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510: The Science Behind Successful Teams with Dr. Janice Presser

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Dr. Janice Presser says: "In efficient teams, people are able to share time appropriately... in the act of sharing it, they actually cause time to expand."

Dr. Janice Presser discusses how to build better teams using the science of teaming.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 10 ways people contribute to a team
  2. Three questions to resolve team friction
  3. Two strategies for managing up

About Janice

Dr. Janice Presser spent her formative years researching how people team together, and found answers in systems theory and physics. Having written her first line of code in high school, she was positioned to architect a system to measure how people work together and develop the underlying theory and practice of Teaming Science. The author of seven books on teaming, she consults to executives and is currently working on the question of how spatial technology will impact human relationships in the future.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Janice Presser Interview Transcript

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

Dr. Janice Presser
It’s awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom. And maybe you can start us off by orienting us a bit to what is Team Science and Teamability?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, I started out life like anybody else trying to get all kinds of education. And the most important thing, I think, that I learned in way too many years of education was about asking questions. So, eventually, I became assistant scientist, that’s what my doctorate is in, and I was very interested in physics. But I was always interested in people.

And so, I actually started to think about, “What’s going on between people? And can we apply what we know from general systems theory and from physics to really understand what’s happening?” Well, fast forward many years after that, and the result was two things. One, a theory of teaming that we eventually proved out, and I did have a research colleague, or three, to help me think that through. And then the second thing was developing a technology by which you could measure it in an objective way.

You see, back in the day, there were lots of personality tests and everybody has probably taken them. You can’t apply for a job often without being asked to do something, and so personality tests were pretty key. But a personality trait is really just a slice of a person, kind of how they represent themselves at the time. And that wasn’t getting to the kind of, “Where’s the meat of what I want to understand?”

I mean, I had a whole lot of questions that maybe you and your listeners have. For instance, I always have to ask this question, “Do you really want to work on a team? Or do you really want to lead a team? Maybe you’ll really have much more fun working on your own, whether that’s occasionally being with other people and teaming with them, which is the way most consultants are, independent consultants, anyway. Or do you have a particular talent that you just love to do, and you might be a performance artist in any way?” To try and think of teaming as something better than or above what’s in your very nature, to help you contribute to the world. That makes no sense.

So, what made a whole lot of sense to me was, “How can we help people figure that out?” And so, I found out that there were really three key measures to understanding that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so what are those three measures?

Dr. Janice Presser
Okay. First is, and they have names, so the first one is role, not to be confused with the way recruiters will use it, like, “I think you’re ready for a leadership role,” or something like that. But in the sense of, “How do you, in your deepest heart of hearts, get the most satisfaction out of making some contribution to the larger world?”

And, in the course of our research, we, in fact, validated that there are 10 ways, very general ways, and you do them in your own way, of course, that people contribute to the world. Some of us, and I suspect, Pete, you may be very similar to me in this, we like to work with ideas, big, long-range, huge ideas that might even change the world. And that’s a very different way of contributing to the world than, for instance, loving to organize it.

If we’re very lucky, and even in our first job, and even before that, and definitely in our personal relationships, we get to be with people who love to do the things that, hmmm, kind of leave us cold. And they, in turn, don’t really want to do what we do, so it gives us lots of latitude to kind of perfect and try new things out on the way that we do.

So, we use that term to designate this. And when you go through Teamability, which is the technology, you get to star in a series of 10 movies, and that will determine that. And the important thing is that once you know that, you can better align what you are doing or the kind of job you’re looking for. And on the hiring side, you’ll actually get people who’ll perform better because we all do best what we like best, and we like best what we do best, so let’s stop trying to change that. That’s human nature. It’s how we work. So, that’s the first thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, so there’s 10 of them. We talked about ideas and organizing. What are the others?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, there are people who love to take those big visions that we come up with, and then drive them to strategic reality. And those are my favorite people for being consultants because they’re great at strategy. They analyze fantastically. But then they would prefer to break the work down, assign it out to other people who are just waiting to know what to do, and then when it all comes back to them, they might reorganize it and put the finishing touches on a report. But, essentially, their job is almost advisory and analytical in nature.

Now, that’s all great. But in order to put a company together, it’s very helpful to have someone who will then take those great big strategies and all that analyses, and help kind of hone everything down, in a sense, shape and form the strategy in a way that real people can do the work on a real day-to-day basis. And so, once they’re done doing that, then you’ve got a whole bunch of people who just love doing stuff. And those are the people who love doing things, like sales, like things that are much more immediate. When they lead, they lead on the ground, and they’re the greatest team-spirit people of all.

You know, the good neighbor that you have, the one who works all day, and then coaches the kids’ soccer team, and always wants to help you out, that very well may be a very action-oriented people. And then you need those organized ones. Then you need the people who go away from the team and bring treasures back to the team. Often, they don’t think of themselves as team players, but they’re so essential. They’re the innovation people and they’re almost magical. They see things that the rest of us might just not even notice.

And then it’s very helpful when they bring those great things back to organizations to have someone whose job is, well, best described by kind of like a controller does with money. Money comes in, and they use the money in such a way that will advance the goals of the organization in the best way. They don’t treat it like it’s theirs and hoard it, but it’s more of an investing in people, in process, in whatever it is that the company does.

Let’s see. I’ve got three more to go. There are the people who like to fix immediate problems that get in the rest of our way and mess up our ability to do our jobs. People like that often are very underappreciated because they’re there, they fix it, and they’re gone. And so, always remember, if they weren’t there to do it, you’d have to do it yourself. So, that’s an important thing.

And then there are the people who are kind of the historians of the organization, the librarians, in a sense, the curators of whatever it is that our business has done in the past, the things that have worked. And they’re very good at understanding, “What should we keep? And what should we just pass on, you know, kind of move on?”

And then there’s kind of the glue that holds all organizations together. And those are the people who go between everyone and they know what’s going on. In a very well-functioning organization, they know so many people that they can actually broker informal deals. You know, one part of a big organization may have lots of resources that another part of the organization is starving for. And these are the people whose great joy it is to bring needs and wants together, to bring people together for the spreading of community, of being that. Hopefully, we all have a great friend like that somewhere who we feel like when they’re listening to us, time goes away.

So, that’s the quick story on those.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the idea people, the organizing people, the visions and the strategy folks, the strategy, the tasks folks, the executing the task on the ground, the innovation treasures bringing back the allocation of resources, the immediate problem fixers, the historians, and then the glue, so those are 10.

Dr. Janice Presser
They are. They all have special names, of course, but you can learn about that on the website. But there’s more to that. There’s more to having a great fit with your job, and these are the two other things. First is what we call coherence because it’s straight out of physics. It answers the question of, “Under what working conditions will you do your best?”

So, here’s my favorite example because, well, I kind of been in both. For most people, stress, ambiguity, uncertainty, is very uncomfortable and so they really don’t want a job that’s more stressful than they’re comfortable with, right? We’re all pretty much like that. But there’s a small subset of people for whom what other people call stress, well, let’s just say we call that excitement and fun. And we probably work best as entrepreneurs, which is about as uncertain as you can get.

People might say, “Well, you’re a risk-taker.” Well, there’s a difference between taking risks and really enjoying a pretty tumultuous kind of culture. So, lots of startup tech is like that. And if you don’t enjoy it, the environment is not going to change and probably you aren’t either. So, why are you working in an environment which isn’t any fun for you? And this works in the reverse.

My very first job, which was very long time ago, when, I’m sorry to say, women did not have the breadth of choices that they have now, I worked for a very large city. And it was probably the most boring job I ever had, and that was because nothing changed. There was no excitement. I would’ve enjoyed being named the commissioner but, of course, I was only 21, and that wasn’t going to happen. There just wasn’t enough opportunity to make something happen.

And so, if you really, really want to make something happen, don’t be in a job where you can’t do anything. It will only be uncomfortable just in the opposite direction. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And so then, what are some of the particular parameters by which we often see, “Ooh, we got high coherence here or low coherence there”?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, if you were in the kind of job where making a decision and having it carried out very quickly is very important, then that’s a very high coherence, requires a very high coherence kind of culture. On the other hand, in many government-type of agencies, and I hope this would change, somebody used to refer to this to me as the Department of Redundancy department, to have the desire to make fast change will only be frustrating.

So, if in fact you’re selling into an environment like that, you need to enjoy a slower, more leisurely, and probably more enjoyable to you, kind of environment. What you want is the match. What isn’t better than the other or worse, the question is, “What’s good for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you listed a couple dimensions where we might find coherence. We got the sort of like the sameness versus difference, the quick versus slow. What are some of those other key dimensions?

Dr. Janice Presser
Ambiguity. Uncertainty. If you don’t like change, it’s okay, but you’re not going to be happy in a very high-change kind of environment. So, with startup tech companies making the fast pivot. Well, a fast pivot in tech is like a fast pivot on a basketball court. It can leave your head spinning. And the fact is some people enjoy that sensation and other people don’t, so it’s more of a matchup. And that’s what the technology is used for on both sides.

So, I do a lot of consulting now not only to organizations but to people who just want to know, “Do I have to keep doing what I always did?” Well, the answer is, if you listen to many career counselors, the answer will be yes. And the fact is it’s true, the HR Department might toss your resume if you’ve never had experience in the thing that you really believe is going to make your heart sing.

But you know what? It’s a gig economy now and you don’t have to have a 9:00 to 5:00 job anymore if what’s preferable to you is to really enjoy what you’re doing. There are so many different ways to learn new things and to then try them out and they’ll either fly or they’ll fail. But until you’ve had a couple of good failures under your belt, life may be boring. Again, it’s, “What are you going to be interested in?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the role, we got the coherence, and what’s the third one?

Dr. Janice Presser
The third one is a big group, and collectively we refer to them as teaming characteristics. There are tens of thousands, and many people say, “Well, that’s synonymous kind of with culture.” And people are measuring culture in a whole lot of different ways now but, yes, you can use that to dig a little deeper into what you think your culture is, because, actually, in a well-functioning company, you have a lot of subcultures.

Nobody wants the, oh, let’s say, the scientific development part of the company to be like the culture in the customer service department or social media, if you have one. Think about what do you have to do to do you job well? Does it involve chit chatting with a whole lot of people and making them feel comfortable and part of your community? Or are you much more cut and dried and let’s get to the bottom of how are we going to cure this disease?

Nobody expects chitchat in the laboratory. In fact, many of the best scientists I know, other people might call antisocial. No, it’s just that in order to think about the things you have to think about, if you’re going to be a scientist, you just don’t have all that much time to give to things that aren’t related to that. So, as I said, there are tens of thousands of different teaming characteristics, and they’ll show up on a report or not if they’re not prominent. And the fact is they’re for kind of micro fitting to an environment. So, for instance, believe it not, there are actually some accountants who are very friendly and very social.

Pete Mockaitis
I can believe this. I can believe it, yeah.

Dr. Janice Presser
I know. I’ve even known some of them, even though the stereotype is you have your head in the numbers and all of that. Well, guess what? If you went to school and you’ve got that coveted CPA and you’re keeping up with those credits, now make sure you put it on your calendar, because if you’re like this and you’re good with people, you’re probably not great with times. Just put it on your calendar and you’ll be okay.

You have the perfect job waiting for you. All those accounting companies, they need somebody like you who both understands accounting and loves to talk to people so you should be the one that’s going out to all of the, oh, you know, the meetups where the new companies are and selling the services of those other people who’ll then do this part of the work which you probably don’t enjoy that much.

So, this is true for anyone. You’re going to have some teaming characteristics maybe that make you a great fit in one environment. But the same job title in a completely different environment? They just leave you cold and not be satisfying at all. And then there are some that are not going to be relevant at all to what you’re doing but maybe they’re important to you in your personal life because you know how happy you are at work will be reflected when you come home.

I mean, seriously, if the thing that happens after you’ve been at work all day is that you come home and you kick the cat or you pick a fight with the person who loves you the most in this world, you’re not having an awesome work day at all. And it’s not that you aren’t awesome as a human being, and that that job isn’t awesome for somebody else, but that oomph, it’s just that the awesomeness is not aligning and nobody is going to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you talked about teaming characteristics, you’ve mentioned some, hey, you like talking to people, or be in deep inside the lab and not talking to people. Do you have sort of like the 10 for the roles, you have a set list that show up the most often?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, no. No. Actually, no, because this is a multidimensional way of looking at things. We’re actually measuring how the space will go between you and someone else. So, for instance, here’s an example straight out of reality. I was talking to someone, and she had a particular teaming characteristic… You know how we all have our blind spots? We’re human. We all have our blind spots and we pretty much all have the stuff that we really don’t enjoy doing.

Well, she happened to have a pretty big blind spot and, in the course of our conversation, she said to me, “Oh, my God, that’s my husband. And when he does that,” she said, “I have a terrible time listening to him.” She said, “Sometimes it’s like I don’t even understand the words that he’s saying.” And I said, “Well, that’s really great. Obviously, you’ve been brought together so that you can learn from him, how to then apply, loving what he does and he contributes to your world, into your professional life.” And she said, she was a little speechless, and she said, “That’s exactly how it worked.”

And I found out later that when they were planning to get married, they had both been sent by their premarital counselor at their church, they’ve both been given a personality test. And two separate religious advisors advised them not to get married because they were so different. Well, 10 years later and a couple of kids, and these people are happy. But understanding even more why that seemingly odd block was there to their getting together, “Why should this be here?” when, otherwise, everything works well is not dissimilar from what happens in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there we have it. So, we’ve got these components, and so then I guess I’m curious in terms of there’s a lot to be said associated with match and then the interaction amongst people there. And so, are there any particular best practice behaviors within teams and organizations that just are quite wise because they make good application of this knowledge?

Dr. Janice Presser
Well, understanding that people are healthier when they do what they love, and they’ll get along better with everyone. What you want to do is start out by aligning what the person really is like, that is their role, their coherence, their teaming characteristics, with the work that you’re expecting them to do. And so, my favorite best practice for managers is this.

You know how we all hate doing performance evaluations? Seriously, if there’s anyone out there who loves doing performance evaluations, please let me know. I haven’t met you yet. But most people, we don’t like doing them as managers, and people don’t like listening to them because nobody’s ever perfect. And sometimes your compensation is tied to it. So, this is my way of evaluating people as a manager, three simple questions.

First, “Are you doing enough of what you really like?” Pete, are you? I think you are in this job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Janice Presser
Right. “Are you doing too many things that you don’t like?” Now, I know you’re doing a few things you don’t like because, well, doing a podcast involves having to do a whole lot of technical things that are besides the point, but you do it just like startup people do it. You do that stuff because it’s important to the achievement of the vision, which is, in your case obviously, the world-changing podcast, right? So, that’s okay.

But if you were working for someone else, and let’s say 10% of your work are things that you love and 90% are things that you didn’t, you’d probably go looking for a new job and I wouldn’t blame you. And then the final question I asks is, “So, what can we do together to make it better?” That’s it. And then for the manager, you can start to look at the work that your team is expected to do in a whole new way. Just look at it from above. Think of your team as a living, breathing thing, the team itself, I mean. And that team has needs to get to whatever its mission is, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and that part doesn’t matter.

And then you can look at, “What does the team actually need in order to get to the achievement of the mission? And who would like to do these things the best?” So, sometimes the job descriptions that get handed down from HR to HR to HR don’t really align with the real people that are in your team. Just because you have an official description doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, shouldn’t just be able to just get the work done, take care of business in the way that makes sense for everybody.

It isn’t that difficult and I’m always delighted when I’ve gone in and advised someone and everybody’s gone through the technology, and we’re looking at reports, and coming up with suggestions, and I find out that they already started moving some bits and pieces of job descriptions around and redistributing work to make people happier. And then, of course, they always report back the positive effect it has because it has the physical effect of removing friction. It takes out the friction.

Sometimes what you discover is that you have hired a little too much in your own image and it’s not an uncommon thing. So, very strategic people will often hire people who they see as being strategic thinkers. The problem is that’s not required if the job is to manage day-to-day operations. All you’re going to do is have a lot of people who want to do the same thing for the team and nobody who wants to do what the team really needs in one or more areas. And that’s a guaranteed fail.

You’ll get somebody to halfheartedly do it, they’ll probably do it, but they’ll be either putting their resume out on the street or they’ll be getting their satisfaction somewhere else and you will sink to the bottom on their important list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a cautionary tale. Thank you. And so then, if you are the individual professional and you are getting some awareness for what you need, and you would like to get more of that, what are some of your pro tips for managing up effectively to make that happen?

Dr. Janice Presser
Ah, managing up is always a challenge. Managing up is a whole interesting kind of thing. We often think of our boss like kind of a super parent, right? So, they know more, they’re more powerful, and please stop making that assumption because it’s probably not true. In fact, very often you may be reporting to someone who is not, in fact, making your work ready for you, to make it more accessible to you. It’s not a failing on their part, it’s kind of a systemic failing that there is nobody kind of managing the transition from the strategy into the action.

But sometimes you’re below in the hierarchy but you’re really, really good at that. So, keeping in mind that one of the things that you need to not do is to invoke a whole lot of fear in the person who you’re reporting to. Oh, that’s very important. Fear diffuses people’s energy. Fear just makes them less coherent. You want to encourage the coherence, or the holding together, the sharpness, the focus of the person who you’re reporting to.

And so, now again, depending on your field for what kind of certainty environment do they want, you may need to give them the feeling that things are very even keel before you go to them with a whole lot of complaints about how things are not working out. If you have somebody who gives you that fear response or defensive response immediately, retreat. Because if you make them more defensive, they will turn that back on you. Unless, of course, you want to get fired to collect some unemployment while you’re following your dream. I make no judgment whatsoever on that.

Remember, you have your special way of contributing to the world and so do other people. And your way may actually be more effective in your boss’ job than they are, so you have to tread carefully. Here’s another little secret. We are all motivated by the same things, and I’m just going to talk about two of them quickly and tell you how you can use that.

So, everybody has some level of motivation towards power, not power over people but empowerment, you know, feeling, “I’ll be able to do this. I can drive the business,” whatever it is that makes you feel exhilarated and powerful and instrumental in your world.

The other major motivator is affiliation, friendliness, being liked. Now, you can’t make assumptions on that. We sound like we’re having a very friendly conversation, I’m sure, to podcast listeners. But I will be the first to confess, I’m all about the power and affiliation pretty much has always taking a backseat in my life. So, it’s not bothered me if somebody didn’t like me or I’d scared them enough that they didn’t want me in their company anymore because I really wanted to do my own company and have a culture. That was the way I envisioned it. That would be fun for everyone.

So, if you can get a feel for what’s more important to your boss, this is what you can do. Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

Dr. Janice Presser
So, if your boss is very high in power, and, Pete, I’m going to make the assumption you are because if you weren’t wanting to be instrumental in this world, you never would’ve started a podcast, or been a great consultant, or anything else that you do. So, how I’m going to approach you is, even though I’m normally a real power person, I’m going to go in very low in power, and I’m going to say something like, “You know, Pete, I’ve been trying to solve this customer problem, and I just need to ask your help.”

Now that’s going to be hard for me because normally I’ve got 17 solutions and I’d like to go in and say, “Pete, could you give me like 50 people so we could try these things out?” But recognizing you’re a motivator, I can enhance that and bring it over to my side to engage you to use your desire for power to help me solve my problem.

Second thing, so I’m going to go opposite. Now, by the reverse, let’s say I’m trying to manage up and I’ve got a boss who’s not very motivated by power. If you’re working in customer service, particularly in a call center, that may be true for you. So, I want to go in with the reverse. For instance, something like, and I can’t even say, Pete, because it’s very unlike you, but let’s say, “Joe, I’ve been giving this some thought and I’m wondering if this might be a very effective way to do things and I’m going to give you a chart with maybe a few bullet points or something. And I’m going to be very happy if you adopt it for your own.”

So, I’d be going in in the opposite direction, so on that power gradient you always want to be the reverse of what the other person is. But, on the cordiality dimension, you want to match up with someone. So, that’s pretty easy. If somebody is very friendly, go in first with a giant smile on your face no matter how much you have to complain about. And if you’re a power person, this can be a hard lesson to learn, okay, because you’re going to have to use some of your desire to be powerful to learn how friendly people interact. It’s not that difficult, just observe a few.

For instance, they always smile. No one ever has to tell a very cordial customer service person, “Smile before you pick the phone up.” No, it’s we power people who need that reminder. So, go in with a smile and with love in your heart, that’s love on a casual, cordial level, not bad, don’t get the HR police on you, none of that stuff. And go in with something that matches their level of cordiality when they’re on the friendly level.

Now, here’s the caveat here. Sometimes you walk into a situation where the other person is anything but cordial. In fact, they’re spitting nails, they’re furious and all that, and your instinct, and, of course, since I’ve just told you to match that cordiality level, might be to yell right back at them. Don’t do that. The way you’d match low cordiality would be to just go cold, kind of blank, blank expression, no smiles. If you smile, the other person is going to think you’re a complete idiot, so try not to do that even though that may be always your natural inclination to try and warm people up.

If you go in minus your usual cordiality level, that is you go in with no smile, no yelling, but no smile, eventually that will move the needle on the other person’s cordiality as they warm it up a little bit, and they say maybe, “Ugh, excuse me, I’ve been having a horrible day. The furnace exploded and the cat had 17 kittens, and I don’t know what to do.” Then you can warm it up and say, “I’ve had those days too,” a little half smile. If they go to full smile, bring it up to full smile.

But managing somebody is a matter of really managing them where they are. And that has some changes during the day. Everyone has kind of the motivator that is always going to spark something in them. But there’s always enough room for you to get in under there. As long as you understand that you can never, don’t yell back, that will never be effective. And what you really want to get to is a level of respect and trust on a mutually-agreed upon framework that actually works to help you both be more productive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell me, Janice, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, my God, let’s see. I think the main thing for managing up, it dates back to our childhood. When we’re kids, the person who has the more powerful title is always the one we’re afraid of, and we know they’re more powerful because mommy and daddy can make that car go, and they can sign their name, and we get food in the house and things like that. It doesn’t work that way at work. We’re all adults, right?

You may be working for someone much more educated or anything else, but you deserve to have that respect and trust at the level that you give out also. So, just do not be afraid of it. Go ahead and use it. I’m forever challenging particularly because, I guess, I run into it more, younger women who are not taking command of their scene. Go ahead. Just do it. Whatever you think is in the way, you can overcome it. And if you trip over it, just get up and do it again. It will be fine. I’m living proof.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
You know, this is the back in the olden days, and I don’t know if this is true now. We had to memorize a poem, and I think this might’ve been third or fourth grade. And I think I probably memorized this one because it was dark but it was powerful. And it’s “Invictus,” it’s the last stanza of “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

That’s always spoken to me.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
My favorite is my ongoing research, and it’s about the only quantitative research that I actually enjoy. And that’s my counting the number of times people have said to me, after I’ve told them about something, not knowing the person that we’re talking about, but just on the basis of their Teamabilty report. And they said, “Oh, my God, that’s dead accurate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And how about a favorite book?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, all right. Well, I don’t know if you’ve read this, but they did make a movie, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the movie because I love the book so much. And it’s Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time and it’s a children’s book, and it’s part of her Time Trilogy which won all kinds of wonderful awards. And I love it because of the science in it.

But I mostly love it for what she said about it. And what she said was, “When I have a topic that’s too difficult for adults to understand, I write it as a children’s book.” And she inspired me enormously.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
Ah, Lose It! LoseIt.com because you live in a physical body and you need lots of energy. And, yes, I am older than I look, and I have to give lots of credit to Lose It! I think I’ve been using it way past 10 years. It’s just, “What are you eating? What are you exercising? And what other goals do you have?” It’s grown as I guess as I’ve grown and used with it. So, there are lots of things you can track with it that are measures of, “Am I spending enough time during the day reflecting on am I going to have enough energy to accomplish all these things I want to do?” And if you haven’t figured it out by now, retirement is not one of those things that I want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Dr. Janice Presser
Oh, boy. Well, I will tell you what someone else has told me. I actually don’t remember when I even wrote this, but people are always reminding me that I said it. And I said, “In efficient teams, people are able to share time appropriately. They cooperate over it. And in the act of sharing it, they actually cause it to expand.”

And that’s what happens on great teams, is that at the end of the day, we don’t feel tired. We go home and we feel renewed and so we give more to our people, our family, our friends, or whoever is in our community, our cities, our states, our countries, the whole world, our entire environment. And that’s what is important to me.

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

Dr. Janice Presser
TeamingScience.com where you’ll learn about teaming science. Of course, if you want to follow my blog, I do, some is team-oriented but some of it goes off in other directions. And it’s just my name, DrJanicePresser.com, and I think there are links on either that will take you to the other. Please feel free to send me an email through either site. I love hearing from people in how they’re doing things. And, of course, you can always follow me on Twitter @DrJanice. She sometimes tweets a little rude but it’s been over 10 years and still tweeting there. And @TeamingScience is more new. So, if it’s tips you’re looking for, I’ll be getting to get those out soon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Janice, this has been a lot of fun. Please keep up the great work.

Dr. Janice Presser
Thank you. It’s been great to be here with you, Pete.

509: How to Become the Manager Your Team Needs with FranklinCovey’s Todd Davis

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Todd Davis of FranklinCovey says: Everyone deserves a great manager.

Todd Davis explains why people are bad at managing—and what to do about it. 

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where most managers fail
  2. How to overcome the fear of feedback
  3. A productivity hack to keep your week from spiraling

About Todd

Todd Davis has been with FranklinCovey for more than two decades and serves as the chief people officer. As the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, Todd has delivered keynote presentations and speeches around the globe, including at the renowned World Business Forum. Todd has been featured in Inc. magazine, Fast Company, and the Harvard Business Review. He and his family reside in Holladay, Utah.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Todd Davis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Todd Davis
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m such a big admirer of FranklinCovey and the work you guys do and several of your folks over there who’ve appeared in the podcast. I’d love to hear, what’s some of the newest, latest, coolest insights coming out of FranklinCovey over the last year or two?

Todd Davis
Wow! That’s a loaded question. Well, FranklinCovey, I’ve been here for, going on 24 years now, so lots of great things during that time. Most recently, and this has been maybe a little bit longer than two years but we’re still involved in it, a big business model change where we now have what’s called an all-access-pass model.

So, previously people that would engage with FranklinCovey would purchase our solutions or have our consultants come in for a specific solution, and we still do that, but now it’s more of a subscription model where people have access to everything and anything that FranklinCovey does. And we have, well, we call them implementation specialists that come into your organization or your team and help create these learning journeys. So, that’s probably the biggest, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my career here.

On a more recent change, the book that I believe we’re going to talk about, Everyone Deserves A Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team just hit the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list today, it just came out today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent.

Todd Davis
So, very excited about that. That was not why we wrote the book but it’s nice to see that validation of how it’s resonating with leaders and managers and others all around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s dig into that. I think that’s a beautiful vision statement put out there, everyone deserves a great manager. So, what do you say is sort of how well the world is doing right now, or maybe the U.S. in particular, that’s easier, in terms of what proportion of folks do, in fact, have a great manager and how are we defining that?

Todd Davis
Well, yeah, it’s such a great question. You know, I was talking with my group as part of our book launch last week, and we made the analogy, if you get on an airplane, you sit down in the seat, and you’re ready to relax for a minute, then the pilot comes on and she or he says, “Thanks for flying with us. I’m not really a trained pilot but I have an interest in flying and I may get my license one day. But, relax, welcome to Good Luck Airlines.”

Your immediate response, at least mine is, “I got to get off this plane.” And while that’s kind of an overly-dramatic analogy, this is what happens in the real world. We have good people, really good people, and according to a Harvard Business Review study, they’re put in their first manager role, on average, at about age 30 and yet don’t receive any management or leadership training until age 42, if ever, so there’s this 12-year gap where they’re like this pilot trying to do the best job they can but it’s kind of like, “Welcome to Good Luck Leadership.”

[03:02]

And our instincts, and what happens in reality, is we leave that company, we leave that manager. Yes, people need to be paid fair, they need to have benefits, they need to do challenging work, but study after study shows that people leave because of their leader, because of their manager, or they join or they stay because of that leader. So, not only does everyone deserve a great manager, if you’re going to have a successful team organization, you got to invest in and be one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m sold. I’m convinced. And so then, I’d like to hear maybe just to orient kind of what that looks like when someone goes from not so great, haven’t been trained, to making that transformation, what’s that kind of look like in terms of the starting line, and then the transformation, and then what it looks like on the other side? And if there’s a particular client or manager that comes to mind, feel free to share that story.

Todd Davis
Absolutely. Well, when I asked groups around the world, “Who’s ever had a bad manager?” every hand goes up. And, again, I want to distinguish between a bad person and a bad manager, but a manager who really wasn’t qualified to lead people. And then I talked to them about why they felt this person, what was the person lacking, or what was the gap. Many different things, of course, but a large majority of them center around the person’s ability to really empathize and communicate. Communication is like the number one thing that comes up.

And so, I’m not just saying that, well, if you can become a great communicator, then you’ll be a great manager. But that seems to be where it all starts, or most of the time. And so, to your question, “What is it like to go from a bad leadership or management situation, where I don’t really have a lot of respect or appreciation for a manager, to a great one?” It starts there with someone who is real with me, communicates with me, and the feeling, as you asked, “What is the feeling?” it’s a feeling of validation, of acknowledgement.

Not that I’m perfect, but that the work I do matters, that you care about me as a person, not just as the project leader or the frontline person or whatever my role is, but you care about me as a person. You’re looking through a lens of a leader’s mindset versus an individual contributor’s mindset. So, I got to be careful because I’m very passionate about this, and I want to make sure we get all your question answered. But mindset is where it really starts. In fact, that’s the person we talked about in the book, is the importance of having a leader’s mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that piece about they really communicate, I saw, it was a Harvard Business Review study another guest brought up, it said that the majority of managers are uncomfortable communicating about anything.

[06:01]

Todd Davis
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I just couldn’t even wrap my brain around this study. I got to understand, hey, there’s some hard conversations, difficult to give some feedback or corrective, but it’s just like across the board. So, can you maybe paint a fuller picture in terms of not communicating? I mean, words are exchanged surely. So, what’s kind of the base level of communication that doesn’t really count, doesn’t get the job done, versus kind of an example of great communication, like, “Wow! Okay, this is what a great manager sounds like”?

Todd Davis
Great. Great question. I’ve been in leadership roles for about 25 years. I’ve been observing and coaching leaders during that time as well. And I think, to start with, there are many reasons why the communication is poor, we don’t communicate at all as managers, but those that I’ve worked with, well, I wouldn’t say the number one reason, but the top two reasons are they’re very busy, they’ve got a lot to do as a manager, and that’s caused by the fact that they don’t have the right lenses on, they don’t have the right mindset. And so, they view themselves as too busy to spend the time necessary with their team. That’s one of the first barriers to communication.

The other, and it’s really a close runner up, is when you say they’re uncomfortable communicating it’s because they feel like they have to have all the answers, “I don’t want to open up a conversation, and then my team member that I’m leading ask me something and I don’t know what to do.” And both of those are incorrect ways to look at things.

Number one, if I’m in a leadership role and I don’t have time to meet with my people, I need to get out of that leadership role. That’s what I’m thinking about. My number one job as a leader is to get results with and through others. And so, to have that kind of be a mental barrier, talking about communicating, is really what I need to address.

The second issue of having to have all the answers, again, wrong way to think about it. I don’t have credibility with you because I have all the answers. I have or intend to have credibility with you because I know how to facilitate an engaging discussion, I know how to go and find and pull in people who will help so together we can find the right answers.

So, “I’m afraid to discuss with someone because I don’t have the right answers or maybe I need to give them some feedback, and I’m uncomfortable with how to give them a feedback. I don’t want to offend them, or I just want the problem, if it’s a problem, to go away.” These are all things that get in the way of effective communication. And we can certainly go into some examples and some actual dialogue of what a communication should look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think we may well do that. And so, when you say too busy to spend the time necessary, I guess there’s probably a lot of flexibility on that range, like just how much time is necessary. But do you have a sense in terms of, “Hey, this much time is not enough time”? Like, what’s sort of the minimum recommended daily allowance that we’re talking about here?

[09:15]

Todd Davis
Yeah. Well, it’s certainly varies with the industry we’re in, with the roles we’re in in those industries, with the number of people we have reporting to us. Practice number two of the book that we’ll get into is to hold regular one-on-ones. And so, specific to your question, whether I’m holding a 30-minute one-on-one with each team member every week, or every other week, or even once a month. While the frequency is somewhat important, it’s the consistency.

If I commit to say, “Hey, Pete, I’d like us to…we’ll see each other and work together on many things throughout the month, but I’d like us to meet once a month with the sole purpose of finding out what’s working for you, what’s not working for you, what can I do to help remove barriers. So, could you have that in mind? And as we get close to that time each month, I’ll send you a little form that I use, and you just…I want to make sure we get all of your topics addressed.” You make the meeting about them.

So, the frequency and the amount of time will vary with the number of reports you have, the direct reports you have, but the most important thing is the consistency. Once you made that commitment, if you cancel on that or you continually reschedule or move it back, it unintentionally, and I hope it’s unintentional, it sends a message to that person that I say I value you but I really don’t value you as much as I do this other thing that came up.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. That completely resonates. And that’s, I think, reassuring in terms of there’s some flexibility there with regard to the scheduling. And if someone is frightened by the notion of, “I have 18 direct reports,” it’s like, well, 30 minutes once a month, mathematically speaking, it results in nine hours per month out of maybe a 160 work-hours. Doing real-time math here. Five or six percent of your day is one-on-one conversations. And that doesn’t sound so outrageous. As I imagine, you probably get some pushback, like just that, “I don’t have time for all these, Todd.”

Todd Davis
A lot of pushback. And, again, I go back to, “Are you really ready to be in a leadership role?” Again, going back to practice number one of the book “Develop a leader’s mindset,” I like to ask leaders and those that I coach, “Do you want to be a great leader or do you want your team led by a great leader?” And people will pause, and I’ve had a few people say, “Well, okay, help me understand the difference. Do I want to be a great leader or do I want my team led by a great leader?” And it is a very subtle difference.

And in my experience, if you want to be a great leader, you probably do a lot of really good things during the day. You add value to your company and all that, that’s fine. If you shift that mindset a little bit and, every morning, you wake up and you have the mindset of, “I want my team led by a great leader,” then I’m looking at everything through their lens. “What do they need? How can I help Aaron reach his full potential? What does Blair need to complete this project?”

[12:28]

And so, again, it sounds subtle but then it makes it not just easier, much more meaningful to say, “Gosh, nine hours out of my month, or 10 hours out of my month…” based on the numbers you gave me, “…to spend investing in making sure I understand what my team needs because I want them led by a great leader, I’m going to be much more effective, they’re going to be that much more effective and engaged. And time and time again, I’ve seen it. Our team is going to produce much better results and much more meaningful to the bottom line.” So, it’s not just a nice to have and it’s not just that everyone deserves a great manager, you’ve got to be a great manager to help your organization and your team stay in business.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I just think about retention, I think that’s sort of been my philosophy when it came to some of my early career decisions. It’s like, “I don’t…” I think it’s a fair statement to say that we cannot count on, in the vast majority of cases, a single employer being your source of income for a lifetime. Generally speaking, that is not the case for the majority of folks.

And, thusly, in a world where, hey, economic downturns often do result in layoffs, and where loyalty is not as strong on both sides of the table, that’s kind of was my takeaway, it’s like, “Well, I need to be in environments where I am maximizing my learning and skills development and growth in order to be employable over a lifetime. And if I’m not, then I’m kind of flirting with some risky business.”

And so that I think from a business strategic perspective, hey maybe you’ve done a study on this, I think there’d be just a gargantuan difference in retention and turnover stats for organizations that do this versus that don’t do this.

Todd Davis
And that’s so true. There was a recent study by Deloitte, it’s called their Global Human Capital Trends Report, cited that 30% of workers today are engaged, 52% are disengaged, and then the remaining 18% are actively disengaged. I like to ask people, “So, what’s the difference between actively disengaged and disengaged?” And it’s those actively disengaged, they are really a cancer within the organization, they’re going down bringing everybody else down with them.

[15:01]

But the main thing, and to your point, Pete, 30% are engaged, are excited about what they do, come to work with this creative, innovative mindset, adding real value. And so, if we, as leaders, aren’t focused on, “How do we keep those folks engaged? How do we raise the level of engagement of others?” they are going to go elsewhere, and we are not going to succeed.

I like to coach managers on thinking about their superstars, their top performers, and making sure that they know the answer to three questions on a regular basis, like at least once a year, maybe every six months, “What’s working for you? What’s not working for you? What would you like to do next?” And I’ll have managers push back and say, “Okay, well, I’ll ask what’s working for them but I don’t want to ask them what’s not working for them. What if it’s something I can’t fix?” I joke back and say, “Well, okay, so let’s ignore it and wait until the company down the street is able to provide that or fix that, and then we lose them.” Let’s address “What’s not working for you?”

Often, they’ll bring up something that you can actually influence or maybe do something about. And if it’s something you can’t, if it’s something you can’t fix that’s not working for that superstar employee, if you have been asking sincerely, and they know your intent really is to try and have a great career for them, or help them create a great career, just by asking that question will be a huge deposit with them and add a lot of value.

And then I really get pushback on the last question, “What would you like to do next?” And people say to me, “Well, I don’t want to plant that idea in my superstar’s mind ‘What do you want to do next?’ I want them to keep doing the exact thing they’re doing right now because they’re so valuable.” And, again, I would just share and remind people, superstars, talented people, they want to be challenged. You just referenced this. They want to keep learning and growing.

And so, if you don’t ask them what they’d like to do next, and they don’t have that opportunity, they’re going to go to an organization that offers it, so let’s find out what they want to do next, and maybe there’s a way to have them continue doing their excellent work in their current role, but also adding new learnings and dimensions onto what they can learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love those three questions, and you piqued my interest earlier when you said, “Fill out this form for our one-on-ones.” What are some the things that go into the form?

Todd Davis
Well, I say it’s more symbolic. It’s a very usable form. There’s a copy of it in the book. But we just want to create the idea of, look, your regular one-on-ones manager or leader, they aren’t a status check of how these people are doing on their projects. Yes, you need to have that, and maybe that can be a small portion of the one-on-ones or preferably in another meeting. The one-on-ones are their meetings.

So, the form is to get them thinking about the types of things they’d like to bring up with you as their leader. Now, leaders are hesitant to do this. They want to be able to control the conversation, where things go. And while that’s understandable and human nature, that’s not how you’re going to attract and retain top talents.

[18:15]

So, you make the one-on-one about them, they fill out the things they’d like to talk about, you fill out a couple of things that you want to see get covered in the meeting but make sure that theirs are the priority, and you tell them that, “We’re going to go through your list of things first, and then if we have time for mine, great. But this is about you.” And then you share those lists before the meeting.

And, really, what that does symbolically and practically is it shows the value that you are placing on them and their time and how important what their thoughts and their opinions are to you. That it’s not just, “Let’s get together. We’ll talk about whatever comes up,” but, “No, I, as your leader, am going to put some thought into some of the things that you want to discuss, and that’s why I’d like to know what they are in advance so that I can be really well-prepared to make the most, the best use of your time, and have given a lot of thought to the things you’d like to discuss.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. So, we talked about one of the practices, which is having the one-on-ones. Could you give us an overview of the other five, and then we’ll sort of see where we care to take deeper?

Todd Davis
Absolutely. So, just to kind of keep things in order in my head, practice one is develop a leader’s mindset, everything starts there, it’s the foundation of the way you think about your role as a leader. Practice number two, that we just talked a little bit more about, holding regular one-on-ones. Practice number three, setup your team to get results. Practice number four, create a culture of feedback. Practice number five is to lead your team through change. And then practice number six, manage your time and your energy. And I’m happy to talk about any or all of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s talk about the culture of feedback.

Todd Davis
Great.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you do that?

Todd Davis
So, yeah. Well, let me ask you this, Pete, and I can’t see you but I see a picture of you. When someone says to you, some colleague or boss says, “Hey, Pete, have you got a few minutes? I’ve got some feedback for you.” What kind of goes on internally?

Pete Mockaitis
For me it’s like, oh, boy, all right, they’re going to bring it. Okay, and so I’m just like I’m already a little freaked out so I’m trying to calm down a little bit. It’s like, “All right, Pete, there’s probably some merits in what they say, even if they enrage you, be ready with your magical phrase, ‘Tell me more about that,’ when your brain comes reeling associated with what they have to say.”

Usually, if it’s unexpected, that’s it. If it’s sort of like the regular time we have where feedback lives, maybe this is where you’re going, it’s like, “Okay, it’s just what we do here. All right, it’s all good.” As opposed to, it’s like, “So, to be more succinct,” I’ve had a listener correct me on that a couple of times, “It’s pronounced succinct,” now I know. Thank you. It’s probably, “Uh-oh, I hope I didn’t screw something up too bad.”

[21:16]

Todd Davis
Well, thank you for your transparency and honesty. And I’m wondering if you could travel the country with me as I give keynotes on this because you just described what is going on in every one of us. I had a person in a presentation the other day and I said, “When someone says to you, ‘I’ve got some feedback for you…’” and this person said, “Oh, I love feedback.” And I said, “Great. And that’s what you tell everybody, and I’m sure you do. And what’s really going on inside?” And I wasn’t trying to embarrass, but they said, “Well, I am thinking, ‘Okay, I wonder what I did wrong?’” And that’s human nature. That’s what we all think.

We hear this word feedback and we think, “Oh, crap. What have I messed up?” And when I say it, when other people say it that, “Gosh, feedback really helps us.” Our initial reaction is, “I’ve messed up.” Well, feedback, if we think about, this is very elementary, but feed means to nourish or to sustain or to foster, and back means to support. Just that reminder, first off, is, “Oh, wait a minute. Feedback is here to help.”

So, creating that culture of feedback, where you said towards the end of what you were sharing, is the norm is really the goal here because we all have blind spots. Everyone. The most accomplished human being on the planet has blind spots. And if we don’t have a systematic approach to feedback, getting feedback all the time, well, then we go through life and through our careers being less effective than we could’ve been.

Now the way we go about creating that culture of feedback is really important. In the book, we talk about the importance of giving reinforcing feedback or redirecting feedback, and we’re not avoiding the word positive or negative feedback to tiptoe around something or not call something what it is. In fact, we’re trying to do just that.

Reinforcing feedback, I mean, for people who have raised children or nieces or nephews or whatever, the first day they can tie their shoe or they remember the word pants to school, and you say, “Johnny, way to go. You got dressed all by yourself.” And, honestly, not to sound condescending, we don’t change much as we become adults. That reinforcing feedback tied to a behavior continues to cement in our minds, “Oh, that was a good thing and that felt good having that recognized. I want to do more of that.”

So, I guess the first thing I want to say here is let’s remember that reinforcing feedback of great behaviors, great results, is equally as important as redirecting feedback, when the behaviors are not where they need to be. So, reinforcing feedback is critical. And something, just to dive a little deeper on this, while some people will think, “Well, reinforcing feedback will be, ‘Oh, gosh, Adam, you’re so awesome. We’re so glad you’re here at the company. You do a great job.’”

[24:07]

That’s nice and I’m sure that’s well-intended but, quite frankly, it means nothing. Versus, “Adam, I’m so glad you’re on our team. That report you delivered yesterday in the meeting, the level of detail you went to, it shifted the whole conversation. And I have noticed over the last couple of months that we’ve worked together how detail-oriented you are. And, boy, did that play out well yesterday. So, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate that.”

Adam is going to remember that feedback for a long, long time. And, more importantly, Adam is going to continue to even strengthen his strength of attention to detail. So, reinforcing feedback tied to a behavior. I had a very wise manage many years ago who taught me that, and just said, “Todd, remember you’re always very positive with people and that’s a great thing. Remember when you’re giving feedback that, number one, it’s sincere and that it’s tied to a behavior not just that it’s, ‘You’re awesome.’” So, that has stuck with me for a long time till forever.

Okay. Redirecting feedback, things aren’t going so well. This is where a lot of managers, “Gosh, I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to offend them,” and they wait and wait and wait, hoping the bad behavior will just disappear or the person will disappear. Redirecting feedback, when given with the right intent, declaring your intent upfront, can be just the most helpful thing you can do as someone’s manager.

“Joan, I really appreciate you taking time to meet with me today. I want you to know how much I value your contribution on the team. I had, and I’ve had in my career managers and other people point out things to me that I maybe wasn’t seeing or wasn’t aware of, and it’s been hard to hear for me but it’s been a huge help in my endeavors to be a strong contributor. I want you to know my only intent as your leader is to do the same for you. You have so many good things going for you. There are a couple things I want to talk to you about that I believe are hindering your complete and total success. So, please know it’s with that intent that I share this with you.”

That’s how I begin every redirecting conversation. It’s got to be sincere. These aren’t scripts. This just comes from doing it a lot and it comes from the heart. It’s important to lower the person’s defenses. When someone feels defensive, they have a hard time hearing anything you’re saying. And I have found the most effective way to do that in a feedback situation, redirecting feedback, is to let them know I’ve received redirecting feedback before so that they’re not embarrassed or humiliated thinking, “Oh, I messed up.” “Well, no, we all mess up. We all need or benefit from this kind of feedback. And I’ve certainly been there before so I can really empathize with you.”

That helps lower defenses. And then making sure they know your intent, “Joan, my only intent is to help you be as successful as you can be. And I see great potential for you, and that’s the only reason I’m sharing these things.” So, that’s the way, the effective way, to receive redirecting feedback.

[27:10]

Now, a third thing, and I hope I’m not rambling too long here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, go for it.

Todd Davis
Okay. The third thing is some managers think, “Oh, I’ve reached my manager status, now I give feedback. That’s what I do. I give reinforcing/redirecting feedback.” Well, great, but you want to have a team that just reaches great heights and does wonderful things. It works both ways. You’ve got to seek feedback. “You’ve got to make it safe for your team to tell you the truth” is the phrase I like to use. Make it safe. Do you make it safe for others to tell you the truth?

And know this, by your title alone as manager or director, whatever it is, you, it’s not your fault, but it’s already a little unsafe to tell you the truth. And so, great managers realize that and so they go out of their way to seek feedback. And let me tell you a bad way to seek feedback is to show up in somebody’s office and say, “Hey, Pete, what did you think of the meeting this morning? How do you think I’m writing the meetings?” Well, what are you going to say, Pete, when you walk …?

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re doing great, Todd.”

Todd Davis
Exactly. And when put on the spot like that, we’re all going to say the exact same thing. Whatever she or he wants to hear, “Oh, awesome. You do an awesome job.” But a little bit differently, if I say to Pete, “Hey, Pete, I wonder if I could ask you a favor. I’m really trying to make sure our meetings are super effective. In tomorrow’s meeting…” so I’m doing this the day before, “…would you mind taking some notes, making some observations of things that you think I could do better as the leader in facilitating the discussion in the meeting? I mean, yeah, I’d love to hear what you think I’m doing well, if anything, but I really want to focus on those things that you think I could do better. Then maybe the next day or two after the meeting, we can get together and you could share your thoughts with me.”

That’s how a manager, a wise manager, asks for sincere feedback and makes it safe for others to tell her the truth or in the truth. And managers who do this and make this commonplace, the next time Todd or Pete hears, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’ve got some feedback for you,” we think, “Oh, great. I’ve got another opportunity here to learn something I might not be seeing.” And it becomes the norm, and nobody has that hair on the back of their neck stand up like we usually do.

Pete Mockaitis
I love those words, and it reminds me of there’s a speaker, we had him on the show, Justin Jones-Fosu, and at one time we both were doing a lot of speaking on college campuses. That’s how we got to know each other and so he’s a great speaker. And then I said, “Oh, hey, that was really awesome.” I saw him present in a conference. And he said, he was so sincere, and I love it, he said, “Hey, Pete, I really appreciate that. What I appreciate even more is if you could identify a couple of things that you think that I could do better because that really helps me grow as a speaker.”

And so, I was like, “Oh,” and first of all I was struck that I told many speakers, I told many people that they’re awesome in many ways, but it’s very rare that someone said, “Hey, thank you for that. What would be even more helpful for me is this.” I’m like, “Whoa!” And so, then I said, “All right. Well, this is one part where you’re telling this really emotional story about someone who is ill and then you actually had this music go, which is kind of emotional. And while I think that made it more emotional, it also felt a little manipulative.

[30:27]

And I don’t know if that’s everybody or just me but I think that it would seem all the more authentic if that just wasn’t there. And it’s like we’re not in sort of a TV drama, if you will.” He said, “Thank you. Actually, a couple people brought that up and I’m wrestling with that right now so it’s good to have sort of one more datapoint. And it’s awesome.”

Todd Davis
That is such a great example. I appreciate you sharing that because you just remind me. One reason why I’ve seen leaders and others hesitant to ask for feedback is they think they have to incorporate all of it. And I love what you said that his response was, “You know, a few people has mentioned that and so I’m thinking about that.” You don’t have to incorporate all of it. But, boy, I’m telling you, I get a lot of that feedback. I’m thinking I might want to tweak this so it doesn’t feel so manipulative.

So, I’m just glad you brought that up because, boy, don’t not ask for feedback because you think, “Well, if I don’t incorporate it then I’m disingenuous.” That’s not true. But you can always follow up with a person, say, “Gosh, Pete, I so appreciate that feedback you gave me. I’m going to be thinking through that. And I wonder if you’d allow me to come to you again in the future for feedback because I really appreciate you taking the time to share that with me.” That’s what you need to do when you get feedback is the follow up and the acting on it, but not incorporating every piece of feedback you receive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And just to close the circle on that, Justin happened to be, for several years, sort of the top-booked speaker at the agency so, I mean, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. One thing he did very differently than the other speakers was this, and he was number one.

Todd Davis
Great example.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I think that is more than a winky-dink. So awesome. So, the culture of feedback. I also want to get to you talked about managing your time and energy. So, I think about this a lot when it comes to sort of, hey, I got my day, I got the impact I want to make from an individual workload perspective. How do you think about this in the management context?

Todd Davis
Well, and this is not news to anyone, burnout and burnout in the workplace is just certainly not going away and it’s increasing more and more. And with all of our wonderful technology options and bells and buzzers and whistles, it allows us to be working — allows us, I say — 24 hours a day. In fact, I remember when I was promoted to a certain position here at FranklinCovey, gosh, 20 years ago…

[33:04]

And I remember saying, “Well, if I did this, could I have a laptop and maybe work from home once in a while when the situation permitted?” thinking that would be such a luxury. And I just laugh now thinking how the very thing that we were thinking was kind of a nice treat has become this thing that has chained us to our work responsibilities 24 hours a day.

And so, burnout, because of our ability to stay connected and, again, it’s a choice we all make, and I can’t really complain about it because it’s a choice I make, but we are connected all the time. And so, because we choose to do that, if we choose to do that, we’ve got to really manage that time and that energy or we will burn out, and what we model gets modeled by our team. What the leader values gets valued.

And so, again, we could talk, I do talk all day on this, but managing my time, first of all, managing my time, I liken it to a pinball machine. If I don’t have a plan for the week, I show up Monday morning or whenever your week begins, and it’s like the pinball machine. The plunger is pulled back and I’m like that ball in the machine, bouncing from bells to buzzers to whistles, and I get to the end of the day or the end of the week, and I think, “Man, I’m tired. I have been busy.”

And when I look back and say, “What have I really accomplished of value this week? Maybe a few things but not certainly all that I could have.” Whereas, when I take, and it takes me about 30 minutes on a Sunday night, sometimes less, I look through my week, I go through my appointments, I go through all the things that I really hope to get accomplished that week, and then I force myself to think through, “Okay, if I could only get two or three things done this week, what would they be?” And I choose those things with the intention of getting 20 or 15 or whatever done, but I choose the top two or three things. And then I have this plan on how to get that done.

And then Monday begins, and the pinball game starts, and so we all get caught up in it, urgencies happens, nobody’s week goes as planned, but if I have a plan to come back to after taking care of this urgency, if I have a plan, a centerline to come back to, I can get back on track several times throughout the week. And I will tell you from years of experience, and I certainly had some weeks better than others, but I get much more accomplished. And if I model that for my team, well, I’ll get even much more accomplished. So, that’s what I’ve learned in time management and how to try and create and adhere to a plan for the week.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say a plan, I guess to what extent, what sort of details or key things are identified with that plan?

Todd Davis
Well, and, again, I don’t want to have any emotional music playing while I say this, but I have written what we call a mission statement here that kind of identifies my values, what’s most important to me, and I reflect. On Sunday night, I’ll look at that just to kind of reconnect with what’s most important to me, both in my professional and my personal life, and the relationships in both professional and personal life that are tied to that. And that just kind of gets my mind around, “Don’t get too far off the path, Todd, of what really why you’re doing the work you’re doing and what’s important to you.”

[36:20]

And then with that mindset, I look through the week and I look through appointments that I’ve already committed to that are fixed in the week and then I think about, based on last week and the previous weeks, the urgencies that have come up — and I’m called the Chief People Officer, I have kind of a triage role — and have a lot of unintended or unplanned things come up, and I honestly try and block out time for those, don’t know what they are, but I think, “Okay, you’re being pretty unrealistic here, Todd. You’ve got these dates of back-to-back meetings. First of all, how are you going to get from one meeting to the next without any time in between? And as the urgencies come up, have you blocked…?”

So, I’ll block out some other time that’s not specific for a meeting, but because I know by this time of the day, I’ll have two or three things present themselves that I need to get answers back for people on. And so, maybe I’m getting too detailed, but that’s the level of detail I try and get to, to have a realistic week in front of me. And then I will look at, “Oh, that’s right. I told my daughter, Sydney, we’re going to plan this trip. I’m going to block out this hour that afternoon and see if she could talk then, and will schedule some time around that.” So, that’s just kind of an idea or a glimpse into my mind as I’m planning out the week.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, rather than your calendar having, hey, a few meetings and then some space that you’ve got to fill it in with whatever in the moment, you’ve sort of pre-allocated those spaces to what’s important.

Todd Davis
That’s right. And at FranklinCovey, we use a tool in 7 Habits called the time matrix, and there’s these four quadrants and there are different names for these. There are other models that are similar where you have these four quadrants, those things that are urgent and important, those things that are important but not urgent, and that’s what I was just talking about and you’re talking about where scheduling this vacation with my daughter is going to help me schedule. It’s important but because it’s not urgent, it keeps getting pushed off week after week. So, I make sure I’ve blocked time for those things that are important but not necessarily urgent.

The other two quadrants are urgent but not important, these are time robbers, these are other people’s urgencies. And then there’s the time wasters which are not urgent, not important. And you think, “Well, who would spend time there?” Well, I have, unfortunately. When I go home and turn on a sitcom thinking I’m going to watch it for half hour, and four hours later I get up off the sofa.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, it must have been a good one, Todd. What were you watching?

Todd Davis
Yeah. Well, one after another, the damage done by a remote control. So, anyway, of these four quadrants, just really making sure, if I could summarize anything in the week, “Have I blocked out time for those things that are important but not urgent?” And because they haven’t been urgent, they haven’t got my attention.

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

[39:05]

Todd Davis
Just summarizing, I guess, this principle or this idea or this important fact that everyone deserves a great manager. For those who are in or will be in a leadership position, just remembering the influence you can have in that role. I’ll never forget my 35th day of employment at what was then called The Covey Leadership Center, now FranklinCovey, it was 24 years ago. I don’t know what happened on day 34 or day 36, but on day 35, my boss at that time, her name was Pam, she walked me up to a senior leader in the company whom I have not met during the interview process and his name is Bob. And she said, “Bob, I’d like you to meet Todd Davis. He’s our recruitment manager.” That was what I was hired at 24 years ago.

And then she said, “Let me tell you what Todd has accomplished during his first 35 days of employment.” And I’m shaking this man’s hand, Pete, and my mind goes blank, and I felt like I’m going to throw up. I’m thinking, “I can’t think of what she’s going to say. I couldn’t think of one thing I had done in 35 days,” and it was really this uncomfortable feeling. And then Pam went on to say, “He filled this position in Chicago that was vacant for the last six months. He’s got a recruitment strategy for the next year. He’s got a relocation policy in place.” And this list went on.

And, please, I’m not sharing that to say, “Aren’t you impressed with what I did in 35 days?” I’m sharing this to tell you I remember that moment even as I’m retelling it to you right now, it feels like it was yesterday and it was 24 years ago. This leader, Pam Walsh, believed in me more than I believed in myself. A very famous quote from Dr. Stephen Covey, the bestselling author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, “Leadership is seeing in people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

And so, I guess if I could just wrap on this topic with that thought, it is just that, to remind all the leaders, whether in a formal leadership position or an informal one, whether you have the title or not, that true leadership is seeing the potential in others so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you.

Todd Davis
And I did that with no music playing in the background.

Pete Mockaitis
We might add it later. We’ll see.

Todd Davis
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like it might already be your favorite quote. But do you have a favorite quote you’d mention?

Todd Davis
That is probably one of my favorite quotes. I’ve got another one. Can I share two of them with you?

Pete Mockaitis
Go for it, yeah.

Todd Davis
Okay. One is from Abraham Lincoln. John Wooden, the basketball coach, used it a lot but it was from Abraham Lincoln, and he said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed once in a while than to distrust and be miserable all of the time.” And just that quote motivates me to see the goodness in others, to see the potential in others, to trust and not be so suspicious.

[42:12]

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Thank you.

Todd Davis
Another quote, because you said I could have two, and this one I’ve had, gosh, probably 30 years. And it was from an old actress by the name of Fanny Brice, and I don’t know that she was a mentor or anything, but the words have stuck with me. And the words she said were, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you’re going to forget the pose and then, where are you?” And I think in the realm of being authentic and really being who you are, those are things that I try and remember.

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

Todd Davis
Well, this is an old one but people are very familiar with it. There was the marshmallow study with the kids that were observed in the room when they were told if they didn’t eat the marshmallow. Do you know the study?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed. Yeah, by Walter Mischel.

Todd Davis
Exactly. Very, very familiar. But I guess why it just came to mind when you said favorite study, I haven’t been asked that question before, but when you asked me that, it’s just a daily reminder, I think, for all of us. While I don’t think about the study exactly, I think about, “Todd, what do you want now versus what you want long term?” And just that quick fix and, of course, we’ve become, with technology and everything else that “I want everything right now” mentality, and it’s important for all of us, but certainly for me to remember, “What is it that I really want the long-term result to be versus the quick high or the quick fix?”

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, and tying that together with trust, I had a previous guest who shared another layer to that study which I thought fascinating, which was that the study was meant to sort of assess your ability as a child to sort of delay gratification.

Todd Davis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But what they discovered was one of the big drivers associated with whether or not the child waited was their historical experience of being able to trust the word of people’s promises.

Todd Davis
Saying you’ll get more if you wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. Instead of like, “You know what, I don’t buy it. I would take this now because I know it’s there. You may or may not be there.”

Todd Davis
You’re right. I remember reading that and, boy, isn’t that true.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we talked about sort of trust in leadership and investing in people, I think that’s huge right there with regard to they can do more of that…

Todd Davis
Such a great point.

Pete Mockaitis
…if they have great experiences with you and, thus, multiplying all the more leaders. Ooh, good stuff. And how about a favorite book?

[45:00]

Todd Davis
Hmm, lots of favorite books. And did I mention that Everyone Deserves A Great Manager just hit the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list?

Pete Mockaitis
I think that came up.

Todd Davis
A favorite book, right? I’ll tell you one that I refer back to both open and thinking back is Linchpin by Seth Godin. I don’t know if you’ve read Linchpin.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think I’ve read the Blinkist summary.

Todd Davis
Yeah. It was life-changing, sounds dramatic. I probably need music again by what I’m saying. But it really caused me to think about why I do what I do. The book is about…Linchpin is that thing that slips in to hold the pulley together.

And he likens it to just the linchpin at work, the linchpin in the workplace. And are you a linchpin? And why do you what you do? And those people, and we all know them in teams and organizations, who are really the linchpin, sometimes I just think of the heart of the team or organization that really keeps the team going.

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

Todd Davis
Wow! A favorite tool. I mean, when I say my phone, that’s nothing new for me, the iPhone…it’s really not a tool, it’s the plan that’s within it. We’ve already talked about this, but it’s how I plan out my week, how I try and live my life intentionally through the week with a plan, and I’m able to do that because of the technology. So, I’ll put my plan together on my computer, my Outlook, and then it syncs with my phone. Just to have to that plan, including my mission statement and all those things with me all the time, so the portability of that.

Don’t laugh at this but another favorite tool that comes to my mind. My kids tease me relentlessly because of I got a battery-operated leaf blower last year. It’s like the favorite thing I have. I used to take forever to rake the lawn. So, anyway, thinking of tools, that’s what first came to mind, and I wasn’t going to share it, and now I just did.

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

[48:03]

Todd Davis
The one, and this may or may not be helpful for people, I think, again, back to communication, I have found that we put off important conversations because we’re afraid we’re going to say it wrong, not just in the realm of giving feedback, like we were talking earlier, but whatever. If I have a difference of opinion with one of my colleagues, or a family member, whatever, we sometimes put off that conversation, not sometimes, a lot, because we want to just get the right words, we want it perfect, we’re so worried about the outcome.

So, one thing that I’ve had people tell me time and time again was, “I really appreciated you being in a conversation by saying…” and this is what I say, “Hey, Pete, I need to talk to you about something or I’d like to talk to you about something, and I will probably use the wrong words. So, could I have a do-over? If I say something offensive or if I don’t say it exactly how I mean it, just know that my intent is to get this topic out on the table. And then if I could have a do-over, if I say it wrong, would that be okay?”

And that’s not scripted. I just said that from the heart. For many years, I’ve had many people say that kind helps set the tone for the whole conversation. So, maybe it’s back to the notion I have of you’ve got to lower defenses. If people feel defensive, it’s really hard to communicate. So, let’s make sure my defenses and their defenses are lowered so we can really get to the heart of an issue. So, I guess that would be the nugget, as you call it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so great because, then, if in fact, if it says, “Well, it kind of feels like you’re telling me that, I don’t know, ‘I’m a terrible provider’ or ‘I can’t be trusted with responsibilities.’” You can say, “Yes, see, that’s kind of what I was concerned about, but I really don’t mean that at all.”

Todd Davis
“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Exactly, Pete. Yeah, I would say, “Boy, if that’s what you heard, I really need a do-over because I want to say you are a phenomenal provider. But I have noticed, in my opinion, I’ve noticed that sometimes you put a priority on this thing, and it’s unintentionally, I think, offending some other people.” So, you’re exactly right. It gives you the language then to use in the conversation so that it doesn’t blow into something it shouldn’t be.

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

Todd Davis
Well, FranklinCovey.com, and the book launched last week, Everyone Deserves A Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. You can purchase it at all major bookstores, but the easiest way to purchase it is on Amazon.com. And, again, they can go to learn more about our company or about me on FranklinCovey.com.

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

Todd Davis
Just, “Why do you do what you do?” I remind myself of it or I think about it all the time, “What’s my real intention?” You’re the only one that knows what your real motivations are. And I think those of us and those of you that check in with them regularly will have just that much more of a positive influence on yourself, on your teams, and ultimately on the world.

[51:02]

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, thank you. This has been fantastic. I wish you all the best in making more and more people have great managers.

Todd Davis
Well, I really appreciate you and I appreciate the time, Pete.

503: How to Get a Meeting with Anyone with Stu Heinecke

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 Stu Heinecke shares unorthodox approaches to win the attention of strangers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simple trick to exceeding a 100% response rate
  2. Do’s and don’ts for composing your personal messages
  3. How to turn executive assistants into allies

About Stu:

Dubbed by the American Marketing Association the “Father of Contact Marketing,” Stu Heinecke is a Wall Street Journal cartoonist, hall of fame-nominated marketer and the bestselling author of How to Get a Meeting with Anyone (2016) and Get the Meeting! (10-2019). Stu is also the founder of Cartoonists.org, a group of WSJ and New Yorker cartoonists who donate their art to help charities raise funds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

 

Stu Heinecke Interview Transcript

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

Stu Heinecke
I am delighted to be here with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you. We dorked out about AV a good while. But I want to hear about your cartoons. I know it might be hard to pick a favorite, like a favorite child, but is there a particular cartoon that you think is extra hilarious or that you think back and chuckle at your own work years later?

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, there are a bunch of them actually. That’s good as a cartoonist. That’s a good sign. But there is one that is just my favorite and it probably has great relevance to today. So, what it is, it’s this little child, this mischievous little child in the foreground and he’s wiping his arms back and forth, he’s sitting in a high chair but at a table. He’s wiping his arms back and forth and his bowl of cereal is overturned, the cereal is all over the place, and the box of cereal is knocked down. And in the background, his mom is washing the dishes, and she’s turned around, you can see she’s rather tired of this and she’s saying, “Roland, you’re acting like a Democrat.” But it could easily be changed to, and makes as just much sense, to say, “Roland, you’re acting like a Republican.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Stu Heinecke
And, in fact, it’s my favorite because you could put almost anything in there. In fact, if you put all these together next to each other, to me it really illustrates the, well, let’s say at least the futility of politics, particularly today, they’re horrible. They’re just awful today and everyone seems to think that the other one is the worst, and I think it’s all that. It’s just awful.

So, here’s the funny thing or interesting thing about cartoons and humor in general, it’s really about truth revealed with a twist. So, when we laugh at something, we’re often saying, “Oh, my God, that’s so true.” It is like that. I know someone like that. So, it’s actually about truth. And that Roland cartoon is wonderful if you take several versions of it together and put it into one frame, I think it makes all kinds of sense because actually no one’s got a monopoly on the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good point. I think there’s a standup comedian who was talking to his audience in responding to them saying, “It’s so true.” He said, “Yes, it is so true, and that’s why it’s funny.” It is true, hence funny.

Stu Heinecke
That’s it. That’s the whole deal. Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I want to talk about one of your areas of expertise. You’ve got a couple books about how to get a meeting with anyone and getting that meeting. So, could you maybe open us up with a cool story of maybe someone who was trying something to get a meeting or a series of meetings, having no luck, but then they tried some of your cool approaches and had a transformation?

Stu Heinecke
Oh, man. Well, that’s brings up really two stories to mind. I could either tell you about how I got started with it. A tiny campaign went out and it got amazing results and launched my business. It was worth millions of dollars and it cost me $100, so that’s one. Or the other version would be to tell about Dom Steinmann’s story because Dom was having…I think that’s what I should really tell you because that really directly answers your question.

So, Dom got in touch with me after my first book came out, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone and he was saying, “You know, I’ve just got to share my story. When I was in college, I was recruited by this big late-stage startup in Silicon Valley to work as a sales development rep, and I was thrilled. But then when I got to work and started working with them, well, I found out that their expectation was that we would make 100 phone calls a day, and these were all cold calls.” In other words, they were calls to people that they didn’t know and there was no relationship, there was nothing. They were just calling out of the blue.

And he said that, “Out of a day’s worth of 100 phone calls, you might have one conversation that was even worth having. The rest of them were just slams of the phone.” So, he was telling a friend about this at dinner and lamenting the whole problem, and the friend said, “You know, you ought to get this book How to Get a Meeting with Anyone.” And so, he did. And from there he used what I would call, actually I call it this in the new book, deep personalization as opposed to wide personalization.

So, he started researching the people that he wanted to reach. So, he was still doing the hundred phone calls a day, but then he would research some of the people that he thought would be really worth breaking through to. And so, the first one was a fellow who he discovered through a profile scrape, that is a lot of research of social media profiles and other information that can be found on the web. But what he found was that his target executive was really interested in family, cooking, and technology. So, he ordered an apron, looks like a barbecue apron, and had it embroidered with a Stanley C. Clarke quote, something to the effect that technology, sufficiently advanced, will appear as magic.

So, they had that embroidered on the apron and sent it out. Well, lo and behold, this guy responded right away. And, by the way, this first one was someone that no one in the company, a lot of people had tried to reach him but no one was able to reach him through cold-calling, but by sending that gift, boom, all of a sudden, this fellow actually called back, they had a quick conversation, and they ended up with a six-figure deal pretty quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Stu Heinecke
And that’s pretty cool. Then his cohorts started realizing, “Oh, my gosh, Dom is getting through, we’re not getting through to anyone. Dom is selling, we’re not selling anything. So, Dom, how are you doing this?” And he told. “Would you help us?” “Sure.”

So, the next example of this was one of his cohorts said, “Okay, I’ve got a guy, another guy that we haven’t been able to reach. Nobody from our company has been able to reach him.” And so, Dom said, “Okay, let’s take a look. Let’s see what’s in his profile.” And what they discovered was that this fellow was really involved in falconry, so they went to a falconry site and talked to the owner, and they said, “What can we give someone who’s really involved in falconry as a gift?” And the fellow said, “This beautiful glove.” In falconry, they used these beautiful ornate gloves so they can hold the bird by the talons and not have their hand mangled.

So, they said, “Great. We’re going to send that, or we’re going to buy that.” And, meanwhile, they downloaded the picture and sent him an email immediately to the prospect to say, “Hi, I’d like to get in touch with you. I just want to let you know I’m sending you this falconry glove. I hope you enjoy it.” Again, this is another person they hadn’t been able to reach at all, no one from the company had been able to reach him, and he said, “Okay. Well, look,” the fellow responded immediately. He said, “Hey, that’s really cool. Thanks so much. But I’m not really a prospect, but thanks anyway.”

Well, then the glove arrives and everything changed. It was a flip moment. Everything changed. he communicated right away to say, “Oh, my God, I just got the glove. This thing is so cool. I’ll tell you what, remember when I told you I’m not a prospect? Well, I’m not, but I know three CIOs who are prospects for what you do, and I’m going to make introductions right now.” Well, he did and another six-figure deal ensued.

So, now the management was saying, “What’s going on down there? What are you doing down there? And who’s responsible for this?” They all pointed to Dom. So, Dom was promoted to sales manager as a result of that. All of a sudden, that company was sold to, I think it was Cisco for $4.7 billion. So, a year out of college, just from reading the book and using contact marketing, Dom went from probably washing out as a sales development rep to becoming a sales manager for a multinational $4.7 billion company.

Pete Mockaitis
Stu, that is an excellent story. You’ve nailed that. Well, thank you. That’s really thought-provoking in a number of dimensions. So, my favorite part of the story was they learned the guy liked falconry, didn’t know what to do with that, so talked to a falconry person, said, “Hey, what’s a cool gift?” He said, “Well, let me show you.” And then that went there. And even though the person wasn’t a prospect, that deep need to reciprocate is there, so he wanted to do something for them, and like, “Hey, I’ve got some introductions.” So, that is really cool.

So, I know a lot of your work is well-received and loved in the sales and marketing communities. I’d love to get a kick out of hearing maybe some examples of folks who were getting meetings outside of sales, like maybe they’re selling themselves, like with regard to getting a job, or maybe they are trying to connect with someone to get some really great advice or information that will help them with what they’re working on at the moment. Any of those tales come to mind?

Stu Heinecke
Well, I think what’s interesting is that, well, I’m now on my second book about this. When I wrote the first one, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, I thought, “Okay, I’ve got it all done,” which was foolish. “I’ve got 20 categories of contact marketing campaign types. I’m sure this is it.” And as soon as it came out, I heard from all these people who said, “Well, I’ve got another way to do this,” and another way, and another way, and another way.

And so, some of these stories, well, that’s what led to the new book Get the Meeting! but some of the stories had to do with job search. And, in fact, there’s enough of them that it maybe where I go for the next book here’s the thing. We all sell whether we have the word sales in our titles or not. We all sell. I mean, that’s sort of the nature of human existence or how we work together because we need things from each other, and we get those things by selling.

So, I know that there are a lot of uses of visual metaphors like a medical kit, and I’m going to help, and then the copy that goes with it is something about “I’m going to cure some of the things that are…” that’s not a really great example though, because if you’re writing to someone saying, “I’m going to cure what’s wrong with your company,” that may not be the best, message to put out there.

But I’ve used it directly. I’ve used some of my own devices, my own contact devices to help friends to get interviews even though these devices are used generally in sales. And what I mean by that is usually I’ve been using my cartoons my whole career to break through to people I should never be able to break through to, or at least that’s they way it felt, maybe I should because I have.

So, I’ve worked with, well, my sister, for one, who told me once, actually she was applying for a job, it was a sales job, and she was a little worried about whether she’d get it. And one of the things she said was, “They’re going to ask me to do cold calls. I’m not really very comfortable with them.” And I said, “Well, I’m glad you called me because I love doing them because I’m talking about sending cartoons out first and it’s almost like an ambush. I love doing them. Why don’t we try this? Why don’t we just use one of my,” I call them big boards, or an 18×24 quarter inch thick foam cardboard. So, one side there’s a cartoon about the recipient, in this case the person she was interviewing with. And on the other side there’s a message from the sender to the recipient explaining why they should meet or why something should go forward.

And in Christine’s case, my sister, we created a message on that side that talk about how much she wanted to work with them and look forward to the next interview. So, that was delivered. It’s packaged in some really interesting corrugated cardboard packing with cartoon art all over it and it get sent by FedEx, and so that was delivered. And she got the job. She got the next interview obviously, but she got the job. When she came in, the big board was up over her new boss’ desk, and it blasted her right through.

And I know others have just used, I mean, we can also use the same trick, the personalized cartoon, on a card, just a little greeting card. One of my friends borrowed one of those things from me and got a job as well. So, I just think there’s such great parallels between sales and getting jobs. Even if you’re not in the sales field, you’re still selling, and the outcomes and the methods are still the same.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, as you’re going through these stories, I’m reminded of a story in which I was working with someone to prep for some interviews, and he told me, “Oh, man, I’ve been doing everything to try and get the interview with McKinsey & Company,” which is a selective strategy consulting firm. And he sent them a birthday cake for the whole office on his birthday, and said, “It’s my birthday, and all I want is to work for McKinsey & Company.” And that was actually effective in terms of like, “All right. We’re going to have a look at your resume closely. Sure enough, you have earned an interview,” and then he took it from there, so that’s cool to see in action.

And we talked about the medical kit, right now my wheels are turning, like I’ve got one of my favorite tools is a ratcheting multibit screwdriver. It’s just so elegantly wonderful. And so, if you say, “Hey, I can cure the problems.” It’s like, well, you fix the problem with the tool. And so that’s cool. Well, maybe we could zoom out a little bit and talk about this process. So, you call this whole approach contact marketing. So, can you maybe define that term and the steps and the process for us?

Stu Heinecke
Yeah. Well, contact marketing is, the definition of it is a fusion of marketing and selling that uses microfocus campaigns to produce contact with high-level, high-value prospects and accounts. So, roughly, that’s the definition of it. Well, I can tell you though, when I first started out, although I used contact marketing to launch my business, my business was I was creating direct mail campaigns a long time ago for publishers, for magazine publishers.

And in the direct marketing field, I used to hear that people used to say 1% response rate was pretty common, pretty standard, although there’s really no such number. I mean, it’s like there is no common or standard number, but let’s use 1% for a moment. If you look at lots of forms of other kinds of marketing, let’s say digital marketing, you find that response rates are at the thousandths of a percent so it’s really quite low. In contact marketing, these response rates are going as high as 100%. That’s pretty bizarre.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s as high as it gets.

Stu Heinecke
Well, no. Actually, I found one that was getting 300% to 400%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like referrals and like trial stuff? Oh, wow.

Stu Heinecke
Exactly. Yeah, it was so astonishing the thing that he was giving out that it was being shared, and then that sharing ended up pulling more people into the campaign and more responses to the campaign.

Pete Mockaitis
What was that thing? Now, I’ve got to know.

Stu Heinecke
Well, it relates to something I wrote about in the book called pocket campaigns, it’s a replacement of business cards. And so, I was studying, I was looking for what are the coolest business cards out there, because we’ve all gotten cards that you got them, you say, “Whoa! Oh, my God, I didn’t realize a business card could be like this, and that’s just so cool.”

Well, one of those stories was this fellow who had his card printed on sheet rubber, it’s still the same standard size of a business card, 2 inches by 3.5 inches, but it’s this real thin sheet of gum rubber, it was a tan rubber. And before they printed it, they put it on a jig so it was stretched on a jig, then they printed the contact details. And once the ink had dried, they take it off the jig and, of course, that would mean that when it returned to its regular shape, that meant that all of the details that were just printed now got squeezed together.

He told me that He’d go out to a pub, and he’d get into conversations with people at the bar, and they’d say, “What do you do?” “And what do you do?” And they’d eventually exchange business cards. So, out comes his floppy little business card, it’s like an ambush this floppy little business card as they’re exchanging cards. And the recipient is saying, “Wow, what’s that?” They grab it on both ends and stretch it just naturally because otherwise you can’t read it.

Well, then it reveals it’s Poul Nielsen’s card. He’s a fitness trainer. And guess what? He already has you exercising. Then they would say, “Oh, my gosh, can I keep this?” “Sure, yeah.” So, they keep it and they’d bring it. They kept it in their pockets probably. They brought it to the office and just anywhere they could talk to someone, they’d be saying, “Hey, you’ve got to check out this business card I just got from this guy.” They’d show it, pull it out, the person would stretch it automatically, “Just look at that. He’s a fitness trainer and he already has you exercising.” And they’d have a good laugh and they’d say, “Wait a minute. I want to write down this guy’s number.”

And so, this is stunning because Poul said every time he would hand out a business card, he would get three or four new clients. That’s a stunning result from a business card because usually they’re thrown away. I have cool ones. They have cartoons all over them and so on. I have never handed someone a business card and gotten a sale because of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, that’s so cool. So, that’s what a pocket campaign is then is something that you can put into your pocket. Any other examples of things that you can put in your pocket in a card format?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, the pocket campaign. They’re a little bit more involved than just having a cool business card, or, really, I should say an involvement device. Poul’s stretching card is an involvement device. It’s an invitation to play. And from there, as marketers, we would then include a jump offer, something that pulls people to a webpage where we can set a tracking pixel, and then from there we run a remarketing ad or retargeting ad just like any. If that term is not familiar, it’s what’s happening whenever you go to, let’s say, the L.L. Bean site and you’d shop for shoes and then you leave, and then those ads start showing up wherever you go on the web about L.L. Bean shoes.

Well, you can actually do that. That actually is part of the pocket campaign model. But for job search, I would think you could just use the first part of it, just an engagement device. Still something you pull out of your pocket, it’s just like a business card, but it’s totally different from the other cards because other cards generally it’s trying to make us look important and fancy almost. I don’t know. With gold, with foil stamping, and embossing, or maybe they’re engraved on bamboo or metal or carbon fiber, it’s all meant to make us look impressive and it doesn’t work. It’s not working. But the cards that are actually involvement devices do.

So, here’s another example. One of the people that I’ve interviewed for the book has a card that is stamped metal. So, it’s credit card size piece and the stamping knockout cutouts so that the piece actually operates as a multitool, if that makes sense. The cutouts in different size wrenches.

Pete Mockaitis
Screwdrivers and bottle opener.

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, bottle opener. But it’s actually meant to be used on bikes to repair them out in the wild. And this card was for the owner of a bike repair shop. So, there were no logos on it or anything like that. It just had his name and his contact details stamped on the piece but it was this device that bike users or bike riders would say, “That’s really cool. I love that. I’m going to keep that in my wallet, keep it with me wherever I go because I just never know when I might need to use that.”

And so, that’s a great example of a pocket campaign or, let’s say, at least the engagement device portion of a pocket campaign. I think that you could use all kinds of things for pocket campaigns and for engagement devices that could be terrific for jobs. I remember a comedian had a really cool one, it was a flipbook. I don’t know, do you remember flipbooks?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, it’s a bound stack of cards actually and on each card was a facial expression of lots of different pictures of this fellow who was a comedian. And when you flip the book really quickly and you flip those pages really quickly, his face changes really quickly and it’s really funny. And it’s a great metaphor for what it is that he can provide in terms of value up on stage. That would be a great card to use in a job search, I would think.

I think all of these would actually be a terrific way. I mean, the multitool could be a great way of saying, again, without saying “You’re broken” to the business owner, “I’ve got the tools to help you succeed,” something alone those lines. I mean, there’s a metaphor there, and you can use that in your note.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Thank you. Well, we have so much fun with these stories. We’ve got a process here that starts with a research, and can you walk us through this?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, I guess the first thing you need to do is you better find out who it is you want to reach, so that would be step number one. And then once you do that, or while you’re doing that anyway, you’ve got to create something, some sort of device that’s going to get you through. So, this could be something tangible that you send, we’ve talked about a bunch of these already. The pocket campaigns are all tangible pieces, the cartoon pieces, and so on. But it can also be, “Well, look, we’re doing a podcast together.” Podcasts are a great device for connecting with people, aren’t they?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
You get to connect with a lot of really interesting, I’ll not putting myself in there, but you get to connect with a lot of really interesting people. And so, a podcast or I guess we should just broaden it out to some form of media exposure is really nice. There are even interesting ways to use email to break through if you time it correctly. Most of the people that are, I should say, important people who are very busy are pretty tough to reach using email during the week.

But what if you waited until early Saturday morning before they got their weekend started because I know that executives, many executives, and let’s just go all the way up to the CEOs, they get up early, and before they start up their weekend activities, they check their email and they get a little bit of work done. Or at the end of the weekend, Sunday evening, when they’re preparing for the week ahead, also a great time to reach out to someone who’s generally really well-guarded by executive assistants and you can break through.

And there are great examples of things that are done that are way, way, way over the top that are some of my favorite stories but they’re expensive. One person used a, I guess this wasn’t expensive. Someone sent a pigeon to, I can’t say the name, I’m restricted from saying the name, but he’s no longer with us, he was probably the most famous CEO in the world at the time, he’s really tough to get through to.

And so, someone sent a pigeon in a box with airholes and handwritten notes, and sent it to this fellow and said, “You know, I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I’ve been talking to your engineering department. They love my solution but purchasing won’t talk to me so I’ve sent you faxes and emails and letters, I’ve called. I’ve done everything I could think of and, really, this is my last resort. So, if you would, inside the box, there’s a pigeon. And on the pigeon’s leg is a capsule, and in the capsule is a little slip of paper. And so, if you take that out and write the name of your favorite restaurant, and the date and time, and then release the pigeon, actually put it back in the capsule first, of course. Release the pigeon. I’ll meet you there.”

And it actually worked. And they had lunch and the fellow walked out of that meeting with a $250 deal, sorry, $250,000. So, there are just all kinds of ways of breaking through and they can be non-tangible or tangible. I think the one thing, the one caution I would throw out there is that if you’re only reaching out on social media, I don’t think that that one, if you connect with someone on LinkedIn, for example, that one action alone is not enough to actually create a relationship, and you’ve got to do more than that to actually show up on their radar screens, so to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we’ve got the research, and then we’ve got the intriguing device there. I guess I’m curious a little bit about the research phase and the crafting of that ideal message. So, you mentioned that you’ve checked out their social media profiles. And how do you go about building up that profile so you have that hunch for what would be ideal for them?

Stu Heinecke
Well, you know, I have a great shortcut. There is a new company out there called Seamless.AI. And Seamless is an AI-powered search engine that produces dossiers on anyone. And, in fact, you can sign up for a free account and get 100, I think it’s 100, but maybe it’s 50, but we’ll call it 100 free searches. And so, it uses AI to just scour everything to find out all of the person’s contact details, so their email address, their phone number, their address, and then a lot about what it is they’re interested in, and you can do that in seconds. That’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
Makes it kind of easy, or I guess you can comb the news and just be observant and watch for stories about people who are doing interesting things, somebody you might want to work with or for, those are   great too, so you’ll see them in the news and so forth. There are lots of ways. I think there are actually lots of ways to find the people. But if you’re going to job search, I guess you probably have some idea of what it is you want a job to be and then where maybe the best places are to have that sort of career, so you got to start there I suppose. But then you can also use, for example, Seamless and other tools to find out how to reach them and what it is they’re involved with.

You really do want to know something about these people because, when you reach out, there are a bunch of things you need to consider. One is you really want to humanize yourself. We’ve been talking about ways to do that. I think using a lot of these techniques does personalize you because it causes you to stand out or humanize yourself. But then you also want to be careful about how the messages are crafted because they really need to be highly personal. And you might be saying, “I noticed in the Forbes article last month that you were quoted in, that you said this.” So, you know something about them. And if they’re saying something, then you’re paying attention to what that is, and maybe that’s what you’re responding to as your reason for reaching out to them.

I think the last thing, we’re creating sort of a list here so I don’t want to use the word last, but the thing you want to avoid is you don’t want to sound promotional I think. You don’t want to sound like you’re talking at them. You want to sound like you’re one person connecting with another because that’s actually what it is. But you wouldn’t be saying, “Hey, so-and-so, if you contact me within the next 10 minutes, you’re going to get a freebie or something,” and that’s very promotional and is very off-putting in one of these messages.

In fact, personal goes far. It reaches, I guess, one of the ways to make that message personal would be to actually write it up by hand. And, in fact, a lot of the really successful campaigns or contact campaigns that I’ve written about and found in my research they’ve included handwritten messages. So, you’ve got to be relevant and timely. And I think another really big consideration is you really got to be respectful of their time. So, if you happen to be reaching out to the CEO of a company, keep your message really short and succinct. Don’t ask them to wade through a lot of detail.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I also want to hear, are there maybe any key phrases that we should avoid entirely? So, you mentioned in particular the super promotional type stuff. I don’t know about you but when I read an email that starts with, “Just following up,” that kind of turns me off.

Stu Heinecke
That’s true. Yeah, “Just checking in.” That’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
And I understand that is what you’re doing, and it’s honest, you’re calling a spade a spade, but that just already reminds me that either through my negligence or by willful decision-making I have ignored your previous communication. So, that one doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know if it’s a personal for me or if that’s kind of universally discouraged. Any things that you would point out, like, “Don’t say this”?

Stu Heinecke
Well, I think I would avoid the use of the word free at all cost because it just sounds like a promotion. But I love what you just suggested there about, “Well, I’m just checking in.” It’s easy enough to go and find something of interest so that when you’re reaching out, you’re not just saying, “I’m checking in,” because that’s wasting their time. Or maybe you’re saying, “Yeah, in fact, I enjoyed this article,” or, “I was at an event last week or last month, an industry event, and I wanted to share with you a couple of impressions because I think they’ll have an impact on your business,” something like that. At least you’re offering value instead of just, “Hey, I’m just checking in,” because I don’t think those ever lead anywhere or lead anywhere good.

Similar to that, maybe, “Pick your brain.” I don’t know that anyone wants their brains picked, you know, “Hey, let’s go out for lunch and I’d love to pick your brain.” Well, why? Perhaps the person on the other end of that sells what’s in their brain, I’m sure they do, but maybe they’re consultants, who knows, or they could be the CEO of a company, they’re paid thousands of dollars a minute. And so, why are they going to allow you to take them to lunch to pick their brain? It’s sort of uncompensated work on their part.

I think, just in general though, it really has…I think that if you are doing a lot of talking about yourself, I mean, I guess you’ve got to tell a little bit about yourself, but if you’re doing a lot of talking about yourself and not about the person that you’re reaching out to and why you want to reach out to them and perhaps how you think you can help them, then I think the whole message is probably off.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, this is a great lineup. Stu, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stu Heinecke
Well, yeah, maybe one thing. Executive assistants are, that’s kind of an interesting thing. They’re usually thought of as simply a barrier to the person that people are trying to reach. And here’s the thing, I mean, a lot of salespeople, and I know your audience isn’t sales-oriented, but still I think there are great parallels here.

So, a lot of salespeople will ask me, or they’ll say, “I’m looking for a way to circumvent the executive assistant. How do I do that?” And my response is, “You don’t want to do that at all. You want to involve the executive assistant. You should be thinking of them as VPs of access or talent scouts. You need to plan your call, your communication with the executive assistant as part of your campaign.” So, it might be helpful to give an example. Would that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, when we send our big boards around, and let’s say I might use the same thing, and my clients use these as well. So, when I’m using it, I get to say to the executive assistant, “Hi, I’m Stu Heinecke. I’m one of the Wall Street Journal cartoonists. And I’m sending a print of one of my cartoons, it’s about your boss.” Well, that’s just a handful of words but already the executive assistant is leaning into the phone saying, “Wait, what? What did you just say?” because it’s about their boss, and it’s a cartoon by a well-known cartoonist, in a well-known venue, and this cartoon happens to be about their boss so, of course, they’re interested in pursuing the conversation further.

And so, I finish that by saying, “So, I want it to be a surprise to your boss but I don’t want it to be a surprise to you. Would you mind if I send you an email?” “Sure,” usually that’s the response. “Sure, of course.” “Okay. Can I get your email address? Great. And how do you spell your name? Great.” Now I’ve got executive assistants spelling of their name, their email address, and of course I know how to reach them. And then I’ll often follow up with a card. I have cards that I can produce really quickly, a cartoon about the executive assistant and it’s just a quick handwritten note, saying, “Thank you so much for your help on the phone. Greatly appreciate it.” And I sign it, “Stu.”

And then I also ask, “When the big board has a FedEx tracking number, would you mind if I get in touch with that as well?” And they usually will say, “No, not at all.” So, then what I have is, you know, I’ve got the initial phone call, I’ve got an email that went out right afterward, I have a card, and then another email with the FedEx tracking number. I’ve got four touches with the executive assistant before I ever even ask to speak to the person I was actually trying to reach.

So, I think that’s an important point. Executive assistants, they’re amazing. They’re probably some of the sharpest people in their companies. And if you’re talking to the executive assistant to the CEO, that person is really on equal footing, they wouldn’t agree but if you think about it from our standpoint as the person calling in, they’re actually on equal footing with the rest of the C-suite members because they report directly to the CEO. They probably have more dealings with the CEO than all the other C-level people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great perspective.

Stu Heinecke
So, they’re incredible people and you really need to embrace them and look for ways to, I guess, just involve them in your campaign and recruit them to become an ally in your campaign.

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

Stu Heinecke
I knew you were going to ask me that so there’s one that just cracks me up.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Stu Heinecke
It’s by Winston Churchill, and he said, and of course I can’t do his voice, but, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I think that’s a great one.

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

Stu Heinecke
This goes back a few years. When I was a student at USC at Stanford, there was, I think it was at Stanford, there was a study happening with a gorilla named Koko. Have you ever heard of Koko?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stu Heinecke
So, you know what it is. So, the researchers thought, “Let’s see if we can teach Koko American sign language.” And, in fact, it worked so well that Koko was inventing words. She wanted yogurt, she hadn’t been taught the sign word for yogurt, so she put together flower and sauce, she asked for flower sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh.

Stu Heinecke
And then another time. She wanted a pet, a pet cat. So, they said, “Well, let’s try it.” And she took care of that cat and was really wonderful to the cat. So, I think that’s one of my favorite ones. Isn’t that interesting that gorillas, I guess just animals in general perhaps, don’t get the credit they deserve for their intelligence and emotional awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stu Heinecke
Just for fun I think my favorite book is probably Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and that’s going back a-ways. But I love the writing of Tom Robbins. His writing is just so inventive and, for me, it’s inspiring. But for business, I would say Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, which is an interesting dilemma because businesses that are market leaders, generally they go out of business.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Stu Heinecke
It could be something that I use in business like I mentioned Seamless.AI and there are other AI tools like x.ai that is an AI assistant that sets up appointments for you. I love using Zoom for calls. And Spiro.ai is another one. It’s a CRM program with a layer of AI attached as well.

But if we were just talking about literally a tool, I’m thinking the tool I was telling you about, the ones that are credit card size, they’ve got different punchouts so that they can function as a ruler, I guess it’s not a punchout, but a ruler, a bottle opener, a letter opener, a wrench, and so forth. I think those things are really cool because they’re working their way into a lot of my clients’ pocket campaigns right now. So, maybe that’s my favorite tool.

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

Stu Heinecke
You know, I think the one thing that I think could make a lot of difference in everyone’s lives is if everyone was scrupulously on time. When you say you’re going to call at 2:00, you call right at 2:00. You don’t call at 2:02, you don’t call at 2:07. Because when you do that, it shows disrespect for the person’s time. And I think maybe that’s one of the nicest story or strongest compliments, certainly the strongest signal you can put out to someone that you want to connect with, that you respect their time. So, be on time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and as you say that, it even seems kind of fun, like I can watch the clock as the seconds tick away, and then push sort of like the last number of the phone number, like at the second that it turns to that minute mark. And it leaves an impression, it’s like, “Oh, okay. Here you are.”

Stu Heinecke
Yeah, it’s respectful and we’re talking about jobs here, so it says you’re dependable. It’s you do what you say you’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a key nugget you share that really seems to get requoted frequently back to you?

Stu Heinecke
Well, perhaps. I have a headline that I use in my ads for my two books, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone and Get the Meeting! and that headline is, “One meeting can change everything.” And I believe that. And, in fact, when we look back on, all of us, when we look back on our lives, the things that have sprung us forward, that have been advances in our lives and in our careers, have all probably come from meetings or connecting with someone. So, that would probably be my favorite one, “One meeting can change everything.”

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

Stu Heinecke
Well, you could buy the book, that would be nice. And you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Just find me, my name is Stu Heinecke. And if you mention that you heard us talking on this podcast, that would be a big help and I’d know where you’re coming from, and I’m happy to connect. And I think, finally, I also run a podcast, it’s a weekly podcast called How to Get a Meeting with Anyone podcast. And I’m delighted to be talking to people who keep sharing these crazy things that they’ve been doing to get meetings.

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

Stu Heinecke
Well, I would say that find new ways to connect with people and build your network because that’s going to have a big effect on the scale of your career and your life. So, I would say find people that are, you think, not accessible, not someone that you could reach, and challenge yourself to go out and do it, and you’d be really surprised. You will connect with a lot of these people.

Pete Mockaitis
Stu, this has been a ton of fun. Please keep up the good work.

Stu Heinecke
Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

498: Nourishing the Relationships That Nourish You with Dr. John Townsend

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Dr. John Townsend says: "You need people just like they need you."

Dr. John Townsend discusses how to build the relationships that keep you motivated and productive.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one need leaders often ignore
  2. How to engage in nourishing conversations
  3. The five relationships you need in your life—and the two to prune

About John:

Dr. John Townsend is a nationally-known leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Timesbestselling author. John is the founder of the Townsend Institute, Leadership and Counseling, and the Townsend Leadership Program, which is a a a  nationwide system of leadership training groups. He developed the online digital platform TownsendNOW and the online assessment tool TPRAT. Dr. Townsend travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and helping develop leaders, their teams and their families.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. John Townsend Interview Transcript

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

Dr. John Townsend
Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to be talking a lot about people fuel and being empty, being full, and the nutrients, so I’d love it if you could kick us off by maybe sharing an inspiring story of someone who really made a transformation here and what that looked like in practice.

Dr. John Townsend
I’d be glad to. Now, it’s a little long but not too long, but it’s like over 30 seconds. Is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take it. Absolutely.

Dr. John Townsend
This person was a business owner, he owned a business he started. And he said, “You know, I’m getting ready to sell the business and it’s been successful. I’ve got a really good marriage and I kind of want to go to phase two, maybe a few more years in this program, but somebody said that you can kind of optimize leaders. And I just wanted to know if there’s anything else. I like golf but I don’t want to do it every day. I like work but I don’t want to do it 70 hours a week and all that.

So, I flew over and we had a day, and I do an analysis with the leader where I talk about, “What’s your vision? What’s your mission? What’s your strategy in life? What’s your strategy in business? Where do you want to go?”

And I said, “Now, let me get to know you and your relational context because that’s important.” And he said, “Oh, I got lots of relationships, no problem there.” And I said, “Well, tell me about your relationships.” And he said, “Gosh, I’ve got people I’m mentoring, and people I’m guiding and leading and developing, and people that report to me. And I’ve got great relationships.”

And I said, ”Now, that’s great. But I’m struck by the fact that all those relationships are outgoing relationships. It’s you outsourcing them with your wisdom and help and mentoring and leading.”

So, he said, “Isn’t that what leaders are supposed to do? We’re supposed to be givers.” And I said, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t treat your car that way. I mean, sooner or later your car is going to be at the gas tank and you’re going to have to give some fuel to drag your car. So, what about people that are inputting to you as well?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. My wife, she’s great. She listens to my insecurities, she’s a safe person, she’s there to encourage me. And, also, my Labrador Retriever, Max, and he’s there for me, never judges me.” And I said, “Well, that’s good. We need a spouse that’s supportive with our fears and insecurities, I’m a dog person too.” I said, “But I would consider you in the relationally-deficit category.”

And he kind of got a little upset about this, he said, “No, I got lots of friends.” And I said, “Yes, you do. Yes, you do. But you don’t have a lot of people that you need. And I don’t mean need for, ‘Give me a ride to the store,’ or, ‘Let me borrow a couple of sugars.’ You don’t have a lot of people that need in the way that when you need encouragement, wisdom, somebody to be there, somebody to challenge you.” And he said, “Well, maybe I don’t, but that feels selfish.” And about this time the wife came in, who was listening, and she goes, “Joe, you better listen to this guy because I really don’t like being the only person you can talk to.”

And I said, “Joe, she’s right.” I mean, the way the neuroscience works. It says we got to have more people in our tank. And I said, “You know, your spouse is a little overwhelmed. She’s a nice person but she’s not everything. And, by the way, your dog is genetically engineered to lick your face and be nice to you because he won’t eat otherwise so you need more.”

And he said, “What am I supposed to do?” I said, “You need a life team,” and that’s a concept in the book. You need three to ten people who love work like you do, but also want to self-improve. And when there’s a time for a challenge, you can have that eight-minute windshield wiper call or you can have a dinner with, and you’re not always mentoring and guiding and developing these people. You’re being vulnerable with them and they’re being vulnerable with you. You’re talking about what’s really and truly in reality going on and take the leadership hat off, and that’ll change everything.”

He said, “Nah, that just sounds like kind of touchy feely and it sounds like I’m being too weak.” I said, “Well, give these people a chance because my hunch is that when you tell people, ‘I’d like to have some more relationships because I tend to be the giver, and all I got is my wife and my dog,’ they will say to you, ‘I am honored to be on your life team. You’ve always given to me, you’ve always mentored me, you spend so many hours with me on my business, on my marriage, on my parenting, sign me up.’” And he did it, and he came back, and he said, “I could not believe the response and it’s great.”

So, that’s kind of the catalyzing story of the model here, is that what I tell leaders. What I really tell leaders is, “You need to need. You need to need other people and it’s not being selfish. And here’s how to do it. And here’s what the research says. People, and especially leaders, that don’t have a lot of long-term vulnerable relationships, you don’t need a lot because you don’t have much time, but if you don’t have a few of these life team people, you’ll end up with worse problems and performance in your business, more health problems, stress problems, that and the like, more psychological-emotional problems, and a higher mortality rate so it’s not even touchy feely, “Oh, go to HR and talk about it.” It’s really hard science that says, “We all need it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a huge believer of that, absolutely.
I’ve got a men’s group, or however you call it, or slice it, or arrange it, I think it’s absolutely huge to be able to kind of share those things. So, I like it, you sort of have broken down the particular things we need into what you call relational nutrients. And I understand you’ve identified 22 of them, that’s a lot. So, could you maybe share with us what are the most essential and maybe the most overlooked for professionals in particular?

Dr. John Townsend
A coaching client of mine said the same thing. He said, “That’s a lot. Can you do two categories?” And I thought, “Yeah, everybody’s busy.” So, let me give you the four categories.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dr. John Townsend
Much more palatable. The 22 are arranged, there’s five or six in each category. The first one is be present. And be present to a leader means sometimes you’ve got shut up and listen. Now, we leaders love to talk, and we got nuggets of wisdom and all that, and that’s great. But sometimes that’s not what a person needs, and sometimes that’s not what you need.

What we found out is that there’s so much research about a person just being empathetic and authentic, and saying, “I get you. Tell me more about it.” Instead of three pieces of advice and fixing and fixing and fixing, just saying, “I’m here and you can vent to me and you can tell me whatever you need to tell me, how you’re feeling, and I’m not going to preach at you now. I’m just going to tell you I’m your friend.” And you keep eye contact if you’re face to face. If you’re digital, you keep connected, and say, “I’m with you.”

And we found out that there’s so much for a person to get, “I didn’t need three steps to solve my problem. I can solve my problem by just knowing you don’t judge me and you’re my friend and I can be as messy as I want.” People come out feeling like they’ve lost 30 pounds and they’re motivated. Be present.

The second one is to convey the good. Sometimes we’re down. You know, work is stressful, business is stressful, life is stressful, family is stressful. Sometimes we need somebody, when we’re discouraged, overwhelmed, just to say, “I believe in you and I want to encourage you. You’re doing the right thing. And I got a lot of respect for you. And I got like hope for your business to change in this turn it’s having, or your family to change.” It’s sort of like a little shot of Prozac, where somebody just says, “I know you’re down, and I know you don’t believe in yourself right now, but I believe in you, and I see reality there.” That’s convey the good.

The third one is deliver reality. And reality means sometimes we don’t need just people being present with us, or people just encouraging us. We also need like a Yoda, somebody to say, “Hey, why is that happening? Let me tell you some research I saw and here’s some information. Kind of give me the data.” Sometimes we do need data, wisdom, insight, perspective from somebody that really has been down there, and is a deeper person, like Simon Sinek’s great TED Talk about the power of why. People can help us with the why that we’re having some challenge.

And then the fourth one is call to action. And call to action means, you know, businesses and life and leadership changes when we get off our butt to do something. So, sometimes it means, “I want to challenge you to take this step. I know you’re afraid to, I don’t know, make this change in your business, or confront this person, or do this restructuring, or have this tough conversation with a person in your culture, whatever.”

But we call, sometimes, people to action, say, “Listen, there’s something we got to do. I know you’re getting it but you’ve got to do a tough scary thing right now.” And every week, we need people being present with us, conveying the good, delivering reality, calling us to action. And also, as leaders, we need to deliver those nutrients to other people, and I promise you, the people that you’re responsible to take care of, they need them as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these people, are you envisioning that you recruit them from all over? They could be colleagues, they could be friends, they could be related to you.

Dr. John Townsend
You mean for the life team?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dr. John Townsend
I was speaking about giving the nutrients also to your directs, to your workers, to your children, to your spouse. So, the ones we give those things to, that’s just everybody we feel like we’re with. But in terms of that special three to ten people life team, the way I work that out, Pete, is I always like to start with the blue sky. Okay, what’s perfect? What’s ideal? And the blue sky would be those people who are all in some, you know, drive a distance, a view. You all get together for, I don’t know, lunch once a week, or dinner, and you just kind of talk about how life is going and the challenges, and you give each other grace and truth and support, and that’s great.

Now, I don’t have that because I’ve got people in my life team, a couple of them are in other parts of the country, don’t even know each other but I kind of went for the quality. So, we stay in touch when I’m in town, or they’re in town, or Skype, or texting. Texting is wonderful. Texting is very, very connecting. People say texting doesn’t work with connection but it really does. You could be very encouraged and encouraging with a text.

And so, like in my situation, some of them are in a group that I’m in, and some of those are just people that I know are high-quality people. So, for some people, their life team is going to be maybe people that they know that aren’t getting together. And for some people it’s going to be, “Yeah, I assemble a group of five people that said we’re going to get together twice a month and really dig into personal growth as well as professional growth, and it’s kind of transformational.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are engaging in these conversations with folks, I’m curious, is there a particular set of things that you always like to cover or kind of prompts or questions, or is there any kind of structure or agenda, or is it just kind of like letting her rip?

Dr. John Townsend
Well, there’s certainly a let her rip because if we’ve got too much structure, people get more into the, “Okay, it’s 2:15. We didn’t read this book yet,” and then they don’t do what they need to do. There’s got to be a place where there is a reasonable structure but also there’s room to veer off the structure when people say, “Look, I’ve got a 911. I’m a mess here. My kid is on drugs,” or, “I’ve got a big cashflow problem.”

So, what I always recommend is the ideal would be 90 minutes. People are busy. And that 90 minutes kind of a check-in, “Let’s just go around the circle. How is everybody doing? What’s your wins and what’s your challenges?” And then sometimes people say, “Well, I want to study a book from John Maxwell, or Brene Brown, or Jim Collins, or something,” and they’ll tell you a chapter of the book, and that’s fine. And then people will also say, “I’d like to talk about it but I’d like to talk about what I’m learning.” So, it’s what’s called the content piece. You’ve got the check-in, “How’s everybody doing? Do you have a content piece?”

And then I think what’s really good is to say, “Okay, we’ve got 45 minutes to go, let’s talk about what’s really going on.” And people do a deeper dive. People come away going, “I learned something, I felt like I’m caught up with these people I care about. And also, on a personal growth level, I could be vulnerable and I don’t feel like I’m judging myself, and I feel like people are with me in the next week that I have.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to these people, you’ve sort of given some names of different roles to folks, the seven Cs. Can you give us the rundown of that?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah. Because people say, “Hey, where can I get these people?” So, the seven Cs are if you look at the four quadrants of relational nutrients, I look at them like the way I look at bio-nutrients. In fact, that’s where I got the idea because we all need calcium when we get bone problems. We all need iron when we get blood problems. So, I thought, “Okay, there’s bio-nutrients but there’s also relational nutrients.” I trademarked the term because it’s so valuable for me that we need to get those things back and forth to each other just like we do calcium and iron, but not with a pill but with a conversation.

So, the seven Cs are who has those relational nutrients and what level from a nutrient-rich person to a nutrient-deficient person. And it goes like this, the first level is coaches. Coach is the highest level of nutrient-rich because they know some things, you hire them, or they’re pro bono or whatever, because of their expertise in business, or leadership, or personal growth, or spiritual growth, or self-help, or parenting, or whatever. And they don’t need you to be their buddy, they’re there to coach you, so it’s all about you.

Second level is what’s called comrades. Those are the people that are your brothers and sisters-in arms, like they go through life together, and you want to help each other to be the best person you can be, and that’s kind of like that life team concept I mentioned. Very mutual, very honest, and very safe. Third level is casuals. We all need people in our life that we just sort of stop and smell the roses with. Maybe you go make a friend out of somebody whose kids are at your soccer game and you like them, or you see somebody at a community meeting, and you all get together. And not really a life team member, a comrade, but really sort of a nice positive person. They’re also a farm team for the life team because you might think, “You know, this person is into self-improvement, being better, being a better leader. Maybe we need to talk.”

Next level is colleagues because so much of life is about work and we need people who are, even if you can’t pick who you work with, if you owned the business you can, but if you don’t and you get assigned those people, either way they’re going to have three qualities. They’ve got to be really good at what they do and competent,. They’ve got to be also relational people, really good relationally. And third, they’ve got be able to work on teams well. And you always push for that as much as you can get to get the best out of those relationships as you can.

Next level is care. And care are those people who are without. You know, there’s people in developing countries that have nothing and we’ve been given a lot, and leaders have a responsibility to be on board, to go to trips to serve, and also to mentor young professionals that are just starting out and need somebody to tell them how to do a SWOT analysis and how to start up a marketing campaign. So, we’re supposed to help other people. That’s care.

The next one is chronics. And chronics, I’ve been in California, I raised the kids here in California, but in the beginning of my life, I was from the South. And we have a phrase in the South called “Bless her heart,” and “Bless her heart” means they’re kind of a hot mess all the time. They have chronic problems with money, and their job, and their marriage, and their kids, and their friend. They just are always in trouble.

And we spend a lot of time with these people, supporting them and having lunch with them, giving them advice and all sort of thing. But the only problem with chronics, bless their heart, and they’re not mean people, they’re nice people, is that they have what I call from psychology a flat-learning curve. They don’t take any insight from the homework you give or the advice. They keep making the same mistakes over again. It’s chronic. And we tend to give a whole lot of time to those people.

And then the last category is contaminant, and they’re those dangerous people. I mean, people that should be in prison and people who have serious character disorders that they want to destroy your business and your family, and you can’t spend any time with them. So, what I say in that is, so, to get the nutrients you need to have a balanced life, most of us look at those seven Cs and go, “Goodness gracious, I’m bottom heavy. I don’t mean physically bottom heavy, but I’ve got a lot of contaminants and chronics and care, and I don’t have very many at the top. I don’t have many coaches and comrades.”

And I tell people, “We’ve got to right-size this. Where’s your coach or your coaches?” I’ve got two or three because The Harvard Business Review says they bring about three times the value of what you pay for them, and that’s been my experience in the very least. So, where’s your coaches, business directors, advisors, personal directors, spiritual directors. And then where’s your comrades? Where’s that life team? And if you build that up then you start pruning back the bottom, that’s a pretty good life.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the pruning process. How do you recommend establishing boundaries and doing that well?

Dr. John Townsend
Tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Go on.

Dr. John Townsend
Well, let’s look at the chronic category. Most leaders I work with have a whole bunch of people they’re spending enormous time with who really aren’t changing. They just really want to be around the leader because the leader is warm and wise and accepts them, and that’s great. But when they give them hard things to do and assignments and this sort of thing, they kind of come back and say, “No, I didn’t do it. I was busy. But what else you got for me?”

We have to realize we’re sort of just, in some nice way, we’re kind of enabling them not to change. And so, when you start finding that pattern, I mean, when people are doing what you’re saying, they’re saying, “Oh, gosh, I had that conversation and my business is doing great, my family is doing great.” Great. But a chronic is just not going to change. They’ll just keep kind of complaining that the world is against them.

So, sooner or later you’ve got to have a conversation saying, “I care about our relationship and our time is valuable, but I’ve noticed that things aren’t changing and you have real challenges in your life, and they’re real. But I’ve noticed that you really do a small percentage of what I’m asking. And so, we need to consider if this is really working for us, and let’s try it again, and I’m going to tell you three things to do this week, blah, blah, blah.”

So, you give everybody a chance like you would any kind of a conversation. And if they come back and there’s just more excuses after a couple of times, then you say, “Honestly, I really like you but I kind of spend a lot of time with people who really want to grow and change. So, instead of meeting you once a week, it might be once a quarter. But here are some other people or organizations you can go to.” You’ve got to be nice about it. I never cut anybody off, but I do resize things when I notice that a person is chronic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m wondering about sort of energy drains in terms of colleagues at work. How do you think about interacting there?

Dr. John Townsend
There are people who are energy drains and it happens because there’s energy given and taken at work. But I kind of say it’s our problem. It’s not them, it’s our fault because you only experience at work what you tolerate at work, right?

So, if I’ve got somebody coming in and they’re, I don’t know, complaining or negative or whatever, and I give them 45 minutes that I don’t have, well, I tolerated that so I got it. But if I say, “I only got three minutes here, or five minutes, or whatever,” or I even have a tougher conversation. You know, Henry Cloud and I wrote a book called How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding, that sometimes we could say, “I don’t have a lot of time. Sorry. I’ve got to get back to work.” Sometimes we have to say, “Can we really talk about this because there’s some things going on? And you can give me any feedback you need to but some things that are difficult that I want to talk about,” and you head to talking.

I think in terms of people that are mild, moderate, or severe, I mean, you always want to be mild. I don’t want to be moderate or severe. A mild person will say, “Yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to bellyache so much. And, yeah, thanks. That’s good advice.” And they change, they’re mild. Moderate and severe might say, “Well, gosh, I thought you’re my friend, and you’re against me too.” And you go, “I’m not that but I got to see some changes.” There’s eight steps for that of how to deal with that in the book so you’ve got to determine what the drain is and whether you just take a mild approach or a moderate approach, but there’s tips for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, so then maybe before we get to that final bit, John, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah, I would invite and challenge business leaders to rethink how you are about your relationships and not to shame yourself because you might need to have a friend. We try to be so strong, we try to be Superman, we try to be Wonder Woman, but the reality is all the neuroscience says, “You need people just like they need you.” And I promise you, when you say to some people, “Can we make lunch about me? I just got a challenge.” It can’t be anybody.

It can’t probably be somebody who works for you, that’s not really appropriate, but somebody that’s a friend, outside or inside of business. I promise you, 95% of them will say, “You know, you give so much to me, you’re so much there for me. It’s an honor to be there for you.” Take a little risk and see what your people are made of.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I’m a big fan of Peter Drucker. He was called the Moses of management. He’s the guy that started all the management research that we now follow, and he was right just about everything. And I sort of read his stuff and learn from his stuff. He has a great statement, he says, “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast,” meaning we all need a strategy to grow our businesses, we all need to be great leaders and do the right things and the right products, service, mission, vision. But culture, which is relationships, if our relationships aren’t in place, it’ll sabotage it. So, always, always take the people part in consideration.

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

Dr. John Townsend
There was a study done by some Italian researchers about how people connect, and they used monkeys. And they had a computer with electrodes that went to your head. And so, they put computer electrodes on one monkey’s head and on the others, and the monkeys could see each other from a few feet away. And then they began looking at the brain mapping of what the heat points in their brain was because that’s how you know where there’s activity.

And what they noticed was when one monkey was, let’s say, anxious, the other would look at it and get anxious, and he had the same red spots in the same place as the other one. When one would get happy, the other one would feel happy. When one got angry, or sad, the other one did too. And they basically figured out that there are neurons that are called mirror neurons, like when you’re shaving, you look at a mirror.

These mirror neurons travel back and forth through eye contact where you see something in somebody else and you have a similar response. And they think they might’ve discovered the neurological basis for what’s called empathy. And every leader must be empathy. Some of us are gifted in it, some of us aren’t gifted in it, but everybody, every leader must learn the skill.

And from that we figure, we’re finding out that the leaders that could just pay attention to their people, I mean, you still make them accountable, you still got to have KPIs and goals and all that, but if you also can be a mirror neuron to them so you can understand what their life is like, your company becomes more successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dr. John Townsend
I’m currently revisiting a book by Pat Lencioni, who’s a friend and a guy who really has helped us in the business world, it’s called The Advantage. It’s a great book that is worth several reads on how to have your company be high-performing through the right relationships and engagements.

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

Dr. John Townsend
Actually, it’s an assessment tool I developed called the TPRAT, Townsend Personal Relational Assessment Tool. My company uses it and I use it for clients. It measures how a person’s four, what we call, capacities, capabilities in life. One is bonding,
The second one is boundaries.

And then the fourth one is capability. It measures all the four of those categories – bonding, boundaries, reality, and capability – on a scale of one to ten, and you get a profile of four numbers.

And it’s like all these skills that you’re going to have to move up the ladder on that. And people like it, it makes sense. You can get it on my website, but it’s kind of a nice way for a team or a group to say, “Oh, okay. Here’s what we’re all working in, and here’s the ones that are strong in this. How can we relate better given these scores?”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and you’re known for?

Dr. John Townsend
Yes. It’s probably a mantra that I use in my company that we train other companies with, and it’s that we all need competence and character. Competence means you’ve got to be good at what you do. You’ve got to get the training. You’ve got to do the elbow grease and really learn things at a highly-skilled level. But you’ve also got to have character. You’ve also got to be a person that has integrity, has great relationships, and can inspire other people.

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

Dr. John Townsend
My website is DrTownsend.com. It’s got a lot of information. We’ve got the blogs and the advice, and information. We’ve also got information about the Townsend Institute where you can get a masters in leadership or masters in coaching, all online with us, Townsend Leadership Group which is our cohort-based program around the country where a leader can meet with other leaders and with a person that I’ve trained to help them grow in their professions and SWOT analysis and EQ and all those things – DrTownsend.com.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I think of it this way. We’re all meant to be F-16s, it’s like those pilots, they go halfway around the world at very high altitudes and very high performance. And every leader wants to be that and should be. But you’re only as good as your fuel. So, consider who are you hanging out with? And who’s hanging out with you? And is it high-capacity fuel versus low-capacity fuel? You want to be with the highest octane possible.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thanks for this, and good luck in all of your leading and relationships, and I hope you’re well-nutriated.

Dr. John Townsend
I think you just made up a new word. Thank you.

495: How to Network When You Hate Networking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "Remember to value connecting over collecting."

Devora Zack explains why you don’t need to work the room to build great connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smoothly start, sustain, and end conversations
  2. How to ease your pre-networking anxiety
  3. Best practices for writing amazing follow-ups

About Devora:

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmo, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

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

Devora Zack
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Devora, I understand that you identify as a strong introvert and, yet, you are now doing all sorts of speeches and writing about networking. What is the story here?

Devora Zack
Networking is not exclusively for extroverts, I’ve discovered. So, it started off when I was teaching a lot of seminars, and building connections, and creating new relationships, and sustaining businesses. And I suddenly realized that all those so-called excellent networking advice didn’t work for me, and I started doing the opposite. And who would’ve ever guessed, it’s a whole new method of networking that works for many people. As a matter of fact, the majority of people, traditional networking advice does not resonate with them, and they do far better, myself included, by honoring who they are and accepting their natural temperament.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then that’s intriguing. And so, what would be an example of honoring your natural temperament versus violating it?

Devora Zack
So, traditional advice says get out there as much as possible, constant contact, never eat a meal alone, and that kind of advice makes most of us want to run and hide, crash and burn, and proclaim ourselves to hate networking and be terrible at it. So, instead, if you work with understand who you are and then create a system that honors how you get energy, for example, introverts get energy alone whereas extroverts get energy with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then could we hear some cool cases stories associated with folks who tackled some of those approaches and saw fantastic results?

Devora Zack
Sure. I’ll give one about myself when I wanted to get my first book published for the first time. So, I was at a conference and there were about 40 different publishers there, and so traditional wisdom would say meet all of them because that’ll maximize the possibility that you’ll hit it off with one of them. But I knew as an introvert that that would drain me and that it would also feel really inauthentic so I wouldn’t be bringing my best foot forward.

So, instead, I did research in advanced, which I always recommend people do, found and identified one publisher that I thought would be a really perfect fit, had one meeting at the conference, and I was the only person they signed out of 16,000 people, and we’re working together 12 years later. So, it really shows, it’s one little example that instead of saying, “I should do something,” like, “I should go out there and meet with everyone, I should try and spend as much time with as many different publishers as possible,” instead to say, “I’m going to follow what feels authentic and seek out where I think there’s a real connection.”
Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting, this notion. Let’s unpack that a bit when it comes to the “should.” Under what circumstances do you think we should violate our “shoulds” or ignore or overrule the should voice versus kind of run with them?

Devora Zack
Right. In my book I say, “You should never say should.” So, it’s hard to kind of get around that sometimes. So, there’s really three differences between introverts and extroverts, and my system of networking is really focused on this dimension.

So, introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think. Introverts energize alone and extroverts energize with others. And introverts go deep, like deeper into fewer relationships, fewer interests, less activity around them. That does not mean less active. It just means less competing action for the brain. And extroverts are the opposite. They talk to think, they energize with others, and they go wide. They like a lot of people, a lot of action, a lot going on.

So, if I know that I think to talk, what I have to do is to prepare in advance some good questions, to practice what I’m going to say, to get familiar with typical topics people might raise at this event, and be prepared with answers.

Also, introverts tend to be more private and they don’t want to talk about themselves as much, they can spend more time thinking of great questions to ask other people. And, by the way, if you don’t like talking about how wonderful you are, you can show people instead by demonstrating an authentic interest in other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when it comes to some of these great questions, have you found some go-to winners that you love and are great again and again?

Devora Zack
Yeah. One is that you want to make them interesting, the questions that people want to answer, and that you’re actually interested in hearing their response to. So, avoid the kind of old questions, they’re a little dull, like, “What do you do?” Like, that’s really basic. So, with a slight twist you can say, “What’s your favorite part of your work?” And suddenly the person comes alive, they’re talking about something that they’re passionate about, it’s more interesting to listen to, so that’s an example of a good, well-formed question.

You want to be cautious with your questions, also, about making them initially not too personal because introverts, especially if they have a strong, what’s called, strength of preference, a strong identification with introversion, they tend to find more things private. So, something an extrovert might ask would seem perfectly an innocent question, and an introvert might feel on the spot. So, start with the general questions, and then let the other person, who you’re talking to, decide how specific to get, and they might get more specific and more comfortable, both of you are, in the conversation.

A corollary to that is people often ask me, when we’re in the context of conversations and questions, “How do you end a conversation? So, I maybe find a way to be really engaging, some people want to talk to me, but what if it’s time for me to move on in the event, or in the evening, or the daytime?”

So, it’s really quite simple to end a conversation in a networking event because there is an expectation that people are there to meet people. So, non-verbal certainly makes a big difference, tone, pleasant facial expressions, smile, say, “Well, it’s been really interesting talking to you. I promise myself I’d circulate.” Or, almost the reverse of that, “Well, I’m sure you want to meet other people. Here’s my card.”

So, it’s really very simple to end a conversation, but the key is when you’re in the conversation, to be entirely focused on that other person. A lot of times people are looking for the “right person” to communicate with and they’re not making good eye contact and they’re distracted. Instead, I encourage people to decide that whenever they’re in a conversation with someone, that’s the right person for that period of time, and your job is to find out why. Why is this person in front of you out of everyone at the event, or, indeed, everyone in the world?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve made that point there before with regard to not trying to work the room and talk to absolutely everybody but instead make some of those deeper, more authentic relationships. And you’ve made reference, I understand, in your book to a couple of other old rules of networking advice. What are some of those and what makes things different now?

Devora Zack
Did you have any in particular that you wanted me to pound to pieces or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I would love for you to pound to pieces the one that is the most prevalent and the most wrong?

Devora Zack
There’s so many. I’ll start with one, it’s a popular saying which is to never eat a meal alone, that every meal is a networking opportunity. And, again, it’s about how you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying, “Keith Ferrazzi, you’re dead wrong.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. That’s right. I really do disagree with that. Well, I should say that works for about 15% of the general population. That’s good advice for really strong extroverts, people that identify strong with extroversion. It doesn’t work for the rest of us and it allows us to not have time to reenergize. So, what I recommend is that if you need time alone to prepare for a program, before a presentation, when you’re on a business trip, to allow yourself to have a meal alone if that energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m also curious to hear your take on the “Networking Survival Kit.” It seems like we’ve got some things in terms of advance preparation internally with thought. Are there some physical items here too?

Devora Zack
Yes, as a matter of fact. So, the networking events, I believe you’re referring in particular to, there’s a chapter in the book called that, and I have a three-piece strategy that helps us network more effectively. One is to prepare, the next is to percolate, that means to engage, and then to pace yourself. However, you asked an interesting question, “Are there any physical pieces in the survival kit?” And I would say yes.

And that is the first thing that’s important to have in your survival kit is a small mirror. When you get to networking events, take a moment and check yourself out. Make sure that you’re not disheveled, that you’re cleaned up. A lot of times we’re like rushing from one place to another and we’re like in a hurry and we might be a little bit late, so we just jump on in. It’s always worth the time to take a moment to focus yourself internally and externally.

So, it might mean that there’s a powder room or a bathroom nearby to get centered in or if you just have a slide, again, a small mirror with you. Take a moment, make sure you’re put together. Also, physically put together. So, take a couple of breaths and get centered. I also recommend, for your survival kit, an energy bar or a snack, something to have before the event so you don’t arrive starving. A lot of networking events involve food, often open buffet or pass-around food.

And so, one of two situations, it’s usually the case, it’s either you bought a ticket and you’re like, “I’m going to eat my money’s worth,” or someone else is covering it, and then you’re like, “Hey, it’s a free meal.” And I encourage you to not think of it as either one. Don’t arrive starting. It’s okay to eat a little bit, but there’s been many, many networking mishaps that I’ve been privy to, not necessarily always involved in, but sometimes involved in, that include food and being too eager to start eating.

Pete Mockaitis
Please, please regale us with a tale or two of some eager eating mishaps.

Devora Zack
You know, my memory feels faulty today. But, for example, having a mouthful of food when you’re introduced to somebody that you’ve been wanting to meet, spilling on yourself. Also, big types of food that you eat at networking matters too. If you love those everything bagels, that’s for Sunday mornings with your family but, otherwise, eat plain items such as crackers or bread without a lot of nuts and seeds that can get stuck in your teeth.

When I’m helping organize a networking event, I always forbid spinach dips even though it tastes good because that causes a lot of trouble as well. I do have a little saying, which nobody likes including myself, but it is a good rule of thumb for the most part, and it is, “Eat before, drink after.” That means eat something before the event, and then maybe a couple of simple things at the event, like carrots or things that are less likely to cause a mess. And then drink after the event in terms of alcohol. If you’re in an event and you like to drink alcohol, maybe one or two drinks is okay, but to put a lid on it at that. I hear a lot of people telling me, “But, Devora, I’m a better networker when I’ve had some drinks.” And to this I reply, “Says who? Should we poll the room?” Because we often think we’re better at networking after a few drinks.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you might feel you’re a better networker because you’re having more fun but you might…

Devora Zack
Exactly. All of a sudden, I’m brilliant and hilarious and a real genius. So, you just want to be aware of that when you’re at an event, that it might feel like a party but it’s still a business experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when we talk about physical items in the survival kit, I’m thinking a little bit about I really dig those little, I guess, they’re Listerine, it’s one of the brands, of pocket packs in terms of…

Devora Zack
Oh, great one. I love turning this around physical, like a real bag. I think we should definitely throw that in there. That’s a great one. And also, comfortable shoes if the bag is big enough. I really think, in any networking situation, comfort over flash. So, if you’re comfortable in walking shoes, pick that over your really fashionable but uncomfortable shoes. That’s my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then I want to get your take, if you’re in the midst of things and you’re feeling anxious right then and there in the moment, how do you recommend overcoming that?

Devora Zack
So, it’d be okay with giving yourself a little time to yourself. Also, reframe your mind. Everyone is not focused on you. Like, we sometimes have delusions of grandeur that when I’m standing there, I’m not talking with anyone, the entire room is focused on me standing there not talking to anyone. Also, make yourself available to others.

So, for example, if I’ve got myself a very modest plate of some plain carrots and red peppers or something, again, that’s not going to make a disaster like handheld tacos or that kind of thing. Then if you have these little cocktail high-top tables to kind of just make yourself comfortable standing at one of them and have a friendly expression to allow other people who are wandering out to maybe come over and talk to you, that’s one thing you can do.

Also, to be looking around with a pleasant expression on your face, and you’ll have those questions prepared, and to keep an eye on people’s nametags. Often nametags have interesting information, you know, what someone does or where they’re from. If you’re there, I always recommend that if you’re uncomfortable at networking events to do something counterintuitive, and that is to get to the event early instead of late because early on, it’s fewer crowds, less noisy, easier to get into conversation, and it’s a little calmer.

So, if you get there on the earlier side, you have another benefit of looking at usually there’s a nametag table setup somewhere, to see who’s coming. If there’s someone you want to meet or someone you haven’t seen in a while that you didn’t know was coming, that’s something to get you centered and occupy yourself for the first few minutes when you arrive.

I also recommend, before the event, if you have the opportunity to see if you could be helpful in some way, either volunteer formally or informally. That not only positions you as a helpful person, but it also gives you something to do and something to talk about at the event as a volunteer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what would be some examples of informal volunteer roles that are handy?

Devora Zack
So, I arrive, and I’m a regular participant, and I might know the person who’s organizing the event, and maybe she’s running around like crazy, or he’s running, so I can over and say, “Hey, what can I do to help? I’d love to be of assistance. Do you need these flyers put on all the tables?” Like, make some suggestions. And then also remember to thank them for all their hard work and you’ll be surprised at how often people will give you something to do. It’s helping you as much as it’s helping them because suddenly you have a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s true. It makes sense that you’re naturally shifting your attention away from yourself and that subconsciousness and onto completing something, and so then you’re more in the groove right there and it just feels a little bit like the expression, “Act like you own the place.” In a way, you kind of do. You own that piece of the experience in that moment, and there’s just sort of a power that comes with that.

Devora Zack
Yeah.

And, also, something to be cautious about is when someone who’s more introverted meet someone that they feel a connection to, a potential hazard is that then they’ll want to stick with that person the rest of the program because it feels such a relief, like, “Oh, my gosh, here’s someone I can connect to because I’m going to connect to so many people,” then it’s like, “Oh, well, Pete, let’s walk around the rest of the evening at the program.” And so, I have a special advice for those introverts, and it’s if you love someone, set them free. Even though it’s been lovely, end the conversation before everyone has gotten run out of topics, or has gotten weary of each other.

A little side advice for extroverts when you’re in conversation, and actually I got this advice from a client who’s an extrovert so it comes a real-live extrovert. He said something he thinks in his brain when he’s concerned, maybe there’s an imbalance of conversation when he’s meeting people, is he says to himself, “Wait. W-A-I-T.” And it stands for, “Why am I talking?” So, he asks himself that to make sure. to serve as a reality check like, “Maybe it’s time for me to stop talking.” So, different advice for different folks.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. Well, let’s talk a bit more about when you’re in the thick of it, that conversation. So, we’ve had some openers, and we’re sort of in the mix, and you’re watching out for dominating, if you’re preferring extroversion and have a lot of fun. And what are some other pro tips with regard to keeping the conversation going in some cool and interesting ways?

Devora Zack
So, I would always favor asking questions and, given the opportunity, open-ended question as oppose to close-ended questions. Also, to make sure that what you’re saying is in the positive. It’s really astonishing how often people attempt to bond over what’s wrong, like it’s incredibly prevalent. So, just take note of it the next time you’re out and about. And, unfortunately, I think you’ll probably find that to be the case, “Oh, my gosh, the weather is terrible. The parking was bad. There’s so much traffic. They downscaled this year. It looks like the cheese has been sitting out too long. I think they skimped. Some people didn’t show up that were supposed to show up.” I can go on and on and on because there’s so many examples.

So, it’s really trying to take a moment before you speak and think, “Is this positive?” Like, not to be fake, but, “What’s something positive I can say? How can I be positive and helpful and be someone that people want to be around as oppose to someone who’s looking at what’s wrong all the time?” so, be careful about that in conversation.

And, also, when you are meeting with people, it might be easy at the end of the conversation to just delve into another conversation. If you just spoke to someone you really do want to keep in touch with, then get their card if they have one, and take a moment to just jot down a couple of notes to yourself on the front of the card about where you met them, what you talked about, what you might be able to follow up on. It’s a great gift to give yourself because we forget about half of what we hear within two days.

So, I may think, “Oh, Pete was so great. It was wonderful talking with him. I’m definitely going to follow up and see if he wants to get a copy.” And like a few days later, I have a bunch of cards and I don’t know which one was that person that I intended to follow up with. So, give yourself a little time out to focus your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of the other perspectives on the follow-up. So, one is making sure that it doesn’t go too long because it can be forgotten. And what are some of the other, I’d say, common mistakes and best practices there?

Devora Zack
So, be specific and remember to value connecting over collecting. So, it’s not about how many cards you collect, it’s about who you connect with and how deep these connections are. To that end, I think that people will sometimes, at the end of a conference, send out a like a Blind CC or a group list to everyone saying, “Hey, it was great meeting you at that industry conference. Let’s stay in touch.” And that reads as phony, it’s not specific, it’s going to get deleted.

So, instead of reaching out to everyone who you touched base with in the conference, pick a couple of people, authentic individuals, specific follow-up, and in the follow-up, make it short. I think email is a good way to follow up also with different personality styles. And to see right away what you can do to offer the other person, maybe an article you think they’d be interested in based on the conversation, maybe a connection you can make for them in their work, as opposed to right away thinking, “What can they do for me? What am I asking for?” Try and offer something in your follow-up.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take there. What are some of the great ways that are broadly applicable that we can be generous and proactive givers there?

Devora Zack
Make sure it really is something that the other person might want. So, again, it all goes back to what happens at the event. Listen closely to what they’re saying, pick up on what they’re interested in. Because you’ve asked questions and because afterwards you’ve jotted something down on their card before you left, you’ll have specific offers to make. It doesn’t have to be something professional. It could be, “Oh, you said you were coaching your son’s soccer team. I read this hilarious article that I think you’ll find funny about parents coaching their kids or whatever.” Maybe it’s offering them a laugh.

But one thing to be careful about is to not think you’re offering someone something when it’s, really, you’re asking for something. Like, some of these people will say to me after meeting me, it’s superficially, “Hey, I’d love to treat you to lunch and pick your brain.” Like, that, all of a sudden, it sounds like I’m getting something but it’s really that you want to pick their brain. So, you want to make sure that it’s really focused on what the other person is interested in.

Also, to that end, you say, if you want to follow up with someone and maybe have more time with them, make it easy for the person to say yes. So, if someone says to me or I assume maybe to you, “We’ll have lunch,” that’s a hard thing to say yes to because we’re super busy professionals and have a lot of demands. However, if someone wants some advice and it’s really concrete, and they say, “I’d love 10 minutes of your time to ask you some questions. I could come to your office or we could do it by video conferencing. Would that be possible?” Then that’s pretty easy for me to say yes to. So, make it easy for people to, when it does come time to ask something, to say yes to you.

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

Devora Zack
Well, there’s a couple new sections in the second edition of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, one we’ve been talking about a little bit, which is follow up a new chapter in that because so many people are interested in that. There’s also a new section on interviewing skills. But the one I want to mention in particular is cultivating connections in non-professional environments.

So, I think it’s important for us, in our lives, many of us are a little bit isolated in between our work and our home life, to find what I call, and other people call as well, the third space, like a community outside of work. So, I have a lot of tips which you can read about but also, just in general, to be on the lookout for, ways to connect with people in a socializing way to enrich your life beyond work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Any of those leaping to mind with regard to those other social-connecting ways?

Devora Zack
Well, it’s to find hobbies or interests that are already inherently interesting to you. So, pursue maybe there’s something when you were in college or in your younger years when you had more time that you did. Look at those old interests you had and see if you can find ways to revive them as you get older and busier. So, to reawaken things that you enjoy doing. So, it’s not just about, “I’m going to meet people,” which is lovely, but it’s also about cultivating an interest that you authentically have and would like to learn more about or become more proficient in.

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

Devora Zack
Really, my favorite quote is by a philosopher named Philo of Alexandria, and it is, “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” And I love it because we might see someone who seems like they have it all going on but we can’t really know. And to assume everyone is fighting their own battles, we’ll be extra kind to each other.

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

Devora Zack
So, actually, I think my favorite quote of a scientist, a neuroscientist who did research, is actually from a different one of my books, Singletasking, about how to be more focused in your interactions. And there’s a neuroscientist named Douglas Merrill, and he says, “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem – everyone is wrong.” And he did studies to show that no matter what age you are, you’re always more effective and efficient and productive by focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book of all is The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a children’s book but it’s really for all ages.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember that one, yes. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Devora Zack
A really nice pen. As a writer, I write every day for hours a day and I also do speaking, of course, but in between I’m writing, and I love a great pen so I have a little collection.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are you loving these days in the pens?

Devora Zack
A variety. Just some are fountain pens, some are ballpoints, some are different sizes, different styles. I guess it’s like if a musician has as favorite instrument, I go through different phases with different pens. And it’s nothing like handwriting. I do a lot of writing on computer too but I still handwrite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a couple favorite ballpoint brands and models?

Devora Zack
Let’s see. What am I using right now? It’s Visconti, it’s an Italian pen. They have a lot of beautiful versions. I don’t want to favor one over the other because I’ll change my mind next week and then feel guilty that I said a different brand on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Getting up really early. This is going to make everybody hate me but it’s true. Getting up really early in the morning to exercise. I’m a morning person and I love to wake up and move around. So, that’s my favorite habit, exercising early in the morning.

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

Devora Zack
My website MyOnlyConnect.com. My company is called Only Connect Consulting, so MyOnlyConnect.com. You can find all, also, any of my three books Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing, and Singletasking through the website or through bookstores

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

Devora Zack
Well, my final call to action in this context of networking is this, is to absolutely, everything else gets pushed aside, you must follow up. You can be a brilliant networker, you can talk to anyone about anything, if you’re not following up, you’re not networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at speaking off the cuff. What matters is what happens the next day. Are you in touch afterwards? Did you build a meaningful relationship with that person? Is it mutually beneficial? So, nothing can happen if you’re just having a good time at the event or maybe dreading the event, and then it just vanishes into a black hole. So, it’s the key. There’s a lot of other tips but the key to anything happening is follow up.

And one other thing, being gracious. Also being gracious to people. So, I’ll demonstrate. Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been such a treat talking with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thanks, Devora. It’s been fun.