast with you, Pete, and outside of the question of the wine cork, outside of that, the question I wanted to ask myself is, “How can I add value to Pete?” because you’ve got a great podcast, you help an amazing amount of people, and you have a wonderful, wonderful work going on. Well, I just want to add value to you. So, that’s very intentional. What do I say? How do I add value to you?

Every morning, I just look at the people I’m going to meet and the schedule I’m going to have and what can I do to help people. In the evening, I ask myself the same question, “Who did I add value to today? How did I do that? And how can I do more of it?” And it’s being intentional in adding value to people that increases your influence. You show me any person in any person’s life that adds positive value in a continual basis for someone, and I promise you 100% that that person has great influence with that individual. Why? Because that person intentionally makes life better for them, and they become very endeared to you, and you want to be around them. So, that’s how you increase influence.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your view in terms of how can you add value. Now, in many ways, there are thousands of different answers and ways that one can do that during the course of a day with the people that you’re interacting with. Are there a few things that you noticed that people can do just about all the time and they often don’t? So, how about a start?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think it starts, Pete, it starts with valuing people. That’s the baseline. So, when I start talking about increasing influence by adding value to people, I don’t talk to them about, first of all, how to add value to people. I just ask them a very simple question, “Do you value people?” Because if you value people, now you’ll begin to have a leaning bet to adding value to them. If you don’t value people, you won’t add value to them. I mean, if you kind of value yourself and devalue other people, no one’s ever added value to somebody that they don’t value. It makes no sense at all.

So, we start with, “Do you value people?” And if the answer is yes there, then we help them become very intentional, and we teach them every day, first of all, think of ways to add value to people. Look at your calendar. First of all, think of, “Who do I have the chance to add value to?” I know I’d get a chance to add value to today, they’re on my schedule. So, think about ways to add value to people. Then when you’re with them, look for ways to add value to people. And then every day, those two things, every day, add value to people, make sure you do some tangible actions to where you can look and say, “You know, I made that day better for someone else. And then what I do is I encourage others to add value to people.” And it’s just to continue adding value cycle but foundational.

It’s foundational in leadership. It’s very foundational. I tell leaders all the time, “When you stop loving people, you stop leading them. Good Lord, you’re a disaster. You’re going to hurt a lot of people because everything rises and falls on leadership. And leaders that don’t value people can cause a lot of harm.” And so, it’s just very essential for that to be the core. If you truly value people, then you’re going to learn how to increase your influence by doing these things I just gave you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting to think about that mindset. I think some might say, “Oh, my gosh, that sounds exhausting and I’m already overwhelmed with my own stuff.” But then, I think in practice, when I’ve been on a good hot streak of living that, it’s actually much less stressful and more uplifting energy-giving joy-fueling to live that way.

John C. Maxwell
Oh, of course. And it’s a simple relationship, of course, but it just works like this. I mean, I can teach relationships in one minute. It’s not complicated and it’s very simple. I’m either a plus in people’s lives or I’m a minus. It’s just that fact. I’m, every day, either adding value to people which puts me on the plus side, or every day I’m wanting people to add value to me, and I’m sucking energy and air from them. And if I’m constantly consumed about myself and making sure, “Hey, Pete, well, we’re going to be together, I hope you do something really good for me today. And, my gosh, you know,” and it’s all about me, almost always I’m subtracting value from people. And it’s a fact that I think most people who even are a minus and subtract value from people, I think most of them are even unaware or they’re just not aware of it, that they are more concerned about what they reap than what they sow.

Was it Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “I consider my day a success by the seeds that I’ve sown not by the harvest I reap.” That’s an added value statement. And, basically, he was saying, “Every day I just intentionally sow seeds.” Because, you see, what he knew was very true, and that is the harvest is automatic. But sowing seeds is not so you got to be intentional on the frontend to get the fruit on the backend. And many people, they get up every day, and they ask a simple question, “I wonder if something good is going to happen to me today. I wonder if somebody will be nice to me.” And it’s all about people adding value to them.

If I am wanting people to add value to me more than I’m wanting to add value to people, I become a minus in relationships. And if I want to add value to people more than have people add value to me, I become a plus. It’s that simple and you just have to be that intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
John, this is great stuff. I think we’re in our last couple of minutes. Tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about maybe one or two of your new favorite things?

John C. Maxwell
Well, in the book The Leader’s Greatest Return the reason I’m very excited about the book is there are a lot of leadership books out there but there are very, very, very few books on how to develop other leaders, and there’s a reason for that. Most people don’t do it, 95% of all leaders don’t develop other leaders. They just have followers. And the reason that they have followers instead of leaders is it’s not easy to develop leaders.

Leaders have a mind of their own, they’re already in the game, and they don’t just fall in line. And I wrote the book because the greatest return any person is going to have as a leader is not having a lot of followers, because every time I develop another leader, it just begins to multiply and compound. And so, I wrote a book, simple, practical, applicable, that a person can pick up, and they say, “Okay, leading leaders, developing leaders, isn’t the easiest thing I’m going to do but it’s the most worthwhile thing I can do.”

My good friend Art Williams who started Primerica, has a great statement. He told people when they would join his company, he said, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy but I am telling you it’s going to be worthwhile.” And this is what I wrote in The Leader’s Greatest Return. It’s not easy but it’s going to be worthwhile and it’s going to give you a huge return. I know that because for 50 years I’ve developed leaders, and the compounding I’m having in my life now is ridiculously off the chart, but it’s because I’ve consciously developed other people to lead and influence others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your leadership development adventures, you know, nation to nation and group to group.

John C. Maxwell
Thank you, friend. I so value you and what you do for so many people. Pete, you’re a plus in people’s lives. Your podcast adds value to so many, millions of people, and so it’s always a pleasure to be with you and to, hopefully, add value to you and to your listeners. And thank you again for your help with my wine cork situation. But just thank you and blessings. And, hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to do it some more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, you too.