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770: How to Become the Manager that Your Team Wants with Russ Laraway

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Russ Laraway reveals how being a great manager is simpler than you think.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to sharing feedback that actually works
  2. How to get your manager to manage well
  3. Why you need to “prioritize prioritization” and how to do it

About Russ

Russ has had a diverse 28 year operational management career. He was a Company Commander in the Marine Corps before starting his first company, Pathfinders. From there, Russ went to the Wharton School, and then onto management roles at Google and Twitter. He then co-founded Candor, Inc., along with bestselling author Kim Scott.

Over the last several years, Russ served as the Chief People Officer at Qualtrics, and is now the Chief People Officer for the fast-growing venture capital firm, Goodwater Capital, where he is helping Goodwater and its portfolio companies to empower their people to do great work and be totally psyched while doing it. 

Over his career, Russ has managed 700 person teams and $700M businesses — facing a vast array of leadership challenges along the way. He’s the author of the book When They Win, You Win: Being a Great Manager Is Simpler Than You Think.

Resources Mentioned

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Russ Laraway Interview Transcript

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

Russ Laraway
Thanks a lot for having me, Pete. How are you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m doing well. How are you?

Russ Laraway
Great. Great. No complaints.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, I’m eager to get into your wisdom. But, first, I think we need to hear a story of a fifth-grade Russ winning a big prize. What’s the story here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I was watching cartoons after school one day on one of the UHF channels, which, for those that don’t know, your television, when it didn’t have cable or Roku or Netflix, your television had maybe seven channels. So, I was watching Channel 48 and they said that, “If you could answer the following riddle, you could win a shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us.”

And the riddle showed a picture of The Pink Panther. I don’t know if you remember The Pink Panther, and he was ice skating. And the riddle was, “The Pink Panther is skating on a pink blank.” And I was in fifth grade and I figured out that he was skating on a pink rink. I wrote that down, sent it into the TV station. And out of a couple hundred thousand entries, I was one of three kids who won a shopping spree at Toys “R” Us.

Pete Mockaitis
Hundreds of thousands of people got ranked and it didn’t occur to me immediately.

Russ Laraway
Well, I promise you, if you saw the picture, it would’ve been pretty clear, yeah. A couple hundred thousand entries, I don’t know how many of them were correct but there were a couple hundred thousand entries, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations. And that was, apparently, pretty memorable for you. Anything that you got there that was a really treasured item in your youth?

Russ Laraway
Oh, yeah, Atari 400. Yeah, I’m super dating myself with this story. But an Atari 400, I was able to get a bunch of games. It was a little weird. You couldn’t just run down an aisle. I think people imagine you can run down an aisle, just have your arm out and just scoop things into a cart. So, I won a one-minute shopping spree. There were two one-minutes and a two-minute. I won one of the one-minutes.

And I actually had to go around beforehand and pre-staged the items that I wanted. And so, we sort of identified an Atari 400 and then I just pulled it off the shelf a little bit, and some of the games and different things. So, I just kind of focused. And you had to get an item and then run back to the starting line with each item. So, you’re doing line win sprints.

And so, that’s how they, I guess, managed the cost a little bit because, in the end, the way I left Toys “R” Us that day was they rang us up, and then Channel 48 paid for the bill. It was like 500 bucks. So, you couldn’t just…the instincts everyone has to optimize a shopping spree, they figured them all out and made sure that I had to identify the things I wanted beforehand.

But the Atari 400, I mean, hours and hours of fun with my friends playing all the games, and that’s when the games were first starting to become higher quality at home, and so it was awesome. It was awesome. Atari was a big part. A big part of my youth.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, knowing what you want in advance is going to be one of our themes here on sort of both sides of the management equation with your latest book here When They Win, You Win: Being a Great Manager Is Simpler Than You Think, and we’re going to talk about how that’s handy for more than just managers, so thank you for that. So, lay it on us, for starters, what’s a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you’ve made about being a great manager?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, it’s actually that managers are systematically failing and, despite the mountains of content, books, podcasts, articles, they’re not getting any better. And I defend this pretty heavily in the book. And, by the way, I’m confident that your listeners aren’t going to have a lot of disagreement with that idea. Most of them are having actually quite a bad experience with their managers, almost guaranteed.

And so, I had this idea, Pete, hopefully, you’ll indulge me. I have a little fantasy. And the fantasy goes like this. Don’t worry, it’s G-rated. The fantasy goes like this. I get to sit down a few of the luminaries who create content designed to help managers be better at their jobs. I get to sit them down each, one on one, and I ask them a simple question, I say, “How does your stuff, whether it’s your book or your podcast, your article, how does your stuff contribute to making each manager in the world great?’

And then the fantasy continues. They’re going to use a bunch of different words but I suspect they’re going to…

Pete Mockaitis
Synergy, engagement, dah, dah, dah.

Russ Laraway
Yeah. Well, engagement is a really big deal. We can talk about that. It has a very strong relationship with business results, not attrition or retention stuff. That’s a symptom. But, actually, like quota attainment, or earnings per share, or operating margin. All these things have a very strong relationship with the psychological measurements, employee engagement but let’s come to that in a sec.

But you’re right, what I think they’ll say is something like this, “It’s akin to going through a buffet-style lunch line, and you’re at a leisurely pace, you have your tray on the rails there, and you’re moving from left to right, let’s say, and you take a little from one section, maybe we’ll call that the Simon section, and then you move to the next section, maybe the Brene section, I don’t know. And then we go to the next section, and maybe it’s the Kim section and kind of off you go. And then you have on your plate, ideally, a nutritious meal that allows you to solve all of your leadership problems.

The problem I think, though, is for the typical manager, it doesn’t feel at all like a leisurely trip through a buffet-style lunch line. Instead, it feels like they’re hogtied in the center of a middle school cafeteria while a multi-thousand-person food fight is transpiring, like broccoli hits them on the head, mashed potato sliding down their cheek. By the way, worse, even if they are going through that lunch line at a leisurely pace, they’re not choosing the chicken breast and broccoli they need. They’re choosing the cheesecake and cream puffs and chicken fried steak that they want. It’s a process heavily fraught with bias.

And so, I think, practically, the proliferation of content about how to be a great manager is actually confusing managers, and what is missing from the entire corpus, in my opinion, is really the willingness to put the leadership standard you are prescribing, whatever author, podcaster, whatever, up to measurable account. Good leadership should measurably and predictably deliver happier employees at work and better business results. And, ultimately, that’s kind of the book that I wrote, what’s exactly the book that I wrote. Does that help, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, yes. Okay, happy employees and better business results. And so, when you say managers are failing, what are the sort of core evidence or proof points that we’re looking to say, “That’s not happening”?

Russ Laraway
Yes. So, I’ll use a little bit of research to make this point. First is that Gallup, this is actually a 2013 study from Gallup. It’s called the State of Global Engagements, and I get to talk to the guy that did this study. His name is Larry Emond. And they found that managers explain 70% of engagement. And what that means is, in very large datasets, when you observe a positive variance from the average in employee engagement, 70% of that variance is explained uniquely by commensurate variance in manager quality.

So, if engagement is higher, managers are better. If engagement is lower, then the average in that spot, managers are worse. And so, even if you want to arbitrarily discount that to 50%, not that we have the credentials to do that, but that still means everything else you’re doing to try to affect employee engagement, this magical measurement from IO psychology that predicts results, everything else is worth less than half of the investments you make in your managers, 70%, less than half is 30%, the remainder.

If we arbitrarily discount it to 50%, I don’t know why, but we just do that, it’s everything else you’re doing is worth half of your investments in your manager. It’s pretty clear, managers are holding the keys. So, in either case, the research finding or our arbitrary discount. But here’s the thing that will kind of blow you away. Global employee engagement is 15%, that’s 15% out of a hundred. In the US, by the way, it’s twice as good and still terrible at 33%.

And so, you just have to put these two data points together. The manager drives employee engagement, and employee engagement is terrible around the world, and it’s pretty obvious that managers are systematically failing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. I hear you. From that data picture, there you have it. So, then what are the primary drivers of the disappointing manager performance?

Russ Laraway
That’s a great question. What, ultimately, we uncovered, and this was sort of a, call it a four-year long project while I was working at a company called Qualtrics. We were able to take a theoretical leadership standard, and really what I mean by that is a set of behaviors, and we were able to determine the degree to which those behaviors affect employee engagement.

And so, how we did that was every quarter, when we measured employee engagement at our company, we also measured something called manager effectiveness. And we did that by asking employees only, not 360, just the employees, the people who do the real work, the people we’re all fighting to attract, develop, and retain, the people who are being led, we asked them if they observed these behaviors from their manager in the last quarter, a specific set of behaviors. It’s about 12 questions we would ask them.

And it turns out, when you ask questions like that in a certain way, you can actually measure, basically, how frequently the managers, and individual managers, are exhibiting the right behaviors. And then once we have that measurement, we can actually just drop it into like a statistical package and correlate it with both engagement and hardcore results, like quota attainment, contract renewal, all these things. So, that’s what we did.

So, a couple of the behaviors that are highly correlated with employee engagement, the mostly highly correlated behavior is actually specific praise for good work. And so, the question might be, “How often does your manager give you specific praise for good work? Very often, often, etc.” And so, we give the manager credit for either one of those top two choices – very often or often – is kind of how you do it.

And so, the reason why that’s a big deal, though, is from a management perspective, it’s not being a cheerleader. A cheerleader is on the sideline, cheerleaders are pompoms, and they say, “Good job.” And I think to people that sounds like praise. It’s actually about coaching. Coaches are on the field or at least on the sidelines. It’s energetic. They’re right there and their entire job is to help people be more successful.

And in the book, I call it continue coaching, which is being very specific and sincere about what people should continue doing so that they have the best chance of repeating the things that are working. So, whether it’s the work products they’re producing, the customer service ticket, or the marketing copy, or the code they’re writing as a software development engineer, that’s the work. And the behaviors, our core values that our companies often define, the behavioral standards. And it turns out, it’s actually really important to be very explicit and clear about what people are doing well because it gives them the best chance to repeat it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that sounds sensible. And then when we say very often or often, are those defined in the eyes of the employee being managed?

Russ Laraway
Yes, eyes of the employee being managed.

Pete Mockaitis
They say, “I say that often, not very often, and that’s what we’re running with.”

Russ Laraway
Yeah. Yeah, that’s the most important perspective. And it’s irrelevant if the manager disagrees with the employee. If the manager is like, “Well, I do this all the time.” If you’re not doing it in a way your employees are hearing, then you’re actually not achieving. That’s why it’s so important to only evaluate the manager along these lines from the perspective of the employee.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and the employees, I assume, are genuinely reasonable, like, “Well, no, I mean, I went four hours without you giving me specific praise for my good work. That’s not very often.” Okay, well, that makes sense. Can you share with us a couple more sort of big drivers here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. The next biggest one is about soliciting feedback from the team. So, it turns out nobody wants to go to work and not be heard. And the idea here is have you ever heard of the HIPPO?

Pete Mockaitis
The highly paid important person?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, highest paid most important person or what I call the most dangerous person in the room. Good companies are trying very hard to limit the degree to which the HIPPO, the highest paid person in the room, the degree to which their perspective ultimately drives the decision or the outcome that we’re trying to get to because that person is usually actually pretty meaningfully disconnected from the facts on the ground, and they’re not usually in any real sense more likely to come up with the best idea. It’s a very wisdom of the crowd kind of idea here.

And so, it turns out that a couple things become true when the manager regularly asks for input from people on the team. First is people feel heard. A big topic today is inclusion. If you want to talk about everyday inclusion, it’s this one sentence, “Every voice is heard including my own.” So, the first thing we do is we now give…this is their team too. It’s not just your team. It’s their team too. So, the first thing we do is give the folks on the team a voice in where we’re headed, what we’re trying to do.

The second practical outcome is the results are better. The research is crystal clear. Diverse perspectives deliver better outcomes. And diverse has a lot of lenses, one of which is making sure every single employee’s voice on the team is heard before we do something important, every single voice is heard when developing our team’s direction. And this gives people a degree of ownership over what the team is trying to do.

And so, Peter Drucker said, I can’t quote it exactly, but one of his landmark kind of insights was that people are far more likely to pursue a course of action enthusiastically when they have had a say in creating it. And so, that’s the idea here, is managers that do a good job of inviting diverse perspectives, inviting challenges to the current state, challenges to their own perspective, challenges to the leadership standard, challenges to how they’re behaving, those teams thrive and those employees tend to be significantly more engaged than the teams where the managers don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s good. Can we hear a third key driver here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. I’m trying to pick the best one. So, another one that has a very strong relationship with engagement is actually the other side of the first one I mentioned – praise – which is actually improvement coaching. So, praise is about coaching people on what to continue. Improvement coaching is about what to change with one simple idea. It’s not to kick you in the shins, it’s to help you be more successful.

Pete, if you’re the guy like me who starts off this conversation talking about this lunch line metaphor as a way to express the complexity being thrown at the average manager, then you have to be the guy who tries to simplify the job. And I’ve kind of done that work and I’ve come up with a job description that I believe fits every manager in the world from the CEO of Google or IBM, all the way down to the frontline manager at Jersey Mike’s for the sandwich line.

And that is your first obligation is to deliver an aligned result. The word aligned does a ton of work there. But aligned result, meaning the results your team delivers are aligned with what the company is trying to get done. And the second is to enable the success of the people on your team. And success is short term and long term. In the short term, your best tool for enabling their success is coaching, both continue coaching so that they know what to repeat, but also improvement coaching so they know where they can be better.

And, again, you coach on work products, “How could this code have been a little tighter?” “How could the copy have been a little clearer?” “How could you have more efficiently or effectively solved that customer’s problem?” That’s the work. And then the behaviors tend to be things like core values, like transparency, or justice, or one team, “How well did you behave in alignment with our standards?”

And people are always running a little bit afoul of our standards, and it’s okay. Like, we’re not perfect. We’re all humans. And the best managers know that they need to not only offer continue coaching but they also need to offer improvement coaching. And these two things together kind of round out our top three drivers of engagement, and it makes sense because they’re your two best tools for enabling people’s success: coaching them to be better and coaching them to continue the things they’re doing well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, within this coaching, I would love to hear what are some best and worst practices on both sides of that conversation? I guess one worst practice is just forgetting and not doing anything, but, additionally, what are some top do’s and don’ts to be on the lookout for there?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, let’s start on the continue side. If it’s okay, I want to tell you a little story. Cool. So, I used to coach little league baseball. By the way, if anybody wants to become a better manager in the span of about four months, go coach youth sports. And before our season kicked off, we were impelled actually to go to a seminar by the Positive Coaching Alliance. This is a nonprofit, really good organization, works at the professional, college, high school youth levels.

And this seminar lasted all day. It turned out to be a great use of a Saturday. The Positive Coaching Alliance prescribed five-to-one praise to criticism. Five to one. Now, it’s important, so that’ll be five-to-one continue to improve. What’s important to realize is they didn’t say infinity to one, which is what a lot of people hear when you say five to one, and they didn’t say five to zero, like everyone gets a trophy. It’s five to one.

And so, practically, what I did with this was I started something called the book. It’s a very clever name because it was literally a book, it was a lab book with graph paper, where I would just write down the things the kids did well. It started with being on time to practice. We all know if kids are late to practice, it wasn’t probably the kids’ fault. They don’t have a driver’s license. It’s their parents’ fault. So, we didn’t get on the kids’ too hard for that but we certainly recognized the kids that were on time. It included counting loudly during stretching.

And, by the way, when that gave way to the kids like not really doing their stretches well, we got clear on the standard for a good hamstring stretch, and we wrote that down. And this carries all the way through to fielding a ground ball correctly, “Move your feet. Center the ball on your stance. Get your glove in the dirt. Cover the ball with your throwing hand. Move both hands the fastest line possible to your shoulder. Step with your back foot. Step with your front foot. Fire over to first base. That’s how you field a ground ball and then throw somebody out.”

And so, what I would do is, halfway through practice, or at the time, if I thought the kids were kind of lagging, or they were losing focus, or they weren’t hustling as much, we’d call them in and we’d read from the book. And I’d hold it up like Simba, and sometimes I’d even sing, like, “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba sithi uhm ingonyama,” and they loved it. They were nine, ten, and 11-year-olds. And I would just start reading off what they did well.

Pete Mockaitis
By name.

Russ Laraway
By name, yeah. On time to practice, and then boom, “Miles, Starks, Caden, Jimmy, Tara,” and we’d just kind of go all the way down. And then we do it again at the end, and sometimes I’d reinforce it with a little article on the team website that night. And what’s most interesting about this, I think, is that it’s tempting to think, “Well, that’s just something that works on kids.” But they’re not. They’re just small people. They’re not some unique other thing. They’re just small people.

And the big insight here is for the workplace, to translate this to the workplace, is in order for us…here’s the mistake people make on continue coaching. They say, “Good job.” That is not helpful. That’s what you say to your dog, that’s not what you say to the people you work with. Being specific about what was good is what really counts. That’s what helps people know what is working. And in order to be specific, Pete, you have to be very clear about what the standards are around here. I couldn’t have been specific about fielding the ground ball correctly if I couldn’t communicate the actual standards for fielding a ground ball.

So, that’s the biggest thing people get wrong, and after a while, people just tune you out. You sound like a cheerleader. You don’t sound like a coach when you just say, “Good job. Well done. Way to go, team.” Enthusiasm is fine. It must be accompanied by specifics about exactly what was done well and why it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, it’s interesting, you talk about little people. A question I’m having here is what is too small a thing to provide for continue coaching? Like, you showed up to work. I mean, I love praise and enthusiasm but I just want to make sure how small is too small? Or, like when is it veering into insincere or patronizing? Or, like, “Okay, dude, yes. I’m going to show up to work and I’m going to check my email. I feel weird that you are praising me for this.” I don’t know, where’s the line?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, totally. The answer lies in this five-to-one prescription. I think if we were to start offering continue coaching or praise in the way you just described, I think we very quickly get to like 500-to-one. And so, that’s your guideline and it gives you a feel for what’s too big or too small. But here’s a really simple prescription, and, by the way, you don’t even need to be a manager to use this.

There’s a phrase that is perfect for all of this, “Do you know what I love about…?” That’s the phrase. So, what does that sound like? “Do you know what I love about the way you ran that team meeting?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Do tell, Russ. I’m all ears.”

Russ Laraway
Or, “Do you know what I love about the way you showed up in that team meeting?” “Do you know what I love about the way you created that analysis? I loved the way you put in sensitivity in all the key variables because we don’t know what the future will look like, and that allows us to have an understanding of what the boundaries might be.”

“Do you know what I love about the way you ran that customer meeting today? It was carefully how you listened to their needs and made sure to tailor our message to it.” These are the kinds of things that reinforce for people what they should be doing.

Showing up for work, like things that are table stakes like you described, the kinds of things that if you don’t do, you just sort of get canned. Yeah, let’s stir clear of those. You’re exactly right. They become patronizing. But the thing you have to remember is the people on your teams are doing a lot more well than they’re doing poorly. And my evidence is you’re not walking around firing everybody.

And so, start calling those things out. And if you do things in general terms or unthoughtfully, you’ll run into the risk you just described. If you do things carefully and thoughtfully, you not only help people reinforce what they’re supposed to be doing, but you actually demonstrate that you recognize what they’re doing.

Like, how many times have you heard people say that their boss has no idea what they do? It’s like it’s an illness. But if you are regularly feeding back to people that you saw what they did, liked what they did, and why it matters, they can never hold the perspective that their manager doesn’t know what they do. So, it’s more of those kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so you’re a buffoon but you know what they’re doing.

Russ Laraway
Yeah, you can still be a buffoon, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now you got me thinking about I like how that five-to-one grounds us there in terms of the goods. And I’m sure this is going to vary quite a lot based upon the nature of your relationship with the employees and the work and various spans and layers. But if I’m thinking five-to-one, do you have a sense of the range of like, I don’t know, the daily or weekly volume or monthly volume of coaching? Like, is there an amount that’s too little or too much?

Russ Laraway
Yes, probably the both. And too little is easy. Here comes your sixth month review and you’ve received no coaching at all. That’s too little. I actually think I get this question about too much a lot, and I think it’s actually a phantom problem. I think almost nobody’s at risk of over-praising. I really don’t. I know that in theory or conceptually or before they get into it, like as they listen to this prescription, because I get this question all the time, they believe there’s this big risk of over-praising, and it’s just very unlikely.

But the mental model I’d use, Pete, is so I mentioned six months, it’s perfect. Sixth month reviews happen. How often do you get your teeth cleaned, out of curiosity?

Pete Mockaitis
Not quite every six months but my wife once tweeted, “Getting my husband to go to the dentist is like pulling teeth.”

Russ Laraway
That’s a great tweet.

Pete Mockaitis
So, once or twice a year-ish.

Russ Laraway
Okay. It should be, I think, ideally, it should be four times a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that true?

Russ Laraway
That’s how often I go, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Well, the insurance only covers two in the US.

Russ Laraway
Oh, then maybe I’ve got that wrong. Let’s just call it two since that seems to be what we’re both settling in on.

Pete Mockaitis
Gee, Russ.

Russ Laraway
Well, I’m a hyper…I create plaque very, very well. I’m talented at making plaques so I got to go a little more often. But besides the point, it’s a long period of time. How often do you brush and floss, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, every day. Well, flossing is not every day but brushing definitely is, and flossing happens…I don’t actually have a good number for you.

Russ Laraway
It’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
More than I go to the dentist. I floss more than I go to the dentist but not every day, yeah.

Russ Laraway
Yeah, all good. And so, let’s see what happens. That trip that you hate making to the dentist, does it go better or worse if you haven’t brushed and flossed the previous time period?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s definitely better when you do it. You get less disappointment, judgment, time scraping.

Russ Laraway
Time scraping, which is, we agree, the worst. So, this is the mental model for coaching. You want to be way more on the brushing and flossing cadence, which might be a few times a week. Sometimes if the situation calls for it, we could be in for a couple of days but you’re on the field. Just imagine an athletic coach, if you can. If you watch sports, or if you’ve played sports, or if you’re at least a little familiar with sports, hopefully that covers everybody. The coach, it’s energetic and it’s constant, and it’s both things. It’s how you can be better, what you should continue, that was well done, here’s why.

So, it’s more like brushing and flossing and less like going to get a root canal, which, by the way, the root canal is a practical…it’s on the same evolutionary path if you don’t coach every day. If you don’t brush or floss a day, a root canal…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s coming your way.

Russ Laraway
It’s coming your way. That’s right. PIPS is coming your way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, got you. Thank you. So, I like that. So, there is a wide range but this is the ballpark we’re talking about. And I don’t know if you know, it sounds like you do from Qualtrics and your research, like do we know roughly what proportion of managers fall into the camp of near-zero coaching or don’t know what their employees are doing?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I think at Qualtrics, our managers were very good because, first, we selected them for their leadership disposition not because of their tenure or because they were good individual contributors. So, we had a really positive selection bias that they were at least mentally aligned, if not skillfully aligned, with how we wanted them to lead.

Then we explicitly taught them the leadership standard. So, select, teach. Then we assess them from the perspective of their employees, and then we coach them. So, that’s STAC, select, teach, assess, coach, so we could stack up a bunch of great managers. Our managers actually got measurably better over the four years I was there and we added 500 managers.

So, our managers were, because of a very intentional approach, we knew that they were holding the keys. And we knew as a group of humans at the company, they were holding the keys. And we knew that if they led our people better, they would be more likely to create the circumstances under which people could do great work rather than destroy them.

And so, our data is heavily biased towards strong management, and the company’s engagement was always high 80s, like extremely high. And the company is now, by the way, sixth straight beaten Rays, as a publicly held company. Our managers are creating the circumstances under which people do incredible work that shows up in the company’s results. So, that was Qualtrics and it’s biased in a very positive direction.

Yeah, if global engagement is 15% and in the US it’s 33, still really, really bad, this strongly suggests that the overwhelming majority of managers out there, they’re not actively coaching their teams, they’re not giving praise for good work, they’re not engaged in people’s long-term career aspirations, they’re not crystal clear on exactly what is expected of the people on their team.

They don’t co-develop the team’s direction with the team members. Remember, it’s their team too. And so, I don’t have a number for you, Pete, but I can tell you that the evidence, the engagement evidence strongly suggests most managers aren’t even doing the basics.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I guess if listeners who are managers, you start doing that, that’d be great. And those who are not yet managers, and they say, “Hey, you’re right, Russ. My manager doesn’t know what I’m doing. I’d like for that to start.” Any pro tips or how to broach that conversation or what could be done for the individual contributor who’s in that spot?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. So, I have a little, a couple prescriptions in the book that I think would work well here. The first one I have is called…I call it coaching the boss. And so, for managers that, for example, don’t proactively ask for input from their teams, recognizing this isn’t really sustainable for anyone, most people don’t like to be in a team where their manager won’t hear them, I created a little prescription for how to proactively surface some feedback to the boss. And, again, usually more.

It’s not hard to tell the boss when they’re doing well. It’s much harder to tell the boss when something on the team, or the boss themselves, is doing poorly. And so, that four-step process is, first is manage your risk. And what I mean by that is if you work for a retaliator, just end of process. You’re done. Like, if they don’t like to hear, if they tend to behave poorly after someone tells them, “Things could be better around here,” just polish up your resume, find a new boss. Life is too short.

But most managers actually aren’t retaliators. And so, the first thing to do is what I call gather your boss’ unique contexts. So, a lot of times an employee is really sure they’re right; and they’re not. They have a valuable perspective that’s actually likely closer to the facts on the ground but being right, possessing truth in the workplace is like a really high bar. Like, my truth is not the truth. It’s the sort of the idea.

And so, instead of going in being sure you’re right, the first step is actually to gather your boss’ unique contexts, which means don’t assume your boss doesn’t know anything about the topic at hand. Instead, assume they know something and then try to pull that out of them. And what you might learn is your boss is not paying attention to this for really good reasons. You might learn that your boss is like really blind to the problem and their sort of lack of attention is unintentional.

And you might learn that they know exactly the nature of the problem and they’re just specifically deprioritizing it for following reasons. You could learn any of those things. But before you go in there, guns a-blazing, sure you’re right, actually go in and find out what your manager knows and how important they think this thing is.

And so, that’s kind of the first step. Well, first step was manage your risk, second is gather your boss’ unique contexts. Now, with their contexts, if you still think it makes sense to share what you see, which is a reasonable thing to conclude, that’s the evaluation you have to make. And so, now you have to make a decision, “Okay, I think I want to share this.”

And I think the third step is ask permission, which might sound like this, “Okay, boss, I think I see things a little bit differently than you do. Are you open to hearing that?” A very large percentage of the time, when presented that way, they will say yes. If they say no, go back to the polish-up-your-resume step and go find another boss because who wants to work for that person? That person is an ass-clown manager, for sure, and our mission here is to rid the world of ass-clown managers. But most managers will say yes and actually mean it.

And now that they’ve said yes, I believe step four is it’s Nike, you just do it. You got to do it. Now, you’ve got an obligation. The team will be better, the manager will be more successful, you are likely to be more successful, and so now you have, I think at this point, you’ve gone through the steps carefully. Now, you have an obligation, I think, to deliver the hard feedback to the manager. But you’ve gone about it in a very high-quality way. You haven’t assumed you’re right, you asked permission, and now it’s time to give the feedback.

So, that’s a way to start a positive cycle with the boss, where maybe your voice will get heard more often. Do that once or twice, maybe the manager starts to come ask you because they know you’ll shoot them straight. Maybe they start to ask other people on the team. You could actually jumpstart a culture of a manager listening to their people by running this process a few times with your manager.

Pete Mockaitis
Inspiring. Thank you. You’ve got a turn-of-a-phrase I must dig into, that’s a bit of a swift transition here, “Ruthless prioritization.” Where does this fit in to being a great contributor and manager? And how do we do it well?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. So, I’m going to guess that a lot of your listeners are kind of high-performing types. And if I may, I’m going to say your listeners are a bunch of Lisa Simpsons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, plays saxophone.

Russ Laraway
Do you know who that is?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, The Simpsons. She’s a high achiever in school and her activities.

Russ Laraway
Boom. Lisa Simpson, as you correctly indicated, is bright. She’s polymathic. She’s got a lot of interests. Plays saxophone, like you mentioned, and she’s ambitious. And so, I’m guessing you know your listeners well. You allowed me to know them well before I interviewed. I walked away saying, “That’s a bunch of Lisa Simpsons.” So, that’s one part of this prioritization problem. And I’ll get to the problem in a moment.

The second part is the environments we find ourselves in. I’ve been at large companies and small companies, hyper growth, not that, and what is common in almost every workplace I’ve been in is there’s some chaos. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing all the time, things are moving very quickly.

Pete, it turns out, when you put Lisa Simpsons into those environments, it creates a prioritization problem. And what I mean by that is you have the kind of people who are interested and capable of doing a lot of things, and an environment that has ostensibly a lot of things to do, and then those Lisa Simpsons might just try to do it all.

And that is a very, very…that’s a fast-track to mediocrity. So, prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not addition. It is about learning how to say no politely, which I offer a prescription for in the book. You have to say no politely, that’s the key. And I have this little inequality that I offer, which is three is greater than two is greater than four. Now, does that sound right to you?

Pete Mockaitis
Not from a strictly mathematical perspective, but I’m hearing you when it comes to prioritization. Keep going.

Russ Laraway
If you have more than three priorities, you have none, and that’s how I can say three is greater than two is greater than four, and that’s for a day. And for a week, it might be five. I’ll allow five. And so, here’s what this looks like, practically. On Monday, the first thing you should do, before you look at email, before you get involved in any projects, write down the five most important things you need to get done that week given the goals that your OKRs or the goals you have for yourself that quarter.

And then each day, ideally, including Monday, write down the three things you’ve got to get done that day. Three things you’ve got to get done that day. and these things can adjust a little bit. But, again, given the goals you have for yourself that quarter, try to be specific and use that to hold yourself accountable. Your priority list is not a task list. Those are really different ideas. Task lists are not prioritized nearly exclusively.

Constrain to the three most important things you’ve got to get done that day. And it’s okay to check those, “Hey, boss, these are the things I think are most important for me to get done this week. Do you agree?” And then even give your boss maybe a chance to affect that list. Sometimes it’s things, because they’ll change it quite a bit, and maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but you can negotiate. It’s better to have their buy-in than not.

But that’s what ruthless prioritization is. It’s remembering that if you have more than three, you have none. Prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not addition. And, ultimately, it’s about learning how to say no politely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And these three things, it’s so funny, I can bundle…I’m a master of bundling things big and small, so if I don’t want to do the hard decision-making of ruthless prioritization, I’d be like, “Oh, podcast stuff is one of my three important things today,” but that’s actually six things underneath there. So, any guidelines in terms of what constitutes a thing or how big or small a thing can or should be in a day?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, actually a really good insight. So, what you just talked about is something that I cover a bit in the book but I pull from another source. A guy named Dr. David Rock who wrote a book called Your Brain at Work. And this guy has got a PhD but what he does is he consumes a lot of research about the brain, and then he smartly applies it to the workplace.

And so, he has a funny phrase called “prioritize prioritizing,” and that sounds silly but it’s actually quite useful. And the reason is because, as you suggested, prioritization is a very prefrontal cortex intensive process, meaning it is very hard work. And if you don’t know, your brain consists of obviously a number of parts, but two main ones. It’s your sort of hindbrain, which is literally in the back. It’s your brain stem, your amygdala, the part that controls emotion and fight-or-flight type responses. It’s strong, it’s old, and it’s efficient at processing glucose and oxygen.

Your prefrontal cortex, really what makes us human, that’s your problem-solving, logic, reason. It’s really small, sadly, for us. It’s weak and it’s relatively new. And it’s weak in terms of processing glucose and oxygen. By the way, they don’t work together. So, if you’ve ever said, “I was so scared I couldn’t think,” that’s a true statement. That’s your hindbrain overwhelming your prefrontal cortex. But, nonetheless, we only have so many repetitions for our prefrontal cortex in a day.

People like Mark Zuckerberg, for example, wears literally the same outfit every day because he takes one decision off the table, and he knows he’s only got so many good decisions, which come from your prefrontal cortex, available to him. Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor does the same thing. She wears these coral-colored sweaters and blue jeans every single day, with a white T-shirt, to take one decision off the table.

And so, people are inclined to avoid the hard work of thinking about their priorities for a day. And so, David Rocks says, “You actually have to prioritize prioritizing.” So, the first thing to do, before we get into what’s good or what’s bad, is you have to carve…like, I used to carve out time, do not schedule time. I’m an early bird, so I would carve out from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day to make sure I did this well, and on Mondays for the week and each day.

And, in fact, when we hit the pandemic, my team and I, we set up a process in the Slack bot where at midnight, whatever time zone you’re in, the Slack bot prompted you for your top three priorities for that day. And we would each add them in so we could observe each other’s priorities.

These are meaningful chunks of work. So, podcast stuff, you’re right, would be a bad one but a better example would be maybe last week, on Monday, maybe one of the things you needed to get done was, at least, skim my book in preparation for the interview. That’s a very tangible example. By the way, you know the interview is coming next week, “Russ is going to be on next Thursday, and so I’ve got to, at least, get through this book conceptually, if not in detail.” I’m letting you off the hook because I’m the slowest reader on the planet and I know I couldn’t pull it out in a week.

So, that might be a very specific example. You know you’ve got to interview me. You know you’ve got to prepare. And your number one sort of tool to prepare would be the book. And so, that’s a very specific example, contemplates sort of what you’re trying to get done in the future, and that’s much more tangible. And, by the way, it answers two really important questions, “What?” and “By when?” The “Who?” is implied. An action item in life always answers those three questions, “Who will do what by when?”

If you’re writing your own priorities down, or thinking about your own priorities, the who is implied because it’s you. But what and when should be very clearly implied. And so, this can be a catchall, like podcast stuff is not particularly useful but the specific stuff you got to get done, given the interviews you got coming up the following week or the following month, whatever it is, those specific items, those are the things that you have to prioritize, and don’t do another thing until you’ve knocked those most important things out.

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

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I think we covered it. That was a really good interview, Pete. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. All right. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, “Success comes when opportunity meets preparation.” And the reason I like this quote is because you’ve heard people that are a little too self-assured, a little too “I’m self-made,” and not really accounting for the advantages they might’ve had in life. On the flipside, you hear people that are excessively humble, like, “Oh, I just got lucky.”

Neither of those people is accurate, I think. I think that, for all of us, it’s important to be aware that our success is really a function of a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill. And you put in the work, you try to develop your skills, you try to be ready, and when those lucky opportunities emerge, you’re a little more ready to seize them. And I think it presents a virtuous cycle.

But this sort of what I hammer with my kids, actually. It’s not your innate smarts. Calvin Coolidge has an incredible long quote on this, “It’s not your innate smarts, it’s not just your talent, it’s not your station in life; it’s your grit, your resilience, and your willingness to put in the work.” And then, in turns out, the more work you put in, sometimes the luckier you get but, still, there’s a lot of luck involved. So, success comes when opportunity meets preparation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, my favorite book for a long time has been A Separate Peace by Jonathan Knowles. I had to read it in high school, and it really moved me. It’s a dark story set at a private school, and the characters are really phenomenally well-developed archetypes. But, for me, the book, I can’t give it away, but the book shows very clearly consequences for small actions. There’s a moment in the book where there’s a very small action. It’s well-known in literature, it’s when character A jounces the limb, that’s the phrase used, and everything that happens from that point after is really dark and bad.

And I always loved that book because I think it’s important for many reasons. It’s taught in many high schools for a reason. But this notion of the kinds of consequences and accountability that can be huge for even some of the smallest actions, I think, is an important thing to take away. So, yeah, I’ve loved that book for a lot of years. And, I guess, now that I think about it, it’s still my favorite.

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

Russ Laraway
Yeah, pretty easy, Pete, www.WhenTheyWinYouWin.com, probably the easiest way to get in touch.

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

Russ Laraway
So, when I was at Google back in 2005, I noticed pretty quickly that we had a lot of really new, really young managers who were, nearly by definition, unskilled because they were new, there wasn’t really a training program, and they were young. We were growing so fast and giving people huge amounts of responsibilities.

And I noticed that even when the managers would fail to exhibit some of the most basic behaviors, that their teams still often delivered. And it occurred to me that the reason for that was that our average talent level at the company was so incredibly strong that they would actually often cover up for the inadequacies of many of the managers.

And I wondered, “Is that replicable? How valuable is it to know what to expect from a manager, or what is expected of your manager, by their manager, and to drive your behaviors even when the manager is not giving you everything you need or want, can you, nonetheless, figure out what is probably expected and deliver in alignment with those things, and almost cover up for your manager’s own inadequacies?”

I think it’s a really interesting framing and there’s lots of places you could go to learn what the kinds of things that might be expected of a manager, like, for example, When They Win, You Win, is a great place I recommend to start. But I think you’re not a victim; you’re a player. Victims are powerless; players are powerful.

And if you’re not getting everything you need from your manager, and you’re feeling like they’re not invested in your success, you can actually kind of take the bull by the horns and change your trajectory with that manager. So, that’s my last call to action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Russ, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and many wins.

Russ Laraway
Thanks. I really appreciate it, Pete. Back at you.

768: How to Embrace Generational Differences and Resolve Conflict with Chris De Santis

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Chris De Santis shares helpful insights about each generation and how to work more effectively across ages.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to turn generational friction into an opportunity 
  2. How to give feedback that works for every generation
  3. How to motivate people from every generation 

About Chris

Chris De Santis is a speaker, author, consultant, and most recently podcaster specializing in Management and Organizational Development issues and interventions. He specializes in assisting individuals or groups in identifying and overcoming obstacles to effectiveness. He brings with him thirty-eight years of experience in training and development. He has an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Notre Dame, a graduate degree in Organizational Development from Loyola University in Chicago, an MBA from the University of Denver, and previous work experience in manufacturing, professional services, and not-for-profit environments.  

His book, Why I Find you Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work, will be available in May 2022 but until then you can listen to his advice podcast, “Cubicle Confidential” along with his co-host, Mary Abbajay. He resides in a quiet corner of Lincoln Park in Chicago. 

Resources Mentioned

Chris De Santis Interview Transcript

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

Chris De Santis
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first, I think we need to understand you and your history with improv classes. What’s the story here?

Chris De Santis
Yes, yes, yes. I moved to Chicago probably…I live in Chicago, if anybody’s interested, and I moved into an area called Old Town about, oh, 30 some years ago, and I had some friends in the city. And Old Town is the heartland of Second City, and so I was told, actually, a good way to make friends was to take improv classes.

And the other reason was I’m a little bit of a…I have a bit of stage fright issue, and so I was told this might help me with that. I ended up taking improv classes from Paul Sills. And if anybody’s listening, Paul Sills is the son of Viola Spolin. And if anybody knows who that is, Viola Spolin wrote improv in the theater, and that’s sort of the basis for Second City.

So, I had access to one of the gurus of the time, although I never quite leveraged it to the degree he did, but I ended up teaching a while at a local theater here, too, so it was a very fun experience. I recommend it to anyone who’s introverted.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. I did a Second City five-day intensive improv class once, and it was a lot of fun. And I remember saying, telling my friends, “Oh, it’s nice. I feel like it loosened me up.” And my friends said, “Did you need to be loosened?” Well, compared to my…

Chris De Santis
Did you do a show? Did you do a show afterwards?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, not like with a big old audience but it was just sort of I think, the dozen of us doing our thing.

Chris De Santis
The games.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris De Santis
I love the games. Really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s fun. Well, now, I want to hear a bit about your book Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work. What’s the big idea here?

Chris De Santis
Well, the whole point of this book is really to understand the differences between us. And so, in that sense, in fact, the title’s curious because I had submitted 37 titles to the publisher.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. I love it. That’s what we do.

Chris De Santis
And this is the one they liked.

Pete Mockaitis
We get tons of title options and they choose the best one every time. Thank you.

Chris De Santis
And so, they liked this because I think it really makes the point that we are, in some way, irritated with others across one difference that we recognize, this is one of those difference that we readily recognize, and we ascribe it to them as if they’re at fault and we, of course, are not, meaning that we’re the objective view of reality. And so, what my book goes on to talk about where this comes from and the repercussions of this, and then what to do about it in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, so we’re talking about generational friction, and this is always a delicate matter because I think, Chris, there’s probably no way around it. We’re going to be making some generalizations here. Is that fair to say?

Chris De Santis
Yes. Well, that’s part of what I talk about in the book, but humans do that, humans generalize.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess, first of all, how do we define the generations? And are we coming at it from a US-centric base here or is it kind of global in applicability?

Chris De Santis
Now, you’re making some very good points because when I speak to this topic, I have to go through a whole series of caveats, to your point. The first one being you generalize or I generalize, and I’m not describing humanity. I’m describing some actions of a normative group in the middle class in the United States of America who conform to certain experiences at certain times that sort of shape a perception.

So, in that sense, it is a smaller subset. It is not global even though, it’s interesting, I’ve spoken around the world on this, oddly enough. I’m always amazed I’m invited anywhere but I had talked about it. And so, when you talk about it globally, you have to say some of these things but, still, even having done that, they still see differences that correspond to the American experience, which I think is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Chris, so we’re going to do some generalizing. First, we need to define some terms. Generations, how do we name them these days and what is roughly the median age of a person representing each generation, say, in summer 2022 as we record this?

Chris De Santis
Yes. So, if we go with Boomers, you know where that came from “baby boom,” so everyone knows that one. There was a great number of us born in that window of time after the war, and that would be that 65 or 67-year-old today in the median group, and we’re retiring out, about half of us are retired. Gen X got its name from the book. There was simply just one book written about them. They fly below the radar quite a bit, and, of course, their median age, according to what we’re playing here, is around 45 to 47.

Then the next crowd, Millennials, had a different name. They were originally in the literature for a while. They were Gen Y because Gen X, Gen Y but that never caught on. And I think that they responded much better to, or it was foisted upon them, the idea of a Millennial simply because of the turning of the century, the millennium.

And now, we have Gen Z, which were called Zoomers or the Zoom generation, but I think that fizzled as well by virtue of the fact of Zoom. And so now they’ve gotten the Gen Z moniker, again, because they’re going in sequence. And the next generation, interestingly, these new kids, they’re calling Gen Alpha because they’re starting it again, but I don’t think they’ll have a name until they define who they are, and then we’ll lay a label on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, Gen Z would be about 18-ish to 22.

Chris De Santis
18-ish, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Your fresh recruits.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. They are in the workplace right now. They’ve just entered.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, four generations. And so, you say…well, I guess, we’ll go into particulars in terms of frictions but maybe just to cue us up with some intrigue, is there a particularly surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made as you dug into all this stuff associated with generational friction?

Chris De Santis
Well, what I came to, not necessarily conclusion, but one of the things I did notice that I thought was really a shaping aspect of this is, it’s not just the flashbulb memories that you have that sort of shape you, it’s also the parenting model. It’s how you were parented affects how you interact with others. So, I’m a product, as a Boomer, I’m a product of sort of a permissive authoritarian parent so I sort of had to get in line with things.

And so, if we think about of a Gen Xer, these are those latchkey kids. And so, they had more of a permissive sort of a sensibility about how they interacted because they basically are far more independent on their own. Millennials are part of what would be concerted cultivation in terms of how they were raised, and I will call that an engaged-discuss model. They’re always engaged in discussions as to what they should or need to do.

Gen Z has a variation of that model called co-piloting. The point being here is that those needs or the expectation of dialogue is what they bring into the office. Yet, in the office, they are not necessarily expected to engage in dialogue but, rather, to be subject to the authority of the people that are in charge. And the people in charge often view this as a challenge when they say, “Well, what about this?” and you’re going, “Whoa, I just told you what to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, there we go, we’re getting into the meat of it – an expectation of dialogue. Sometimes the younger generations may expect some more and the older generations think that’s not necessary, “I’ve already told you that,” and so that can create some friction on both sides.

Chris De Santis
That’s exactly right because the other thing about the young is interesting, to a great degree, and if you’re around parents, and I try to observe parents sort of surreptitiously when I’m with people, is that they negotiate more with their children as opposed to demand they do something. So, there’s a discussion, of course, that’s inherent in the negotiation.

And I think the young now are excellent negotiators and they bring that to any conversation they have, and we, in management, or if you’re in a management position, you’re not open to a negotiation when you’re telling somebody to do something but it comes off very strangely in terms of my expectation. If I’m a young person, my expectation, “Why wouldn’t I have this dialogue?” Conversely, “Why are we having a dialogue?”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that’s so funny, I think, because I’ve got a three-year-old and a four-year-old right now…

Chris De Santis
You have young children, yes?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I really go…I guess I go both ways in terms of like I don’t like to yell.

Chris De Santis
No, and you won’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they get sensitive and really sad really fast, I was like, “Oh, I was just trying to make myself heard because you seem to be sort of in your own world over there. Now, I feel like I’ve overdone it because you’re getting all sniffly.” So, yeah, but at the time it’s sort of like, “There’s no need for us to be discussing. You do what I say.” And other times, at the same time, I want them to be kind of creative and free and expressive.

So, it’s funny, here I am, I guess a Millennial, in this schema, and I am in the midst of it right there in terms of when I say, “Get in the car right now, Johnny,” versus like, “Well, hey, it’s getting to be about that time, you know.”

Chris De Santis
Yes, you are biased towards suggestion than demand. And I’ll tell you another thing that you probably do quite a bit, Pete, that you may not notice that you do is you explain why you do what you do. You explain why you’re doing this. You don’t assume that they’re going to understand that this is a command but rather, “This is why I have to say this to you to do this.” And that’s part and parcel to the expectation that they have in the workplace, too, this whole idea of, what’s his name, Sinek’s book, Start with Why. That’s really what they’re asking, to a great degree, is why.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris De Santis
You did this, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s one point of friction is expectation of dialogue. How about another one?

Chris De Santis
Well, again, a lot of this just depends on with whom we are talking about. For instance, this notion of loyalty, which is very interesting. The accusation that we, a Boomer, is far more loyal in our disposition than those who follow. That, of course, I outline in the book, is really about the movement from the company-man experience to a transactional workplace.

And the company-man experience was really one of the assumptions that, “You will work here for the duration. And as a consequence, I will reward you, deferred reward, and that will be rewarded as a pension to some degree.” So, the inference is, “You have this job for life if you do what I want and the way I need it.” Now, what we have done is we’ve moved transactionally, and now it’s a negotiation a minute.

For instance, one of the things that most annoys some Boomers is that when they interview, the young will ask, “Well, what are the benefits? What’s the vacation time here? So, what do I get for this?” And, in my day, that would’ve been seen as “What? Why? I’m offering you a job and you deign to ask me all of these things about the benefits? You’re getting a job.” But they’re saying, “This is a transaction. I’m going to be doing something for you. I expect something in return.” So, it becomes more marketplace-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny because, in some ways, I resist being generalized.

Chris De Santis
No, no, I understand.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet I completely…I, 100%, am down with the transactional vibe. It’s just like, “No, the wealth structures and pensions do not exist, and it is a competitive marketplace, and it’s just economic fact that I have many opportunities available to me, and you have many opportunities of people you can hire. And so, we’re going to see if we have something that works for both of us in terms of this is a role that I think is swell and meaningful and a compensation package that works, and you think I’ve got the skills and knowledge, skills, abilities to deliver the value that you need delivered, and either one of us will walk.”

And so, it’s sort of like, “I don’t think you owe me anything and you don’t seem to…” you being the employer here in this dialogue. I think it’s just a reality we know that an employer will cut us loose at any moment that they feel that it would be more profitable for them to do so and, thusly, I have no…I’ve been self-employed for a long time but I guess that’s sort of…

Chris De Santis
By the way, that’s interesting. I can talk to that as well in a moment, but you’ve said the key here is that this is the new reality. It wasn’t the old reality.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. So, the new reality has shifted in terms of what you expect in this transaction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, so my thought is like, I don’t know, when people talk about what’s right or wrong, or sometimes they say, “Oh, we know nothing is right or wrong. It’s just different expectations and generations and how we were brought up.” And I’m thinking, “Well, no, it would be foolish, it would be unwise to operate in a false reality. It’s like one thing doesn’t exists to you so don’t make decisions as though it does or you may get the rug pulled out from under you.”

And I guess I’m a little paranoid about this, Chris, I don’t know. That’s why I went into strategy consulting, I was like, “Develop an amazing skillset so that you can do anything.” And then How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s like, “Okay, all the listeners, develop an incredible universal skillset so that you’re fine. No matter what the robots do, no matter what your jerk boss does, you are bulletproof because you’re like Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills that make you extremely valuable in any work environment.” You got me on a hot soapbox, Chris.

Chris De Santis
Well, this is the point, one of the points you’re making, the new reality, to your point, Pete, supports this idea of employability, “Look, I have to be employable.” The key. And in defense of the notion of loyalty in the young, they are more likely to be loyal to you, “If you treat me in a way that recognizes how I make the contributions I make, and what I do on your behalf,” and they’re less loyal to the organization which is an abstraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay, cool. So, there’s expectation of dialogue, loyalty. Maybe give us one more thing where people differ significantly.

Chris De Santis
Another. Oh, well, I think, actually, as a consequence of the pandemic, one obvious thing where we are differing or we’re furthering apart is where senior management believes everyone should come back, and everyone else believes, “I think I like it at home,” and so we have a huge rift. It’s almost the opposites of each other. When you have senior management, 77% say, “We want them all back,” and the people, basically, young employees in particular who have now experienced this freedom, want to stay free relative to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chris De Santis
You also had said something interesting, Pete, because it’s been bubbling up in each generation, it’s doing a little bit more of this, is that each one is more entrepreneurial than the generation that preceded it. You are creating in your own children the desire to have an independent life. And part of the messaging, you will never say that out loud, you don’t have to say that, but you behave in a way that says, “You can create your own destiny.” And we are really pushing the envelope on individualism and the creation of these independent people. I think we’ll, eventually, all be freelancers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so here we are, we’ve got some points of friction and that show up across generations. What do we do? What’s the best way to navigate them and work peacefully and effectively across generations then?

Chris De Santis
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, part of it has to do is be very clear on your expectations. I think that’s one of the things we don’t do. You see, I’m used to a world of ambiguity. I was raised with guessing right. And if you guess right, you move forward. Nobody actually told me the whys and the whats of things, but rather I’ll know it when I see it, which was a common refrain in management at one point in time.

And so, the young, to a great degree, want to know, really, what the rules are to achieve, “How do I navigate this environment?” I think I kind of use the analogy of video games. They want to know how to get to the next level, “How do you get to next level? How do you do this? How do you play the game?” So, I think it’s very important to share the expectations of how you operate with the people who are making you successful.

So, if I’m a manager, I should be telling you, “This is how I manage. This is what I would expect from you. What do you need from me to achieve here? How do we stay in touch?” those kinds of things. If I may give you a point of contention that’s very trivial but it’s one that comes up is that, “How do we stay in touch?”

I have a person I work with who I’ve used to make videos, and he will only contact me through a text. He will never pick up his phone, and I like it when people talk to me. In fact, I like it when they sort of see me. But, in this case, his mode of connection is a text. It’s not that he’s not willing to talk to me. It’s just how he’s more comfortable connecting with me. So, I think part of this is we have to get aligned who we are to each other, and how do we stay connected.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say we’ve got a younger person, say a Millennial, who is the manager of a Boomer. So, that happens. Any pro tips when it’s sort of moving in a direction which might be different than what we’re imagining?

Chris De Santis
I think one of the challenges with that is it’s not just the Millennial-Boomer difference, it’s a stage of life difference, meaning that, “Look, I have 35 years of experience under my belt,” let’s say. “You, young whipper-snapper, have only been doing this for three years, and you’re managing me.” I think there’s an ego that steps in here that says, “Oh, my gosh, is this affecting my ego?” through the lens of the Boomer.

I think it’s prudent for the Millennial to draw from the more experienced person’s experiences as much as they can to say, “Here’s what I’d like to do. What do you think on how to do that?” It doesn’t mean that they’re foregoing the decision that they own, but rather they’re drawing from the other person some level of commitment by allowing them to tell them what they do know about this area that could be useful, and then I will fold that in. You see, it’s almost being some kind of combination between deferential and respectful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, gotcha. Okay. Well, bring it on some more, Chris. Any more tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts in this new generational world? Yeah, we’re collaborating, like watchouts and best practices, I dig it, being clear on expectations. What else?

Chris De Santis
Well, this idea of how we connect. Our methodology of connection, I think, is interesting. One of those is, I’m a Boomer so my methodology of connection is I like seeing you, I’d like to meet you, we’ll meet. This is our idea of networking. Let’s go meet people. Let’s join things. Now, we know that from bowling alone that people aren’t joining anymore. So, in that sense, the methodology of connection for a Gen Xer is not so much that I know you as the person, but I know that you are competent in what you do.

You see, when you’re dealing with somebody in that category, who is I will call a little more private in their revealing of who they are, they reveal more slowly over time. They’re sort of like unfold over time, and they will reveal themselves as the competency of the relationship becomes more solidified, meaning that, “You show me you’re good at something, I’ll show who I am.”

And so, as it relates to that, the young are more open again. The Millennial is, you’ve heard this expression, they share too much?

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh, I’ve heard this.

Chris De Santis
Well, I don’t know if they do share too much. I think what we often hear from them is that…or, actually, so there’s commenting about them, saying they share too much. When, in fact, they’re not oversharing; they’re just in the habit of sharing who they are with others, and their methodology of connection is to self-reveal. For instance, you talk to your kids on a daily basis, I would imagine, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Chris De Santis
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris De Santis
So, if you do, when you talk to your kids on a daily basis, you probably ask them each day, “What did you do today? What did you today?” Do they share that?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s hit or miss.

Chris De Santis
Well, that’s interesting because, normally, and a lot of times, because I overhear…again, remember I talked about I observe these parents, is that they’ll tell what they did today. And I think that gets in the habit of how they reveal who they are to others, and so they’re not necessarily oversharing. They’re finding a way to connect with another, and then their expectation is implicit reciprocity, “I’ve told you who I am. Tell me a little bit about more of you.” So, they’re open to the discourse between us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Cool. What else in terms of do’s and don’ts here?

Chris De Santis
Okay. I was thinking, “Should I go uphill or downhill with this?” It’s so interesting. I do think that, again, going back to some of this, how we are different, I think one of the things that’s going to be very important going forward is how we decide to mentor. The young want to be mentored in a more deliberate capacity where it used to be more of an organic experience, meaning that I just discover you, and I say, “Oh, you seem to be a young version of me.”

And if we’re going to live in a world that embraces greater diversity, we have to be more deliberate in how we mentor people. But my problem with that is, and here’s where the friction lies, when you use a term like, “I’m assigning you to be my mentee,” Pete, it infers intimacy that we don’t have. And so, in that sense, we should start more from the backend here, just have an advisor to each other that allows us to open up more slowly because I think intimacy is something that is earned as opposed to assumed.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. I hear you. That checks out, like, “This is your protégé, this is your mentor.” It’s like, “Oh, really?” They do tend to, in my experience….

Chris De Santis
And then, again, the other problem I have with that is that they tend to assume that, “Now that you’re my mentor, you are also my sponsor.” And, again, we don’t define these things very well. And a sponsor is different than a mentor. A sponsor, of course, is somebody who’s going to look out for you and get you promoted. A mentor is really someone who’s going to give you advice on what they’ve learned in certain areas where you might seem to have some issues that you want to share in terms of solving problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. And, tell me, if we do find ourselves in maybe a heated exchange, like we got some real tension, intergenerationally, do you have some tips on how we might navigate that smoothly or cool things down a bit?

Chris De Santis
Yeah, because I think a heated exchange is typically in the area, in my view, because one of the myths about the young is, in general, that they’re very sensitive to feedback. I think that people will say, “I’m not convinced that they are sensitive to feedback. I’m convinced that all people are sensitive to feedback.” And so, in that sense, I think sometimes we give feedback as a conclusion as opposed to the behaviors.

And so, I have no problem with somebody saying, “Okay, Pete, hey, you’re not really doing a great job being a team player.” That’s the headline but you can’t stop there. You can’t just expect the young person say, “Okay, I’ll be a better team player.” Well, what does that mean? So, I think what we have to do is we have to be more explanatory. We have to say what are the behaviors.

And then, because, again, these are children of dialogue, as it were, we should be willing to have a discussion about, “Well, what does that look like? And what are the ways to shape that behavior, or change that behavior? And how do I support that effort? And how do I know it happened?” So, again, we have to move away from just a pure tell model to more of a dialogue model because that’s an expectation, and, quite frankly, it has greater stickiness when you’re in dialogue with somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’d also like to get your view when it comes to just sort of motivation, in terms of we hear listeners say, “Oh, you know what, my peers,” or direct reports, or others, “are just not motivated. They’re kind of phoning it in.” Do you have any pro tips, in terms of are there different carrots and/or sticks or drivers that tend to be more compelling for each of the generations?

Chris De Santis
Well, I think part of the key here is that this is where we’re moving beyond the generational differences into more the stage of life, “Where are you in your life? And what might you want then?” And so, for instance, the young are still probably, to some degree, deciding, “Who I will become?” And so, what motivates me is, “What do I want to develop in terms of my skillsets? So, where are my skills? And where do I want to hone those skills?”

So, part of the motivation is, again, this goes back to engaging people, is to find out, well, what they’re interested in doing better, or more of, and trying to find circumstances that you can supply that. That becomes the carrot, as it were. So, I think that works very well. Now, some people want promotions, which I am not convinced everyone wants promotions anymore.

I think, going to your point, Pete, they want to be employable, and they want to develop their skills. The only problem with that is, “When I make you more employable and develop your skills,” people fear that, “Oh, then I’ll lose them to the marketplace.” Well, wasn’t that Ford who said, “Well, the only thing worse than not training your people,” or, “training your people and they leave, is not training your people and they stay”? So, I think we have an obligation.

Now, the other thing interesting about in my generation, motivating us, is to say, to some degree, is, “What experiences do we want to have?” because I don’t know if promotions are part of the package anymore at this stage, but rather also I think we’re in a legacy phase, “What can we give back to others?” We should create circumstances where we can teach those who follow.

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

Chris De Santis
At this point, no. I think we’ve covered this. I like what you’re asking about some of these, the differences between us, and I like your point earlier that, look, you cannot generalize about a whole group. You have to say what group we are alluding to. And this notion of, “What are the norms within that group?” What are the norms we observed?

I think part of the trouble with being young is that the headlines about Millennials are negative. They are the Florida Man of generations because anytime you see Florida Man in a headline, it’s some tragedy that, you know, “Florida Man found starving to death in his own refrigerator.” So, you have these tragedies, and then we start to see these Millennial headlines, and we start to associate that with them, and that becomes self-fulfilling in our perception of them, which is not an accurate reflection of who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that resonates in that, I guess, I don’t even like being called a Millennial.

Chris De Santis
No, it’s unfair.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though I guess, technically, that’s where I’d land, and that’s like I don’t care for that.

Chris De Santis
Well, because, again, how they have labeled you. This is interesting, too, because one of the things about each generation, we’re all a disappointment. We’re not just a disappointment at the same time. Gen Xers were slackers, we were hippies, so in that sense, everyone is a disappointment, and then we outgrow it. The only problem that Millennials have is Gen Z hasn’t stepped in to be a disappointment yet so that you can get some space.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, got that to look forward to.

Chris De Santis
Exactly.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, one of my favorites is “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are,” and that’s why this is such a perceptual issue. This was, I think, I can’t think of…how do you pronounce her name? Anais Nin, she wrote the Delta of Venus. Lovely book, by the way.

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

Chris De Santis
My favorite bit of research is a book by a man named Hofstede, and he wrote Cultures and Organizations. And what he did, it was from an IBM study, I think, originally in the ‘70s, and he extrapolated that or expanded that into the different dimensions across national cultures. That was super enlightening because now I see why the French are the French, or Mexico is Mexico, and US is US. Very enlightening.

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

Chris De Santis
I like it when I get free notebooks, you know, those ones you can write in, like that swag. They give you a gift. Because I use those, sort of, to take notes and then I just have a stack of these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. And a favorite habit?

Chris De Santis
Habit is reading. I’m a reader. I would have to believe you are as well, to some degree, to do so many of these episodes, but I do try to read a book a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And how do you manage that volume? Do you listen? Do you read while doing other things, like exercise? Or how do you…?

Chris De Santis
Well, exercising, actually, I do that while I’m on the bike, but, typically, though I dedicate at least two to three hours a day to read something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Chris De Santis
I’m okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris De Santis
You have little kids. You can’t do that.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah. When I talk about this, because you said it right at the beginning, is, look, when you generalize, the only real truth in what I say, and in my book, is that what is true about…you said it yourself. The thing that is true about you, personally, is what’s true. Everything else I say is really fodder for the conversation or the discussion or the discovery you can make in an exchange with another.

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

Chris De Santis
They can get in touch with me at my website at CPDeSantis.com.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, I think I would say this, that, look, next time you see somebody acting strangely, in a way that you will judge them, imagine for a moment that this person is as rational as you are, and what might they be doing that is rational to them. And so, I would just simply say give people the benefit of the doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chris, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and peace as you’re navigating generational frictions.

Chris De Santis
Thank you, Pete. And good luck with the kids there.

765: The Simple Actions Behind Great Teams and Cultures with Daniel Coyle

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Daniel Coyle shares many simple–yet highly effective–actions any team can take to foster a cohesive, positive culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four simple actions that establish deep connection
  2. The top thing that builds trust
  3. How to craft a mantra that truly resonates 

About Daniel

Daniel Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Culture Code, which was named Best Business Book of the Year by Bloomberg, BookPal, and Business Insider. Coyle has served as an advisor to many high-performing organizations, including the Navy SEALs, Microsoft, Google, and the Cleveland Guardians. His other books include The Talent Code, The Secret Race, The Little Book of Talent, and Hardball: A Season in the Projects, which was made into a movie starring Keanu Reeves. Coyle was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and now lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, during the school year and in Homer, Alaska, during the summer with his wife Jenny, and their four children.

Resources Mentioned

Daniel Coyle Interview Transcript

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

Daniel Coyle
Thanks for having me, Pete. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. I’m excited to talk about culture, and you’ve spent so many years learning, researching, studying, interviewing on this subject. I’d love to hear, has there been a particularly surprising or weird or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about culture in all your years of researching?

Daniel Coyle
I’m going to say yes to that, and I’m going to say that it is mostly that, I think, going into it, I, like a lot of other people, thought that great high-performing cultures were these happy places that existed on a higher plane, where every idea was a great idea, and there was tons of agreement and laughter, and that there were these kind of magical places, that if you got to Pixar, or if you got to Navy Seal Team Six, or if you got to San Antonio Spurs, or IDO, life would change and things would be better and magical.

And what I found is that is deeply not true. I’ve spent now the last about seven years visiting the top-performing cultures on the planet, and what you find there is this really different kind of fun that they’re having. It’s the fun of exploring tensions together. It’s not filled with like ping-pong and goofiness, although there is some of that. It’s the love of solving hard problems with people you admire. And that, that is a really unique thing that great cultures create, that you’re connected, you’re being open and transparent and vulnerable and bringing your whole self there, and you’re moving in some interesting direction around some hard obstacles.

And that is like this addictive thing, and that really caught me by surprise because I think when we think about the Pixars and we think about, oh, our dream jobs and our dream cultures, we kind of think that we’re going to leave the sweat behind. And the fact, we’re going to find a lot more joy and more sweat and more connection and more meaning, I think, in being part of a great culture. So, I think their orientation toward tension is different than what people think it is. And that those tensions end up, I think, powering and engaging people in these deep ways that maybe in other cultures you don’t find.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool in terms of I’m thinking of Navy Seals, there’s plenty of time that sucks in terms of intense physical training, cold water, etc., and yet the fun they’re having is present but it’s not like cupcakes and puppies and Netflix-type fun.

Daniel Coyle
Yes. There’s this type one and type two fun. Type one fun is like enjoyment, it’s ping-pong tables, it’s that stuff. Type two stuff is doing hard stuff. And I think the fun part of cultures, and if people, if your listeners like…I know it’s kind of useful to think about the most cohesive teams you’ve ever been a part of, and like, “What did that feel like? What was the thing?” And it wasn’t all like laughter. It was also a lot of vulnerability. It was also a lot of hard stuff.

And so, I think that’s the part about culture that really resonated with me as I looked at these places, that they’re mastering the skill set, and I think it is part of being awesome at your job, to coin a phrase, to actually have that ability to, like, “Let’s identify what the hard thing is in this room, and then let’s circle up around it and figure it out together.” And that is a set of kind of subtle skills that’s just beneath the surface. Those skills of like, “How do I build that connection with that person next to me? How do I talk about the problem in a way that doesn’t make it seem threatening or overwhelming? How do I kind of go back to it day after day and mark the progress that we’re making?”

It’s these skills that go beyond just what you sort of do at your job or your job description. These are like relational skills, communication skills. And those are the skills that you see in these places. Like, I kept meeting leaders and people that work there that had that skill set, and that’s kind of what led me to write the two books. First, The Culture Code, which came out a few years ago, and now, The Culture Playbook, which tries to bring some of those skills and some of those actions sort of from underneath to bring them up to the surface so we can look at them and learn from them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about that specifically, the book, The Culture Playbook. What’s sort of the big idea here and contrast with The Culture Code?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, The Culture Code is a book about theory and story. I went around visiting these cultures, and it ranged from the ones that we’ve mentioned already, to like the US Women’s National Soccer Team, and the Serbian gang of jewel thieves, who had this really incredible culture. These are very high-performing places.

And since the time, since I’ve written the book, the landscape has changed in some really interesting ways. The idea of building a team is different in the age of post-COVID of hybrid work where a lot of people are working by themselves and communicating through these crazy windows that we’re using now, and this idea of “How do we tap into the core elements of what it takes to bring a human group together and do it in this new landscape, this landscape where we’ve got more going on, changing faster?”

And what I found in the book is that the fundamentals still don’t change. These 60 actions that I talk about are fundamentally built to create…there’s three things that groups do, there’s three things that cultures do: they connect, they create trust so they can work together, and they move in a direction. That’s what culture is. It’s building relationships so you can solve problems together.

And the book, which has sort of these three sections on these three different skill sets, first, “How do I build that connection? How do I do that?” And, secondly, “How do I create shared vulnerability and trust, where I’m going to let go of the trapeze and I know that you’re going to catch me at the other end?” And, finally, “How do we handle direction? How do we move toward a true north, establish that, and keep moving toward it?”

And that’s what this book is all about. It’s just from one to 60 actions, about 20 in each category, and they’re sort of stolen from these groups, groups that I’ve observed, groups that I saw them do it, and a lot of these things, they sort of seem like magic but they’re not magic. They’re behaviors, they’re signals, they’re communications that can be learned and practiced.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I love your subtitle, “60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed.” We love highly effective actions here, and so you’ve got them in three categories about connecting, and creating trust, and moving in a direction. Could you share a couple of these really potent actions within each category that make a world of difference, ideally, ones that don’t take a ton of time, energy, and money, but do produce a boatload of connection, of trust, of movement?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, you bet. You bet. I guess one that comes to mind right off is one that was taught to me by a Navy Seal commander. He said, “Your face is like a door. It can be open or it can be closed. And we know what closed looks like. You’re focused. Your eyes or eyebrows are down. You’re intently focused on what’s in front of you. Or, it can be open.” And this tip is, “Keep an open face.”

It refers to the muscle above your eyebrows, actually. It’s called your…I think it’s a zygomaticus muscle, and it is one that is only for social signaling. Like, we only use it to signal interest, energy, engagement, enthusiasm, and, especially, when we’re communicating remotely. What your face is doing is the loudest signal that you are sending. So, if you’re in any kind of situation like that, that idea to keep an open face is just a really, really simple one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I want to dig all over this. So, it’s this space, it’s our eyebrows, it’s a zygo something, this muscle. And so, what does open forehead, eyebrows look like versus…?

Daniel Coyle
Eyebrows up. Eyebrows up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s interesting, Dan.

Daniel Coyle
It is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how about that?

Daniel Coyle
Think of the faces of the leaders you most admire. Think of the faces of the people who were the best communicators. Were their faces open or were they closed? And the idea that this is this ancient signal that we’re really…you know, there’s no other use for this muscle except for social signaling. So, to not use it is sort of a waste. And I think, a lot of us, when we’re sitting in front of our computers remotely, sometimes forget to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you’re tired. Like, if you’re tired, you’re naturally…you might slouch a little, and then your eyebrows, forehead, may also slouch a little, like, “Yeah, Dan, just trying to get through the day.”

Daniel Coyle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
If I don’t stop and think, like, “Oh, I would like to signal to Dan that I care what he has to say,” and so you think, “Smile, nod, eye contact,” but zeroing in on this completely different part of the face, that’s handy.

Daniel Coyle
It is kind of handy. It is kind of handy. Another one I would throw out there is the two-line email. This is an idea from Laszlo Bock who headed up Humu, which is an HR company. And the idea is you send an email to the people you work with, and it says, “Hey, I’m trying to get better. Tell me one thing you want me to keep doing and one thing you’d like me to stop doing.” It’s a short email. It’s a very short email but it’s a very big signal, which is, “I trust you. I’m connected with you. I’d like you to give me some feedback, not 10 pieces of feedback, but just two – one thing I should keep doing, one thing I should stop doing.” Really, really simple.

And the third one I would say, and kind of in the connection bucket, is make a habit of over-thanking people. Thanks are not just transactional. They’re signals of a deeper relationship. At the end of every basketball season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who’s the winningest coach in NBA history, he’s had that team at the top for a long time, I think they’ve won the championship four or five times, he goes to every player that he coaches and he says these words, he says, “Thank you for allowing me to coach you.”

He doesn’t have to do that. He’s paid amply. The player is paid amply. But it’s not about the pay, it’s not about the transaction. It is about the relationship, and finding ways to connect the dots, and when something good happens, trace it back to the chain of people who helped make it happen.

I was at a school recently, and the eighth-grade math teacher sent out a note to the seventh-grade math teacher, the sixth-grade math teacher, and the fifth-grade math teacher. And the note said, “Hey, I just want to let you know, our kids scored 85s on their year long test, which is up for the last three years in a row, and it’s because of your work that they’re scoring so well. I’m the eighth -grade teacher, I’m the person who gives them that test, but it’s because of your work in the fifth, sixth, seventh grade.” Short email, it takes five seconds to write. It’s incredibly powerful to sort of make those connections really, really visible and create that connection.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. So, just sort of a habit of, “Ooh, good result. Good result likely means there’s at least one person to be thanked, and so go ahead and get in that groove repeatedly.”

Daniel Coyle
Completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. Okay. And when it comes to thanking, is it like any mode, any format, handwritten, gift, email, in person?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, as long as it’s authentic. I mean, stuff, in person. In person ends up working better. There was a study about requests, actually, Pete, where they gave requests digitally and they also made requests in person. And they found that the requests in person were responded to 22 times more frequently.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty two times?

Daniel Coyle
Times.

Pete Mockaitis
Not 22% percent. Times.

Daniel Coyle
Exactly. Exactly. So, we’re just built to respond to that. So, if it’s a question of saying thanks in person or just sending a note, say it in person. It means more. And, likewise, when it comes to giving negative feedback, like turning something down, there are some great cultures that have rules that say that, “That has to be done in person, too.”

Because to get an email, like if you’re getting an expense account or something rejected, to get an email that it’s rejected can create some bad feelings, some vagueness, some unclearness on why that was rejected. But doing it in person provides so much more context and information. So, that’s why cultures have rules that say, “Hey, if you’re going to provide some negative, negative feedback, you’ve got to do that in person.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. Well, Dan, you’ve really delivered there. Those are high ROI goodies that are quick and easy when it comes to connecting. How about we do the exact same thing for creating trust?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, why not? When it comes to trust, this is kind of the interesting thing that came as a surprise to me, and I think comes as a surprise to a lot of people. We’re normally taught that vulnerability and trust are related as follows. We’re normally taught that you have to build up some trust before you can be vulnerable. And, actually, we’ve got it exactly backwards.

Moments of vulnerability, when they’re shared, are what create trust. And so, what great cultures have, and what skill we can steal from them, is the idea of a vulnerability loop. When you have two people who are being vulnerable together, it creates connection and trust and cohesion in a way that nothing else does.

In fact, think about the best friends in your life. Are they the people you’ve been the most vulnerable with or the least vulnerable with? I’m going to guess it’s the most. The same principle works at work. And so, some of the things that are really simple to do to create that vulnerability, what you find in good cultures and in good groups, they treat vulnerability as kind of like a calisthenic, like it hurts but it makes you stronger.

And a couple ways to do that. Number one is to make a habit of doing an AAR. And AAR is an after-action review. This is a concept from the military. And the way it works is, in the military it works like this. You finish the mission, and you come back, and the first thing you do before you do anything else, before you take a nap, before you eat, is you circle up and you talk about three things: what went well, what didn’t go well, and what are we going to do differently next time.

It’s a really simple conversation. It’s also a really hard conversation. When you’ve done something really difficult with a group and you got to come back, and say, “Hey, I think I screwed that up,” or, “Hey, I think we could be a lot better at this.” It takes guts but that’s why it’s powerful because it brings people together in an atmosphere of vulnerability, openness, transparency. And the experience of going through that brings you closer.

Dave Cooper, who commanded the Navy Seals who got Bin Laden says, “The most important words a leader can say are ‘I screwed that up’ because it gives permission for everyone in the group to absolutely be open about that.” So, that’s the first one, to build an AAR, to do AARs regularly, make it a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to vulnerability, I could see that the after-action review is a great habit and that’s vulnerable right there, “I screwed it up.” Now, I imagine though, when it comes to vulnerability, I think that there are different sort of flavors, categories, buckets, if you will. And so, one, an admission of error is one. If the word vulnerability feels a little bit vague or fuzzy for people, can you give us a few more examples?

Daniel Coyle
I love it that you’re bringing that up. I love that you bring it up. I’d put a few categories out there. The most powerful one is vulnerability around learning where you say, “I don’t know that. Teach me that.” And you see that being incredibly effective because everybody likes to teach things. When somebody next to you who can do something better than you, you say, “Hey, could you teach me how to do that?” That is a really powerful and underused moment.

There’s total emotional vulnerability where you’re giving over, you’re telling someone how you really feel about something. That can be a little less useful in a work context. And, finally, there’s a third category, which is fake vulnerability. And you actually see this sometimes among leaders or people who are manipulating people.

I recently was at a conference where somebody told me about a media consultant who was trying to train CEOs to cry, like on cue, which sounds completely insane. He swore to me that it was true. And part of me believes it because vulnerability is such a powerful emotion. But I would say, for creating good culture in the 15 feet around you in the office, or in the 15 video calls around you, vulnerability around learning is the most powerful because it creates a conversation, it creates a relationship, it creates a path, it creates…like all learning, it’s a cycle of experience and reflection, and so it gets you into that cycle in a good way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do we put a name for the category of vulnerability? Like, if I were to just share, I don’t know, like a personal struggle, like, “My marriage is struggling,” or, “My child is being held back,” or, “My mom or dad is dying.” That really feels vulnerable.

Daniel Coyle
It does and it can be…

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a name for that category in the research or the literature?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I call that the sort of heavy, deep, and real category, I mean, the personal category. And that has a place, too, in all of this, especially as we sort of bring our whole selves to work, and, especially, in the early parts of a relationship, that kind of openness when we can sort of…especially in an era where we’re increasingly trying to create more belonging for traditionally marginalized communities in the workplace. Those moments can be really, really powerful. So, it’s a kind of thing where you can’t force them to happen but I’ve seen some…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Now, everyone will share something that they’re profoundly struggling with or worried about. You start, Dan.”

Daniel Coyle
Right. Right. “You go.” Right. But I’ve seen some cool exercises. The one that I sort of admire the most is one that came out of the sports world, it’s called the 4H exercise. It’s where people get together for a few minutes and talk about the 4H. The 4Hs are their heroes, their heartbreak, their history, and their hopes.

So, you give them a chance to reflect individually, and then everybody comes together and talks about it, and you sort of get a sense of the whole person, “Oh, their grandparents moved here from Korea,” and you get to learn about their favorite food growing up. And it’s just a nice shortcut to connecting to the person.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, sharing vulnerability. Anything else you want to talk about when it comes to creating trust?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, there’s one more, I think, and it’s one that, again, I sort of realized a little bit later. But there’s a magical phrase that happens when, in good cultures that you hear a lot, and I think it’s a subtle skill, it’s about listening. But that phrase is, “Tell me more.” It’s a really, really powerful phrase. And you use it when someone asks you a question.

The trick when somebody asks us a question, especially when we’re new in our job and we’re trying to be really good at it, is when someone asks us a question, we want to answer, we want to like provide value. We want to say, “Hey, I got it right here. I’m really smart. And this is what worked for me that time.” When, in fact, if you’re really looking to understand what’s going on, you need to say, “Tell me more.” They’re the most powerful phrases in the world.

When you have problems that are brought to you are often, like the proverbial iceberg, you see the surface but it’s much deeper underneath. So, by saying, “Tell me more,” you can say, “What other contexts do you see this in? What did you try already? Who else knows about this? How else can we apply this? Give me more.”

There’s a woman named Roshi Givechi, who’s the best listener I ever met. Like, you meet people who are super good listeners. She works for IDO, which is a design firm, and she is their person that kind of unlock teams. That’s kind of what she does. When teams are stuck, she goes and unlocks and unleashes them. And she’s extraordinary because when you come to her with a question, she will say, “Tell me more about that.” And she has a beautiful phrase called surfacing, where you’re trying to surface the problem so that you can stand around it together and work on it together.

You’re not the solver here. Nobody is. These problems are hard. It requires time. Bringing it to the surface together by saying, “Tell me more.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Now, when it comes to movement, what are some of the key actions you recommend there?

Daniel Coyle
Well, every group is moving toward their true north. You’re trying to define that true north. And we typically think that, like, “Well, great cultures just have their purpose and they’re harder in their gut. They just know what it is.” But actually, when you go to really great cultures, and some of your listeners will know this, you end up hearing them talk about their purpose all the time. They talk about it in ways that are sometimes really corny. There are all these mantras and slogans.

And when you go to the Navy Seals, they keep talking about, “We’re the quiet professionals. The only easy day was yesterday.” When you go to Zappos, they talk of all their phrases. When you go to Pixar, they have all their phrases. And probably the person who’s best at phrases that I encountered was a restaurant owner. His name was Danny Meyer, and he came up with all of these phrases, “We have athletic hospitality and we love problems. And mistakes are waves and service are surfers.”

And Danny and I were having breakfast, and a waiter dropped a tray of glasses, and Danny stopped talking to me and started looking over in the corner. And I said, “What are you looking for?” And he said, “One of two things is going to happen. Either they’re going to come together, clean up this mess, and the energy level in the restaurant is going to go up, and I’ll know that this is a good culture, or there are going to be some hint of blame and anger, resentment, and the energy level is going to drop.”

And that is when those mantras and those corny phrases started to make sense to me. Having these simple little algorithms, little mantras that you say, sort of direct your emotions and your attention in the right way, “Athletic hospitality,” “Loving problems,” “Mistakes are waves, servers are surfers,” all that stuff sort of nudges you the right way.

So, that’s one sort of tip is, create a mantra map, like figure out what the main problems in your environment are, figure out what the solution is, what you want to do, and create some words that help guide you there. It can be a cool thing to sort of co-create as a team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s fun about that is they can stick with you for years. I’m thinking back to my days at Bain, and like, “Hey, one team attitude.” It’s sort of like we never blame each other. We don’t, particularly in front of the client. Like, “Oh, Dan said something really boneheaded. You have to forgive him. He’s new.” Like, this just doesn’t happen, or an openness to 1% of possibility that you are wrong, you’re mistaken, and that someone else has stuff that you should take in. And, boy, a few years later, that sticks with me.

I think what’s tricky there, Dan, is that I think sometimes organizations can put the cart before the horse on this one, like they create the mantras but they have no bearing in reality. And if that’s more frustrating, I’m thinking…

Daniel Coyle
Oh, it can be a nightmare.

Pete Mockaitis
When I was at Kmart, I’m just going to name names, this was a long time ago, maybe Kmart is better now. My first real job, like not delivering newspapers or something, was working at Kmart, and they had these mantras, like, “Customers rule,” “Teams work,” “Change strengthens performance.” Wow, I remember them, again, years later.

And then I was like, “But, wait a minute, I don’t see that. You seem upset with me that I gave this person a discount on the Mountain Dew even though the training video said that we can do that,” because I have the power to please, Dan, by any of the substitutions, like, “Two 12s for the 24-price, you got it.” So, that was very frustrating, like, “Oh, this is just like something that, I don’t know, the HR team came up with on a retreat somewhere.”

Daniel Coyle
That’s the distinction. That’s the distinction. When the HR team, as opposed to when the people on the floor created it themselves, and that co-creation is the key part of that. This is not something that’s handed down. And people tend to think mission and purpose statements are kind of generated by some god-like Moses who carves them in the granite and hands them down to the people. That’s not how the best ones work.

The best ones are kind of natural and they come out of the environment. And having some time where you get together with your group, and say, “Okay, what do we want our mantras to be? Kind of screw the company. What do we want our mantras to be? If we’re going to work together here, we need to have a clear sense of what matters, what doesn’t, what behaviors are not acceptable.”

Danny Meyer used to talk about skunking, which is when an employee would get irritated or a waiter would get irritated, and you could just kind of tell. They’re just sort of emitting this odor that everyone is kind of revolted by. They just made up that word but it really works in that environment because you’re like, “Dude, you’re skunking. You got to quit skunking,” or you use it naturally.

So, that concept, and it’s one of those ideas that I think can be powerful in everyday life as we seek to build our skills, or as we seek to build better habits. Words and mantras are incredibly powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, mantras, knowing and creating and saying the phrases. What else?

Daniel Coyle
I think there’s a little exercise, and I think it’s one of my favorite ones to do, for any group to do that is really powerful. It’s called the best barrier workshop. So, you get together with your team, and there’s two steps. Step one, define exactly what you look like at your best team. Like, if a documentary film crew flew in and filmed you at your best, what behaviors would they see? Name them, like write them down.

Second step. What barriers stop that from happening every day? Name those barriers. Name them. And then, what you’re doing in those two steps is you’re sort of building the architecture of a mantra because you are defining where you want to go and who you want to be, and you’re defining what stops you.

So, figuring out, “Okay, why don’t we perform at our best? Is it time? Do we not give each other enough time? Are we too separate all the time? Are we not in sync? Are we not connected enough?” Figure out what those barriers are and name them. So, I would say a best barrier workshop is a pretty good thing to try.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Anything else you want to talk about with movement?

Daniel Coyle
I think, overall, stories are the most powerful drug on the planet. A story. Like, you remember your life at Bain or your life at Kmart. We all remember our work lives and our lives in general through stories, and we tend to treat stories as something that’s kind of happenstance, like, They just sort of appear like flowers before us and we pick some of them and we ignore some of them.

I think, as you move through your career and as you seek to understand both the culture that you’re in and also the cultures where you want to go, stories are really powerful for a couple reasons. The first is that they’re like the best way to capture the purpose of a culture and the best behavior that we can be. One of the coolest questions you can ask anybody about a culture is, “Tell me a story about your group, about something your group does that no other group does.” It’s a good question if you’re interviewing for a new job, like, “Tell me a story about your group that you would tell your best friend. What gets rewarded around there?” is a good question to ask.

And all of these kinds of get at like the deeper narrative and purpose of groups in a way that just simple data can’t. So, really appreciating stories as a resource, both for you and your present culture but also as a way to understand the places in which you work in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to hear you, I dig it, so great actions associated with connecting and creating trust and moving, and we talked about stories. I’d love to hear some stories associated with teams that had a culture that was, I don’t know, lame to mediocre that saw a big upgrade to transformational. And you’ve got a particular process you call a team tune-up. So, maybe that might be a little bit more micro to the macro story, but I just want to put those two bits out there and get some stories.

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, that’s good. My favorite story about a team turnaround would be from a Navy ship, actually, called the USS Benfold. The commander was a man named Mike Abrashoff. The Benfold was the worst-performing ship in the Navy. When he got there, his first action was to meet with every crew member for about 10 or 15 minutes, and he would ask them sort of like the two-line email, “What’s something we should keep doing? What’s something we should stop doing?”

And whenever anyone had an idea that they could immediately implement, like, “We should eat at 11:30 not at 12:00,” he would grab the intercom and announce the change immediately over the boat, like, “Now, we eat at 11:30.” Boom! That action, and it took him like three weeks to do these interviews. Huge investment of time, very inefficient. I’m sure he had a million more important things to do. But when you’re building relationships, that is an incredibly efficient use of time. It’s incredibly smart because he’s doing the thing that good cultures do, which is you’ve got to build the safety.

And safety, there’s a lot of talk in the world now about psychological safety, and that’s all well and good, and it’s true. But you have to remember that the point of safety is voice. The point of safety is freedom. The point of safety is that those people can hear their suggestion amplified for the whole crew. Flash forward three years, and the Benfold is the best-performing ship in the Navy, and it’s not an accident because Mike Abrashoff, and he wrote a wonderful book about this, called It’s Your Ship, and it’s worth reading.

But the reason that it worked wasn’t magic. It looks like magic but it’s not magic. It’s he’s really, really good at these cultural skills that say, “Hey, I’m going to give you a voice here, and let’s see how far we can take it. We want to build a group brain. It’s not about one person being smart. It’s about all of us being smart.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really fun as I imagine sitting in one of those conversations, and saying, “Hey, we should eat lunch at this time,” and then just immediately that being dictated, like instant fiat.

Daniel Coyle
Like, power.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, now this is so. Like, that would feel awesome. And on the flipside, I can sort of imagine that, in deciding quickly, I imagine a couple of them probably had to be backtracked, like, “You know, actually, Captain, you see, the meal prep times are established for these key considerations, and the earlier time, that kind of messes up all these other things,” and you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that because this is my sixth conversation with teammates, so you better just backtrack it and really…” no harm done. In fact, the dude who told you about the shifting the lunchtime probably think it’s pretty cool that at least a few days we’ll try it his way.

Daniel Coyle
That’s exactly right. And that’s the tradeoff that I think is easy to overlook. We all go through life and we’ve got these two categories of things in front of us. We’ve got the stuff we got to do. There’s a big pile of that. And then we got the people who are around us, and it is always tempting, as we move through the day, as we move through our mornings and afternoons, to focus on the things because they’re vivid, they’re right in front of us, there’s a to-do list that we want to knock things off.

And the thing that I saw in people who are skilled at this cultural skillset is they had the ability to, as Captain Abrashoff did, push off that to-do list and focus on the person in front of them, and create that relationship and build that safety and that trust and that direction together. And then, guess what, the to-do list gets done so much faster because you have built that group brain, and you’ve built that connection, and you can go much faster together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, if listeners find themselves in a team that they would like tuned up, how do we execute a team tune-up?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, that’s funny. It’s sort of in the same dynamic, and this is an idea from IDO, this incredible design firm. Like a lot of companies, they have teams doing projects. But the smart thing that IDO does is they realized that the project is a journey. The project itself is a journey and you can’t just focus on the project. You actually have to turn your focus and ask, “How’s the team doing? How are we doing on this project?”

So, they’re sort of like a race car driver, the project is the race car going on the track, and three times, they sort of pull in and have a tune-up, “How is our engine doing?” And they’re very simple meetings, there’s a pre-flight, a mid-flight, and a post-flight, and they ask really simple questions, like, pre-flight, “What are you most excited about learning on this project? Like, we’re all going to go and do this together, what are you most excited about learning? What are you dreading the most? How do you like to work? Do you like getting a lot of creative work done in the morning? Like, let’s figure out how we’re going to work together.”

Mid-flight. “How is it going? Like, are we going in the direction we thought we were going? Are we all working together well? What relationships are strongest? What aren’t strongest?” Post-flight. “What did we learn here? What are we taking forward into our other projects? What relationships got stronger?” So, these moments, they’re really simple, reflective couple of hours set aside to do the most crucial work of saying, “How are we doing? Because the work is one thing but this team is something that matters more.” And smart groups take the time to put their attention and their effort into improving the internal functioning of the team.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. Well, Dan, I’m curious, so we have a lot of great practices that we’ve discussed. What are some things that are common mistakes that we should be on the lookout for, maybe things that we don’t even realize we’re doing that are harmful to culture that we should cut out?

Daniel Coyle
It’s like somebody once said about, what’s this thing, about a mule, and a carpenter, and a barn. It said, “Any mule can kick down a barn but it takes a real master carpenter to build one.” And, likewise, with culture, there are a million ways to destroy culture. There are a million. Some of the most common ones are around integrity, but there’s some more sort of less common ones, which is just the speed of life. We all live with the disease of more where our plates get continually loaded with more and more and more.

And if we don’t stop to kind of subtract things from our plate, and we don’t stop to sort of move things away, and get rid of things, and pare things down, sometimes the relationships can really suffer. The thing to remember, though, is that culture is never fixed. It’s never done. You never get to a spot and say, “Our culture is great.”

I studied, for my book The Culture Code, I studied several cultures including Pixar and the Navy Seals, both of whom have had significant cultural challenges in recent years with the MeToo Movement, with some bad behavior in the Seals. So, it’s not to say their cultures are ruined. Because they’re strong cultures, they’re trying to find a way back and trying to figure out why this happened, and trying to work together to make it better. But culture is a living thing. It’s a living exchange of signals and behaviors. It’s not about what you say. It’s about what you do.

And so, this idea, I think, the thing that kills cultures often is success, actually, in a weird way, because it makes people complacent, it makes people not give attention to the kind of relationships that drive good culture. And the other thing that creates great culture is a crisis. When you go back in time and scroll back to “Why did Pixar get to be so good? Why did the Navy Seals get to be so good? Why did IDO get to be so good?” you will find a crisis often. And in that crisis, they were very vulnerable, they bonded, and they came up with new ways to doing things.

And so, I guess, all of which is to add up to say your culture is never done. Your culture is never done. And this skillset that you have, as you take these actions and try to build it around you, it’s always happening, always around you. And so, one of the most powerful things is to tune into these exchanges and these actions that are constantly moving the strength of your culture up or down.

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

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I guess there’s some sort of…the cultures have changed a lot. I guess I’d want to say a couple words about this moment we’re living through as people are adapting to hybrid work. And I think there’s been a shift in culture, and I’ve sort of noticed three really big themes and I’ll just mention them really quickly.

Theme one is “Stop thinking like a leader and start thinking like a teammate.” Strong cultures now to learn, and to grow, and to navigate change, no one has the answers. This idea of leadership that we’re sort of taught and is in our culture, that leaders always will know what to do, and there’s sort of this authority that they have that is unlike others. It’s baloney. Great leaders are great teammates and thinking more like a teammate.

Another theme I’ve seen is “Stop focusing on knowing, and start focusing on learning.” Don’t be knowing-it-all, be learning-it-all. And then the third is really “The power of the pause.” With the speed of change, it is absolutely necessary. And the way in which we’re working is changing where we’re communicating across time and space in different ways. Being intentional and having situational awareness is huge, and so people who are good at that are really good at pausing.

I think of pausing as the new productivity. Like, if you just raced through your day knocking stuff off, you are never going to clear your decks, and your decks will only get fuller and fuller and fuller. To stop and be very considerate about what you’re doing, to make time for reflection in your day, both as an individual and as a group, is one of the more powerful things a group can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Daniel Coyle
One of my favorite quotes is a very long quote from Roosevelt, “It’s not the critic that counts. It’s the person in the arena.” It’s a good one. Look it up. But it’s, I think, that one always sticks with me as being the difference between sort of jumping into things and sitting on the sidelines.

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

Daniel Coyle
The Robbers Cave Experiment. They had a group, it was early on, they could never do this today. But they took a group of young kids and kind of created two tribes. It was around the time of Lord of the Flies, and they had these extraordinary like changing encounters between each of these tribes that just really resonates with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Daniel Coyle
Favorite book is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.

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

Daniel Coyle
Favorite tool. I’m going to point right at it, I just bought a new pack of this today. Very inexpensive Bic pen, now with 45% smoother glide, I’m told on the package.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it true in your experience?

Daniel Coyle
It is. I just used it and it was at least 45% smoother.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Daniel Coyle
It’s exercise, actually. That’s just something that changes your whole state, changes your whole day. I like to get on my bike.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they re-tweet you often?

Daniel Coyle
I think it’s probably this idea of a vulnerability loop. This idea that vulnerability and trust that we’ve had it backwards, that moments of vulnerability are what create trust. And that seems to really echo and resonate with people.

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

Daniel Coyle
DanielCoyle.com.

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

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I think the challenge would be to carve out time to reflect. There’s a piece of advice that somebody gave me a long time ago, which was WSD – write shit down. Writing it down makes things real. Writing is thinking. And you can write it on your phone, you can write it on a Post-it Note. It doesn’t matter. But capture stuff because you go through life, you want to learn, you want to get better at things. And learning is a cycle. You have an experience and then you have to reflect. You have an experience and then you reflect. That is what learning is made of.

So, I think in modern life, we don’t give much time for that reflection piece, as we were talking before. And carving out intentional time where you write down, just process what happened, will make you see it differently, will let you connect dots. A good journal is like a map, and so it will let you see where you’ve come and will open up places for you to go in the future. So, that would be my challenge for your group to WSD.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Dan, it’s been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun cultures.

Daniel Coyle
Hey, thanks so much. It’s been great to be with you.

763: Stephen M. R. Covey Reveals How Great Leaders Inspire Teams

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Stephen M. R. Covey shares why command-and-control leadership is ineffective (yet widespread) and how to get superior results as a trust-and-inspire leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two traits needed to build trust
  2. Why so many leaders today fail to inspire their teams
  3. The one belief that separates great leaders from the rest

About Stephen

Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink and of the FranklinCovey Global Trust Practice, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, culture, and collaboration, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.

Resources Mentioned

Stephen M. R. Covey Interview Transcript

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

Stephen Covey
Hi, Pete. Excited to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited as well. I’m really looking forward to digging into your wisdom on trust and your latest book Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. But just to warm it up, I’m thinking about my son right now, he’s four years old, and my dad, and how there were a few special moments in terms of memories that were really instructive and stuck with me. And since you and your father are both great when it comes to leadership development, is there a memory that comes to mind for you in terms of something that sticks with you and was really instructive and lasting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely, several but I’ll share one of them, and I actually put this in the book. It’s in a story that my dad wrote about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the green and clean story, where he was trying to teach his son how to take care of the lawn. Well, I’m that son, I was seven years old, and my dad was trying to teach me responsibility and teach me how to work and these types of things. And so, he basically, over a two-week period of time, he’s got to train me how to make sure that the lawn, our yard, we had a big yard, how to make sure that it was green and clean.

Now, this was back in the days before automatic sprinklers, which ages me, Pete, but this was I was just a young boy and he taught me, “Look, to get a green lawn, you got to water it. The key to watering it is you got to turn on the sprinklers but how you do it is up to you. If you want you could just use a hose or use buckets or spit all day long. It’s up to you. All I care about is green and clean.”

And then he kind of taught me what clean meant. He cleaned part of the yard, left the other part unclean. So, again, seven years old, so it was a two-week process. I actually distinctly remember it. And then he added one more piece. He built in an accountability piece. So, I had very clear expectations – green and clean – how I did it was up to me. I would judge myself. And here was the accountability, that twice a week that we would walk around together and I would tell him how I was doing against the standard of green and clean.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stephen Covey
And so, he goes, “I’m not your judge. You’re your own judge. You judge yourself. I’m your helper. If I have time, I’ll always help you but it’s your job.” So, two weeks of training, and then he turns it over to me in the middle of the summer. And it’s this scorching hot time during the summer and I did nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s not going to be green.

Stephen Covey
I did nothing. I was over playing ball across the street. Sunday nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday. It’s five days, it’s scorching hot, the lawn is turning yellow by the hour almost, and we had a neighborhood barbecue over the weekend, and there was garbage just strewn all throughout the lawn. It was anything but green and clean.

And my dad, he later said, “You know, I was just about to just yank that job right back from him,” thinking, “Maybe he’s just too young. He’s seven. He can’t handle this yet.” But he didn’t. He stayed with it, and he said, “Hey, son, we’d agreed that we’d walk around the yard and you would tell me how it’s doing, so why don’t we do that?”

So, we started to walk around, and I realized, “This is not looking green at all. It’s yellow and it’s not clean. There’s garbage everywhere.” And I began to break down and cry, and I said, “Dad, this is just so hard.” And he kind of said, “Well, what’s hard? You haven’t done one single thing.” But what was hard was learning to take responsibility, it was me taking ownership for that job and taking it on as my own.

And I said, “Well, can you help me, dad?” He said, “I’d agree I’d be your helper if I have time.” I asked, “Do you have time?” He said, “I’ve got time.” So, I ran into the house and I got two garbage sacks. I came out, I took one and I gave him one, and then I started to instruct him and tell him what to do. I said, “Dad, would you go over there and pick up that garbage that’s fallen out because it makes me want to vomit?” So, he said, “I’m your helper. Whatever you say, I’ll do it. I’ve got time, I’ll help you.”

So, he started doing what I asked him to do. And it was at that moment, as I was directing my dad as a seven-year-old on, “Pick up this. Pick up that. Do this,” and he was doing what I was asking, I realized, “This is my job. I’m responsible.” And it was at that moment that, suddenly, I took responsibility and took over this job of making sure the yard was green and clean. I did not have to be asked the whole rest of the summer to do it a single time. I owned it. I took responsibility for it, and the lawn was green and it was clean.

Now, my dad used to always tell this story when he taught The 7 Habits about how this was the creation of a win-win performance agreement but, Pete, I was a seven-year-old boy. I didn’t know what those terms meant but here is what I did know as a seven-year-old. I felt trusted. I felt my father trusted me and I didn’t want to let him down.

So, I was too young to be worried about allowance or status, but I didn’t want to let my dad down. He was important to me and he trusted me, and I felt it and I responded to it. I was inspired by it. I rose to the occasion. I developed capabilities I had no idea I had at age seven and I took responsibility for a huge yard, and it was green and clean.

Now, that was a defining experience in my life because, first of all, my father built such a relationship with me that his whole purpose was one of love and caring, trying to teach me, so I received it differently because of that. But it’s interesting. I experienced, as a seven-year-old boy, a trust and inspire leader, a trust and inspire parent who was believing in me, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time as a young boy but he didn’t…when he gave me trust and I didn’t follow through, he didn’t take it back and just say, “Oh, too young, can’t do it.”

Or, he didn’t hover and micromanage me, and say, “Now, look, here’s how you have to do this job, and do it precisely the way I say. You got to get out there and water.” No, he gave me the responsibility, he trusted me, and then he let me do it. And I learned, and I grew, and I came out of it better. My dad, later, was also asked, “How did you not just take it over and just either micromanaged him or just take the job back?” And he said, “Because I reaffirmed my purpose, which was to raise kids, not grass. So, getting the grass green and clean was a bonus. That was a nice thing but it was more important that I raise a child that learned responsibility and a work ethic.”

And so, I used that little story as a great example of how if this kind of extension of trust can work for a seven-year-old boy, I bet it could work for a 27-year-old or a 47-year-old or a 67-year-old. We all long to be trusted and inspired. It’s a better way to lead, and we respond to it, and I did as a seven-year-old. So, it’s a great story. It’s a fun story. My dad gives his side of it in The 7 Habits, and my side of it is that I was seven years old, what do you expect?

But really, it’s that I felt trusted. I didn’t know what a win-win performance agreement was but I did know that I felt the trust of my dad, and I didn’t want to let him down.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. Thank you. I love it. And a great way to set up a conversation, talking about trust. You’ve done a lot of research and teaching and writing on this topic, is there a particular insight or discovery that you find particularly surprising and powerful when folks really grab onto it when it comes to trust?

Stephen Covey
Yes, there is one. I don’t know that this one is going to be surprising per se but it is extremely powerful. It’s not necessarily surprising but it happens all the time. So, it’s surprising that this is still an issue because it’s pretty self-evident. And it’s simply this, you could have two trustworthy people working together, both trustworthy, working together and yet no trust between them even though they’re both trustworthy if neither person is willing to extend trust to the other.

In an organization, you could have two trustworthy teams or departments working together, both trustworthy, and yet no trust between them if neither team or department is willing to extend trust to the other. So, to have trust, the noun, the outcome, yes, you need to be trustworthy, and that is earned, we earn that, but we also need to be trusting to give that. So, trust is both earned and given.

I get asked all the time, “Stephen, is trust earned or is it given?” And my response is, “Yes, absolutely it is earned. We’ve got to demonstrate our character, our competence, our credibility. We’ve got to be trustworthy but it’s not enough. It’s necessary but insufficient. We also have to be trusting.” And what I find, as I worked with organizations all around the world, that maybe the bigger factor in those two halves, and they’re halves, I think the bigger factor is that we’re not trusting enough as leaders. We don’t extend enough trust to our people and to others.

That’s a bigger issue than if we’re not trustworthy. Now, we can work on both halves of the equation. We need to work on becoming more trustworthy but, as leaders, we especially need to work on becoming more trusting. And, at some level, that’s not a surprise. But what’s a surprise is that how we’ve almost ignored that piece, and we focus so heavily on the trustworthy side and not near enough on the trusting side. And I want to bring that to the fore, that, as leaders, we got to become more trusting. We gotta be extending trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, since we kind of say the word trust a lot, how about we do a little bit of defining of terms? What do you mean, precisely, by trust? And what are some ways that we extend trust or we show that we are trusting?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. So, by trust, I simply mean confidence. That’s the most simple definition I can give. In fact, Pete, in many languages, trust and confidence are the exact same word, like in Spanish, in French. I have personally presented now in some 55 countries on site, in person, and in about, I’m going to say, over at least half of those countries, where they have a different language other than English as their native tongue, in at least half of them, trust and confidence are the exact same word.

So, in English, we have two words for it. So, think it means confidence. Now, the opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. So, confidence versus suspicion. That’s the most simple definition. Now, where does that confidence come from? I suggest it comes from two sources. It comes from having both character and competence. Character and competence, both are vital. If you have one but lack the other, you will not sustain the trust.

This makes a person credible. It makes them trustworthy if they have both character and competence, and that is something that we earn. So, we earn trustworthiness through demonstrating character and competence but then we extend trust, we give trust by being trusting. And I think the opportunity here is to find the ways, as a leader, as a colleague, as a partner, that you can extend more trust to people.

And when you extend the trust, I’m not advocating that you just blindly trust anyone and everyone. That’s not smart in a low-trust world because not everyone can be trusted or there could be that the context matters. If there’s really high risks on the trust you’re extending, or the credibility of the person is either unknown, or is known to be low credibility, low trustworthiness, then you’re going to be very limited or careful or cautious on how much trust you extend.

But, generally speaking, we need to be more trusting, not less, and find the opportunities to extend that trust, always creating expectations, always creating the process for accountability, like my dad did with me on green and clean. He had expectations, “I want the yard to be green and clean,” and accountability, “Let’s, twice a week, you tell me how you’re doing against the standard of green and clean.”

So, here’s a great opportunity right now that companies have had over the last two years coming out of this pandemic. People have started working from home, working from anywhere, remote work, hybrid work, intentionally flexible work, and that’s continuing, and it’s going to continue in some format going forward.

Actually, a lot of organizations really do a great job at demonstrating to their people, as they’re working from home, “That we trust them,” that they trust their people. And it’s explicit, it’s clear that they come in, they say, “Look, we trust you. Here’s the expectation, here’s the accountability, but you need to know we trust you.” And people feel it and they receive it, and they’ve actually accelerated and grown the trust through this difficult circumstance by being deliberate and intentional about the trust that they’re extending to their people.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some other companies with the same setup, where the people working remotely did not feel trusted at all. They felt they’re now just being micromanaged from a distance because there was no choice or option in the matter, and some companies put in place surveillance software and the like, all in the name of productivity to make sure that people were actually doing their job, and it just conveyed and screamed distrust. And so, yeah, they were working remotely but they still did not feel trusted. And rather than increasing the trust, they actually decreased it.

So, what’s happened in the last couple of years has been a great opportunity to actually increase the trust and generate the reciprocity by demonstrating that you trust your people, or maybe have it go the other direction because you’re actually demonstrating through your behavior, your actions, that, “I don’t trust you and I’ve got to micromanage you.” It’s just done differently now because it’s remote.

And, going forward, as people come back, and we come up with a new way of working in this new world, what matters more than the precise mechanics of what it’s going to look like, some hybrid combination of remote and on site, intentionally flexible work, what matters more than the actual structure is our leaders are actually leading with a trust-and-inspire approach with their people where they actually trust them with whatever model they come up with.

Or, are they trying to still operate from a command-and-control model that leads out with distrust with whatever they come up with? That matters more than the actual structure. There are many right answers. What matters more is the paradigm, the mindset of trusting your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that contrast quite a lot shortly. Maybe, first, I want to dig in just a little bit, so in terms of trust is confidence, and someone is trustworthy if they have character and competence. And so, I’m interpreting that to mean character, they have virtue, they’re not going to lie to you or steal. They’re not only looking out for number one all the time.

And competence is like they’re good at the things that their job demands of them. And, thusly, when someone has that, I trust them and that I have the confidence that if I give them some bit of responsibility, they are going to have the smarts to do the job sufficiently, and the ethics to not, I don’t know, skim off the top or do something shady along the way in executing it.

Stephen Covey
Not cut corners.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, you got it exactly. It’s both halves. And too often, we’ve equated trust with just character, and I say, no, it’s equal. Equal parts, character and competence. And a big part of this show, How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s all about trying to make sure that we can become really good at our job because we know what we need to do. And that’s building the capabilities around what’s needed to do, and the expectations so we know, as well as then delivering on that, performing and delivering.

And so, the confidence is both kind of capabilities and results that, “I’ve got the skills and the talents and the expertise and the knowledge and the insight to stay relevant in a changing world, and I have a track record of performance, of results, that gives people confidence that if you give me a job, I’m going to get it done. Look at my track record. But I’m always learning and getting better and improving, the things that you’re doing with this podcast of, How to be Awesome at Your Job, because I’m learning about the capabilities that are needed to succeed at a job.”

So, that confidence is half as vital because someone could be an honest person and very caring and selfless, but if they can’t deliver or they don’t come through, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do because they’re not capable of it, even though they’re honest, I’m not going to trust them. And the reverse is true. If someone could deliver, get the job done, but if they’re running people over in the process, or violating the values and the beliefs of the company, cutting corners, I’m not going to trust them either, so I’ve got to have both.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And it’s interesting, at How to be Awesome at Your Job, we have quite the contrast, I think, in terms of getting a feel for, “What is awesome at your job and true excellence look like versus mediocre, ho-hum, like okay?” So, likewise, with character, I’m thinking that, could you paint a picture for what excellence in character looks like versus, yeah, mediocrity? Because I think most of us are not…we’re not sociopaths. We have some level of guilt and conscience. We’re going to obey applicable laws.

And, yet, even with that, like sometimes I still don’t trust folks because it’s sort of like, “Hmm, I don’t believe you care about me and/or I think, if given the opportunity, if there’s ever a tradeoff between a little bit more expediency and profit, and my needs, wants, wishes, you will choose your expediency and profit.” And so, I don’t know, how do you think about what is a picture of real excellence look like in character?

Stephen Covey
In the character?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephen Covey
Beautiful. Love it. And, by the way, you identified, beautifully, the two components of character – integrity and intent. And integrity is honesty, truthfulness. Like you say, that someone might say, “Well, I’m particular and I follow the rules and the laws,” but compliance alone is necessary but insufficient. Someone could be legal but not ethical.

But here’s the big opportunity to what you just identified, that the real test of integrity, of doing the right thing, is when there’s a cost or consequence in doing so. Until then, I haven’t fully been tested. What do I do then when there’s a cost or consequence in doing the right? Do I still do the right thing? Another test of integrity is when nobody is looking and may never look. Do I still do the right thing?

So, integrity is, yes, it’s honesty and truthfulness, but it’s also congruence, an authenticity, that we are who we say we are, do what we say that we value, we walk the talk, the say-do ratio is aligned. And then, also, it takes humility and courage to have integrity. Humility, that there are principles that govern, courage to do the right thing when there’s a cost or a consequence, or when no one is looking. And that’s a deeper drive towards excellence.

So, someone could comply, someone else could act on commitment to do the right thing and make judgment calls doing the right thing even when there’s a cost or a consequence, and maybe when there’s degrees of this, where someone could get away, and say, “I was legal,” but maybe the right thing goes above and beyond that. That’s a higher standard, higher expectation of excellence.

And just like how I put competence in the two halves, I put competence in the half of your capabilities, and your results, your track record of performance. I put the character in the two halves – your integrity and your intent. So, the second half of character is your intent, and that is your motive. Do you care? And you mentioned this. Do you care about the people that you’re serving? They know and feel that you care about them. Or, do you not care?

Caring matters in terms of how people feel, in terms of trusting the person. If someone doesn’t think that another person cares about them, they often will tend to withhold the trust, wondering, “Do they really have my best interest at heart?” That’s the motive, caring. The agenda is to seek mutual benefit, that’s win-win. Especially, partners working together, collaborating, in charge of different departments, they just feel like, “Do I feel like you’re truly seeking mutual benefit and trying to do the best for all of us? Or, is it just are you just being self-serving and only acting in your best interest alone, and not really looking at mine? You might not say that but that’s what I feel and experience.”

And if I feel that, that you’re self-serving, I tend to withhold the trust. Or, if you’re only acting in your best interest and not in a shared best interest, I tend to withhold the trust. So, that’s your intent, which is the motive of caring and the agenda of mutual benefit. So, there’s a standard of excellence there for both integrity and intent that you can go much higher than kind of the mere threshold level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Excellent. Thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about sort of the big idea behind the book Trust and Inspire. So, you say there’s trust and inspire, and then there’s command and control. How would you sort of expand upon the differentiation between the two?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, here’s what the data shows, that most organizations today, in spite of all our progress and our management thinking, are still operating in some form of command-and-control style, about nine out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, the data is surprising. And, in some form, now here’s what’s happened though, Pete. They’ve become, it’s a far better version of it. It’s not necessarily the authoritarian command and control of the industrial age that was more accepted but it’s more of what I call an enlightened command and control. It’s more sophisticated. It’s more advanced. It’s a better version. A kinder, gentler version of it. We’ve brought mission into it. We brought emotional intelligence into it. We brought strengths into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychological safety.

Stephen Covey
Yeah, we brought a lot of good things into it but what we haven’t done fully yet is shift the paradigm, the mental map of how we view people, how we view leadership. We’re still trying to, basically, contain people as opposed to unleash them. We’re still trying to control people as opposed to release them. And we don’t see the greatness inside of people. We see it inside of some who we deem high potentials and not inside of others.

So, the idea that everyone has greatness inside, “I’m sure I’m not ready to buy that,” some people might say, or at least their style has not matched that belief. And so, we haven’t shifted the paradigm. We’ve incrementally improved within a limited applied paradigm, mindset. And that will take you so far, and it’s a better version of it.

So, we made a lot of progress but, in spite of all our progress, we still fall short of really shifting the paradigm to a trust-and-inspire approach, where I start with the fundamental belief that people have greatness inside of them. So, my job as a leader is to unleash their potential, not to contain or control them. I start with trust and inspire. I start with the belief that people are whole people. They have a body, heart, mind, spirit. They’re not just economic beings. They’re a whole person.

So, my job as a leader is to inspire, not merely motivate. You see, motivation is extrinsic, carrot-and-stick awards, external. Inspiration is intrinsic, internal. To inspire means to breathe life into someone, into something or someone, and so it’s inside of them. I light the fire within, and that’s a better thing. And when people are seen as whole people, yes, they have a body, they want to be paid; but they have a heart, they want to connect; and they have a mind, they want to contribute and develop, and use their talent.

And they have also a spirit, with the idea of meaning, of purpose, of mattering. That’s the whole person, and that can inspire people instead of just merely motivating them. So, these are some of the beliefs. Also, another belief is that there’s enough for everyone, an abundance mentality. So, my job as a leader is to elevate caring above competing because there’s many organizations in which they’re competing internally all the time with each other because they’re operating on the basis of scarce resources.

And while scarcity might be a sound economic principle, it’s a lousy leadership principle. Abundance mentality is a better way to lead, elevate, care than about competing. Leadership is stewardship. It’s a responsibility, not a right. So, my job as a leader is to put service above self-interest. And another belief is that enduring influence is created from the inside out. So, my job as a leader is to go first. Someone needs to go first. Leaders go first.

So, these are, collectively, a paradigm of a trust-and-inspire leader. They see people and leadership more completely than more of a fragmented narrow view of, partially accurate, but incomplete map of people in their ship. And until that paradigm shifts, we’re going to stay deep in command and control, a better version of it, an enlightened version of it, but we’ve got to shift the paradigm. And we’re so deep in command and control, we’re not even aware of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s actually exactly what I was curious about in terms of like the trust and inspire sounds awesome. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s where I’d like to work, and that’s what I’d imagine leaders would like to believe is the case in their organizations.” So, when you said the data reveal that about nine out of ten companies are still in command and control, not to get too deep into the weeds on the research process, but I got to believe, if you just asked, “Hey, are you more of a command-and-control or more of a trust-and-inspire organization?” they’re like, “Oh, I’m a trust-and-inspire organization.” People would, self-servingly, want to click that and be shifted there. So, how do you make that determination when you are doing the research on that matter?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. Well, again, we’ve come from different sources in different forms, and some of our own research in which we asked, “If you were to assess the predominant leadership style of the organization,” not what they profess but this is people assessing it, what they experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, gotcha.

Stephen Covey
So, it’s not the senior leadership. If you asked the senior leaders, I think it’ll almost be the other way around. Most of them would say exactly what you’re saying, Pete, “Of course, we’re trust and inspire.” But if you ask the people, “How do you describe the management style of leadership?” and you get far more into command and control.

Also, there’s a beautiful study by LRN, a consultancy that focuses heavily on ethics and things like that, a superb firm that looks at these archetypes of what they called blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance, kind of three different archetypes. And, again, almost everyone is in some form of what would be, in my words now, command and control, either the blind obedience or the informed acquiescence, that they move a lot.

There’s a lot more now in informed acquiescence, so it’s a more transactional type of thing versus a blind obedience, but very few that are into self-governance, which is another capture away for this idea of trust and inspire.

And, again, you’ll see a lot of, again, there’s been progress, but we’re so immersed in a command-and-control world, even to this day, that it’s right in our language. You look at span of control, chain of command, rank and file, recruitment. These are all military terms, and command-and-control is a military term. It’s kind of coming from this mindset, and you see it in our systems and structures. Structures tend to be more hierarchical.

Now, there are some shifts again, of course, we’re seeing in traditional hierarchies and the like. You see it in systems of forced rankings, and your high potential is identifying different things, and performance appraisals and reviews. You see it in all kinds of paradigms of bosses and subordinates and all kinds of different things. So, it just shows up in a variety of ways.

I call it fish discover water last. We’re so immersed, we don’t even recognize it, and we see this command and control is so all around us, we’re often not even aware of it. But another thing is this, that we kind of know all this, that command and control doesn’t really work today as well as it maybe did in a different era, and I don’t think it worked that way that great before either. But to know and not to do is not to know.

And so, it’s one thing to say, “Yeah, we’ve got to lead with trust and inspire,” but it’s harder to say than to do it because people have a hard time letting go. They have a hard time truly empowering. They have a hard time truly extending trust, and abundantly extending trust because they’re worried that they’re going to be held accountable, “What if it doesn’t work? Or, what if I’ve been burned before? Or, what if I don’t know how to do this? What if I can’t let go? Or, what if this is who I am? I built my whole career being this kind of leader, and now you’re asking me to change because we’ve got a different mindset of the new generations coming up and the like?”

And so, it can be really a challenge for people. But one last thought is that old paradigms can live on almost indefinitely, like bloodletting, 3,000 years old. Egyptians were doing it, then Romans, and then it went through the Middle Ages, and then as late as in the 1600s, that’s when the people discovered the germ theory, another thing that said, “Bloodletting is bad map. The map is not the territory. Bloodletting is not it,” and yet it continued for another 250 years being the common practice, or at least a common practice, among many, even though it had been disproven 250 years earlier.

So, old paradigms can continue to lead on, and we’re seeing much of that. Command and control is like a native tongue, and trust and inspire is like an acquired tongue. And when the pressure is on, and if I’m hammering, I accidentally hit my thumb with the nail, I’m going to cuss out in my native tongue because that’s just second nature. So, all these factors are just really why we remain somewhat still a little bit trapped in a command-and-control style of leadership, and we need to shift the style.

That’s why I like to use the word style. This is a meta style. And trust and inspire, you said it, Pete, it sounds better. We all like that. We all want to be trust and inspire. It’s like me and my dad. He didn’t hover over and micromanaged me. He trusted me. He inspired me. And it’s aspirational, we all like that. And I’ll bet some of us have had a trust-and-inspire leader in our life, at least one, maybe many. But at least one whether it be a family member, or someone at work, or a mentor, a coach, who believed in us, had confidence in us, extended trust to us, maybe believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.

So, I ask our listeners, when you had someone like that, a trust-and-inspire leader in your life at some point somewhere, whether at work or at home, or in the community, what did that do to you? Did you need to be managed or did you self-govern? And how did you respond to that? Did you need to be motivated with a carrot stick or were you inspired? Did you rise to the occasion? Did you want to prove justified and give it back, and just feel gratitude, and you perform better? So, that’s the idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, you’re right. It does sound awesome if you’re to have that kind of vibe, the trust and inspire, and it does seem, in some ways, almost too good to be true in terms of like a large organization can really work and operate that way without chaos somehow taking over. So, could you give us an inspiring example of a team or an organization that made the leap, they were running in a command-and-control kind of a way, but then they did some specific things such that they are now operating in a trust-and-inspire kind of a way, and it’s worked out okay?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, absolutely. There’s many. Here’s one of them. Microsoft under Satya Nadella. When Satya Nadella got in as CEO, Microsoft had been kind of fading. They’re still huge because they had so much market share but they no longer had the same great culture that people wanted to be a part of. They were starting to lose people quite a bit. They were not innovating and they kind of rested upon their laurels in the past. Not innovating.

A cartoonist in Seattle drew a cartoon of the Microsoft culture in which he depicted silos and pyramids with people from within pointing guns at each other. It was seen as this cutthroat culture that was internally competitive, and the way to get ahead was to take out your fellow Microsoft person there within the company.

I call this the two epic imperatives of our time that we have today. They were not, at the time, winning in the workplace. They did not have a culture that attracted, retained, engaged, and inspired the best people. They were losing too many. And they were also not winning in the marketplace through collaboration and innovation. They’re starting to fade.

In come Satya Nadella, did many things, but among those things, it really was a leadership style. His style was different in kind. He was a trust-and-inspire leader. He modeled, he trusted, and he inspired. Their words for this were model, coach, care, and those were the things they expected of their leaders, and, again, Nadella modeled it.

He modeled humility and courage. He modeled authenticity and vulnerability. He modeled empathy and performance. But, also, this, he adopted a growth mindset, the work of Carol Dweck, not just for him and for their management but for everyone, to see the greatness out of everyone, to have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone.

Because of that growth mindset, they now said, “Let’s trust people. Let’s not manage them. Let’s coach and let’s extend trust.” And you always extend the trust with expectations and accountability so you don’t have that chaos we talked about, or you don’t lose control because you build it in to an agreement and through context and through culture as opposed through more rules or through micromanagement. You can still have control without being controlling.

And they trusted and then they inspired both by caring, which is a big focus for them, and connecting with people through caring at an interpersonal level, and connecting to people at a team level through belonging and inclusion. And that inspires people when they feel like you care about them and they have a sense of belonging. But, also, by connecting to people, by connecting people to purpose and to meaning and to contribution, making a difference, mattering. They did all these things.

Long story short, under him, now they’re really winning in the workplace. They’ve got a high-trust culture that inspires, they’re not perfect, but it’s a cooler place to work than it has been, and they’re winning in the marketplace. They’re collaborating and innovating. They’re a cloud powerhouse. They recreated themselves and they’re innovating again, and their stock price went from, I think when the Dow came in, it was 38, today, it’s about 300, and so dramatic turnaround. They modeled, they trusted, they inspired, led by Satya Nadella and his leadership style.

Here’s another one. Cheryl Bachelder, what she did at Popeyes. A complete turnaround of Popeyes. They’ve had four CEOs in seven years before she came in, they’re just spitting them out. She had advisors say, “Don’t take this job.” There was distrust completely between the franchisees and the home office, and they didn’t trust each other at all. It was contentious.

She comes in. Long story made short, she modeled, she trusted, she inspired even when some people said, “You can’t trust.” She said, “No, we’re going to trust,” and dramatic turnaround. She took their stock price from 11 to 79, doubled their market share from 14% to 27%. They began to innovate, they began to win in the workplace, and they built a high-trust relationship between the franchisees and the home office when it was fractious and contentious before in the old model, and now they also are collaborating and innovating. It was a trust-and-inspire approach to leadership, not a command-and-control. Involvement. Listening.

And Eric Yuan at Zoom is a trust-and-inspire leader but he was that way from the beginning. That was not a turnaround. That was one from the beginning with trust and inspire. So, examples are everywhere. You can become a trust-and-inspire leader in a command-and-control company, so you don’t have to wait for the CEO. You can do this. You can lead out with this.

But I’ll give you one distinction on this, that this is the one piece I wanted to add to it. Command and control, the idea’s that you manage people and things. Trust and inspire, you manage things and you lead people. See, we need great management. I’m not against management. We need management. We need great management. Management of things. And things include systems and processes and structures and technologies and inventories and financials. You manage things but you lead people.

The moment we start to manage people as if they were things, we’ll end up losing a lot of those people. They’ll go elsewhere because we’re trying to be efficient with people. You can be efficient with things but not with people. Be efficient with things, effective with people. Manage things. Lead people. The danger is we get really good at management and we’re starting to manage people as if they were things. That’s kind of the mindset of command and control, they treat it that way. Even the name managing people, the very wording, the language is a command-and-control mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like people don’t think, “I want to be managed. Like, that sounds great.” I guess we want, even I who, I’m self-employed, at times I would like a great manager, but I guess what I really mean is a leader in terms of someone who really sees what I’m doing well and not so well, and giving me kind, honest, enriching feedback that pushes me to greatness. But, yeah, that doesn’t feel like management per se.

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I like to put it this way, Pete. People don’t want to be managed; they want to be led. They want to be trusted. They want to be inspired. So, again, you can call them your manager if that’s what they’re called but they manage things, lead people, and people respond to that. They still want their help. So, maybe the one piece on this that maybe for our listeners that they might think, “Well, this trust and inspire sounds good but I feel like I’m going to lose control, or it may not be as strong enough for our world and such.”

I want to distinguish and say this. Trust and inspire is not the opposite of command and control. The opposite of command and control is advocate and abandon. Command and control is kind of like excessively hands on, really hands on. Advocate and abandon is like completely hands off to where I’m not even directing, I’m not leading anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Do what you want. I’m out of here.”

Stephen Covey
Yeah, “Do what you want.” Like, a holacracy or just no structure, no vision, no expectations, no accountability. That’s not what we want. That’s not going to work. Trust and inspire is a third alternative that includes trusting and inspiring people but also builds in the control into an agreement, into context, into the culture.

Like, at Netflix, they call it freedom and responsibility. They don’t have policies on most things – vacation policies, sick days, all these things. They trust their people. They call it freedom but it’s not a wild loose freedom. It’s freedom and responsibility. It’s a third alternative. They build the control in through context not through controls like most organizations have that say, “We’ve got to control people with systems and structures.” They do it through context, through agreements, through responsibility that goes along with the freedom, through a culture that does that. So, that’s the idea.

And so, trust and inspire is a third alternative. My dad, with me, on green and clean, he actually had built in accountability. He was still holding me accountable but I was holding myself accountable through the agreement we had created together. So, the point is you can be in charge and have control without being controlling. You can be strong without being forceful. You can be compelling without being compulsory.

A trust-and-inspire leader can be authoritative without being authoritarian. They can be decisive without being autocratic. So, the point is, this is strong. This is not weak, kind of like, “Yeah, maybe for a few things but you don’t know my industry. We’re a command-and-control industry with heavy regulation and compliance.” You can still be trust and inspire in these contexts because it’s not weak; it’s strong. It just does it through different means.

It involves people. It creates agreements. It creates contexts versus rules, regulations, policies, procedures, controls. And that’s kind of the big breakthrough. This is a third alternative that is very strong.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephen, if folks are like, “Yes, I want that,” and they’re either an individual contributor or they’ve got a small team, what do you recommend as some of the very first steps to getting some of that trust-and-inspire goodness flowing?

Stephen Covey
Yeah. I’d go back to start with your paradigm, how you see people, how you view leadership. Look at those fundamental beliefs. You see greatness inside of people? And if you do, then are you working to unleash that greatness not contain or control it? Most people feel like they have a lot more they can give to their organization than they’re allowed to give. They had a lot more creativity and talent and ability to influence things than they’re allowed to give, and, yet, people are under greater stress to do more with less, and there’s this gap there because we’ve not unleashed our people well enough.

So, start with that, the paradigm. See the potential, communicate the potential to people so they can come to see it in themselves. Develop the potential, grow people, develop capabilities, and this is a big part of what you’re doing with this podcast, is, “What do I need to work on? What do I need to do? What do I need to know? What skills do I need to develop?” Give those people those chances. Develop them and give them opportunities. And part of that includes trusting them so they have an opportunity to learn and even to make a mistake and to fall short like I did on green and clean.

So, you develop the potential and then you unleash it, you tie it to what you’re trying to accomplish and achieve so they can use what they have for the betterment of the mission, the purpose, the organization. And so, I call that see, communicate, develop, unleash the potential that’s inside of people, and you see the greatness. And so, your job, you’re like a gardener trying to cultivate the right conditions for the seed to flourish.

The power, the life is in the seed, it’s in the people. You’re trying to create the conditions for the seed to emerge, to be cultivated, versus a mechanic where it’s all mechanistic. No, it’s organic. You’re a gardener.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you.

Stephen Covey
That’d be the first thing. Start with the paradigm. Have a growth mindset not just for yourself but for everyone on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s hear about a couple of your favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Stephen Covey
This is kind of a mantra that’s in the form of a quote that I learned from my father, and it’s what I’ve adopted for myself, and that is simply this, “Seek to bless, not to impress.” It’s a whole approach of how to work with people and add value to others. So, I do this any time before I give a speech, Pete, as I go into an organization. I come back to, “What’s my motive here? Am I trying to impress people with who I am or am I trying to bless, to serve to make a difference, to add value?”

And if I find that I’m in my head and focused on, “I sure hope I can impress them and dazzle them with a great speech or be seen as really smart,” then I’m putting self-interest above service, and I’m putting my head above heart and not reaching people. But, instead, if my motive is one of caring, and my motive is one of serving, and my motive was one of blessing, not impressing, so I’m really focused on them and helping them succeed, not me looking good, then I find I actually do a better job.

It’s just a simple phrase that I constantly check with myself. And I had to course correct all the time because it’s natural to want to impress but a better way to impress is to focus on blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, hey, I think we feel blessed and impressed with this conversation, so one makes the other happen.

Stephen Covey
Oh, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Stephen Covey
Well, I’m biased, I love my father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m in there as green and clean. And I liked how Jim Collins said it about that book, that what the browser did for…it became the user interface that made the internet accessible, because the internet had been around since 1969 or something like that but it was not accessible, it was not usable except for extreme scientist types, but the browser made it accessible.

He describes The 7 Habits, Jim Collins did, as the user interface for human effectiveness. It made it accessible. And it was that for me, and I think it’s that for many others. So, my dad brought together the ideas and languaged it and sequenced it to make it accessible, practical, tangible. And so, that’s, I think, a big contribution. That’s why it’s maybe my favorite book.

I like my own, too, but I’ll let you talk about Trust and Inspire not me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And is there a particular nugget that you have coined or shared with audiences or your books that gets lots of Kindle book highlights or re-tweets; it’s the Stephen M. R. Covey quote that you’re extra famous for?

Stephen Covey
Yeah, there’s a few. One is that “The first job of a leader is to inspire trust. And the second job is to extend trust.” That’s what leadership is – inspiring trust, extending trust. Another one is, “Treat people according to their potential rather than their behavior.” So, you’re aware of their behavior and informed by it but if you treat them according to their potential, they tend to live up to it far better.

And, finally, one last one, that while we tend to judge others on their behavior, we tend to judge ourselves on our intent. What if we could know another’s intent? I think we’d see them and judge them differently. So, those are a few quotes or expressions that people repeat.

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

Stephen Covey
You can go to TrustandInspire.com. We’ve got a website for this book, Trust and Inspire. You can get the book. It’s available on bookstores everywhere and, obviously, online through Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com. And then you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, I’m @StephenMRCovey. I’d love for you to follow me and dive deeper into what I’m calling the new way to lead in a new world.

A new world of work requires a new way to lead – trust and inspire. It’s aspirational, it’s what we want. You said it, I agree. It’s what we want when we’ve experienced it. It’s hard to not feel gratitude toward that and want that. So, my challenge for our listener, I’ll go full circle on this, is I ask the listener to think about maybe someone in your life who was a trust-and-inspire leader for you and what that did to you. So, I’m going to do a 180 on this and say for whom, listener, could you become a trust-and-inspire person? Who could you become that person that would look at you and say, “Pete trusted and inspired me, and here’s what it did to me”?

So, we’ve maybe had someone that’s done it for us. What if we could do it for another? And if you can do it for one, you can do it for many. This is a better way to lead in a new world of work. I think trust and inspire is part of the solution to the future of work. It’s not enough to just deal with the structure and the methodology. It’s the mindset. It’s the style of leadership. And don’t let your style get in the way of your intent.

I think most people’s intent is trust and inspire. I think most of our style, much of our style still falls in command and control. Our style is getting in the way of our intent. And we can change that, we can re-script ourselves, we can learn the skills to lead in a way where we’re very trusting, while also building in control into the trust, into the agreement that we’re building. It’s having control, not being controlling, and that’s possible. We can get good at this.

So, I hope our listeners will find that, the tools, the resources, the book Trust and Inspire to be helpful. I love the subtitle because the subtitle tells it all, which is, “How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others.” This is a book about people and about leadership. Whatever your role, you can apply it as a parent because you want to see the greatness in your children; or as an aunt, or uncle, or grandparent, or godparent. You could apply it as a friend in the community. It’s about unleashing the greatness inside of others. That’s what great leaders do. Trust and inspire.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stephen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for all you do and for your trust and inspiration. And keep on rocking.

Stephen Covey
Well, thank you, Pete. I feel the same about you. You’re a trust-and-inspire podcaster that’s really trying to focus on helping your listeners succeed, become truly awesome at their job because they know what to do, and you’re helping them succeed. So, commend you and commend what you’re doing here. Wish you every success and also all of our listeners.

761: How to Shape Great Work Relationships Through Honor and Ritual with Erica Keswin

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Erica Keswin reveals how you can shape your workplace to be both good for people and great for business.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The do’s and don’ts of honoring relationships 
  2. Three components of rituals that bring teams together
  3. How you can make connections, even when working remotely  

About Erica

Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and workplace strategist. She helps top businesses, organizations, and individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context, always with an eye toward high-tech for human touch. She was named one of Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Coaches in 2020, as well as one of Business Insider’s most innovative coaches of 2020.

Her first book, Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World was published in 2018 by McGraw Hill. Her second book, Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic was published by McGraw Hill in January, 2021. Both books debuted as Wall Street Journal bestsellers. 

Resources Mentioned

Erica Keswin Interview Transcript

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

Erica Keswin
Thanks so much. Great to see you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too. Well, I’m excited to hear about Bring Your Human to Work but, first, I got to hear the story behind The Spaghetti Project. Can you tell us the tale?

Erica Keswin
I can. So, when I was doing research for Bring Your Human to Work and my second book, which is about rituals, I came across a study out of Cornell University that was done by a guy named Kevin Kniffin. And Kevin was looking at and studying team performance, what makes one team higher-performing than another. And his dad was a firefighter, and so he decided, “I’m going to study the firefighters in the firehouses.”

Long story short, what he found was that the firefighters who are the most dedicated to the ritual of the firehouse meal and sitting around the table, connecting as humans, it actually correlated with higher levels of performance, and those firefighters saved more lives. So, sort of a goosebump moment for me and my work.

To your question about The Spaghetti Project, when you think about firefighters, and I visited many firehouses and interviewed a lot of firefighters, their stereotypical go-to meal is spaghetti.

Pete Mockaitis
With meat sauce, I’m guessing.

Erica Keswin
The spaghetti meat sauce, spaghetti and plain tomato sauce. It’s just pretty much what’s easy to cook in that firehouse. So, therein came in the name The Spaghetti Project, which is a platform that shares the science and stories of connection at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. And so, now I’m intrigued. The firefighters who were most dedicated to the firehouse meal had the highest performance. And, wow, performance of saving lives, that’s huge. We’re not talking about selling stuff. So, part of me wonders, so causation, correlation, that’s always tricky to disentangle. Do we think that’s because they are the ones who are more committed, in general, to like “What we’re all about in each other,” and, thusly, those who choose to have that meal make that a priority, also care more in the line of duty? Or, do you think there’s another sort of chain of connection here?

Erica Keswin
Yeah, I do. So, when people are sitting around the table and bringing their whole selves, kind of shooting the breeze, more times than not, you start connecting with people on a personal level. So, let me give an example. I interviewed a firefighter that shared that he was at one of the meals with a colleague, and the guy shared that he was actually, when he grew up, afraid of heights.

Now, you wouldn’t really think that for a firefighter, that here’s this guy, Dominick, who’s afraid of heights. So, they’re just like shooting the breeze, like two people, no judgment, having their spaghetti. And four hours later, the fire alarm goes off and they go out to fight a fire. And the person overseeing the group and figuring out who goes where, now has this information in the back of his head, thinking, “Okay, you know what? Maybe I won’t put Dominick on the highest ladder as we go to fight this fire.”

So, the more that you know about people that you’re working with, the better that you can give them a sense of empathy around what’s going on with them. Take it to a present-day example. You may be really frustrated with a colleague who’s not returning your calls or not doing the level of work you think he or she should be doing. You, then, come to find out that a parent was dying, that somebody sick, someone had COVID, and you just have a different level of understanding and a way to work with them.

And so, the idea is it’s around bringing your human to work. And that meal, and you can even think about meals in terms of the role in our culture in bringing people together.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. Thank you. And so then, we talk about bringing your human to work, can you share with us – I think we’ve already got a taste – but sort of what would you say is the core thesis statement here of the work?

Erica Keswin
So, people ask me what it means to bring their human to work, and let’s say I boil it down to one line, which is honoring relationships. How do you honor relationships with your colleagues, with your boss, with your direct reports, with your clients, your customers, and even honoring that relationship with yourself?

And the premise of the book, I’ve been in the human capital space for 25 years, and so I’m sort of used to people either saying, “Direct leads to me,” or maybe, “Behind my back,” that some of this stuff is the soft stuff. And so, I would venture to say it’s actually the hard stuff and some of the really important stuff. And so, the premise of the book is why bringing your human to work and creating a more human workplace is not only good for people but it’s great for business and really does impact the bottom line.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that seems sensible and, like, that sounds true to me in my gut, although I am a feeler, I’m a Myers-Briggs.

Erica Keswin
Yeah, me, too.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I like that kind of thing. For the skeptic, could you share some of the most hard-hitting bits of research or evidence that says, “No, no, this is for real and not just stuff that Pete and Erica like because they’re feelers”?

Erica Keswin
Yeah. Well, first, I’d send them back to think about the firefighters. You can’t get any more hard data than that, than actually saving lives. There are many studies in the book. A couple that jumps out, one that found that when you have that high level of trust with your boss, that you can be who you are at work, collaboration goes up by as much as 47%, productivity goes up by 50%. So, the numbers are real.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, productivity going up 50%, again, I’m curious about the mechanisms underlying that. Part of me thinks it’s just like you’re not sort of worrying, and CYA, watching your back, like really politically massaging every sentence to make sure you’re not offending people because you just sort of have a good sort of trust and caring connection going. But what are some of the other ways that that 50% productivity bump get realized?

Erica Keswin
Right. Look, that’s a piece of it. I remember I started my career in management consulting, and those were the days, very junior, sitting in the conference room, having late-night pizza, and just really, really getting to know people to the point where you can finish their sentences, and you just work better together because you know how people work. And so, sometimes it’s as basic as that, setting the whole trust thing, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, in terms of knowing, like, “Oh, boy, you really hate that stuff, so I’m not going to ask you to do it. I’m going to ask somebody else. And, in so doing, we’ve got more energy and strength, focus, and all that kind of goodness.” Okay. I think when it comes to dishonoring relationships, relatively few of your colleagues are sociopaths, like, in terms of wanting to, like actively wanting to harm others. I guess there’s a thumb.

But I think, at the same time, it’s quite possible that we dishonor relationships, maybe without even being aware of it, just by not having as much attention brought to it. What are some key don’ts, I guess, when it comes to honoring relationships?

Erica Keswin
Look, nine out of ten people leave their boss, not the company per se. And so, that relationship really does make a difference. It is that direct manager that’s going to impact your day-to-day, “Should I stay or should I go?” And we talk about bottom line implications, and I’ll get to the do’s and don’ts in a second, but, again, we think about the data. Turnover is expensive, and we’re sitting here doing this interview today in the midst of this Great Resignation, that if you do lose people that you don’t want to lose, it is really hard right now to replace them. So, those are some pretty strong numbers in and of itself.

In terms of do’s and don’ts, I think a lot of it, when I think of honoring relationships, it’s pretty straightforward. You don’t want to be the kind of manager where it’s, “It’s my way or the highway.” And what I tell leaders, if you’re not sure and it’s different, the behaviors that you want to see other than the ones we learned in the kindergarten kind of like the basics that we probably don’t need to go into on a podcast like this.

But in terms of specifics of what to do, I often turn to the values of a company. And I have a litmus test called the fork in the road, “Should I take a left? Should I take a right? Should I hire this person? Should I fire this person because he or she is a sociopath?” to your point. “Should I launch a new product? Should I do this deal? Should I fire this client?” I look at that through the lens of a company’s values. And, quite frankly, if the values aren’t helping to drive those decisions, either there’s way too many values, 10, 12, 14 values.

A great example of a company that had too many values, back in the day, was Uber in the beginning when Travis was the CEO. They had 14 values, and the values motivated the wrong behaviors, like crush people like bugs, that kind of thing. And so, you might have too many or they might be the wrong ones. And it’s the strategy and the mission and the vision highlight what you need to do, and the values are really the behaviors and get to the how, and aligning that gets back to this idea of what it means to honor relationships in a specific organization because it’s going to be different everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we zoom into some particular applications of this? So, in the firehouse, spaghetti meals, that’s awesome. Inside other workplaces where folks are often home before dinnertime, what are some excellent cool examples of places you’ve found where there are some great relationship-honoring and connection that’s going a long way?

Erica Keswin
So, the way that I mapped out my book about rituals, I mean, rituals are an amazing tool, amazing way to bring people together to have that connection. And some of the best examples that I’ve seen cut across all different aspects of the employee life cycle. So, there’s examples in onboarding. You only get one chance to make the first impression, so what better way to start that connection early and often than literally the first day or even when you get your offer letter.

Professional development, celebrating milestones in meetings is a great way. So, I looked at, and have examples that I’ll share with you in all of these different ways. One really fun one that I write about is from the company Allbirds, the cool felt sneaker company. And they have a ritual in their organization called 40 at 4.

And it came about very organically where there was a very early-on employee who was probably working too much at Allbirds as a startup at the time, and decided to go to the doctor and said, “You know, I’m really not feeling great from a health perspective. I’m going to set some goals for myself and do X amounts of pushups between now and the end of the year.”

He took that number and he divided it by how many days were left in the year, and he came up with the number 40. And so, he said, “All right, if I do 40 pushups a day for the rest of the year, I’ll meet my goal.” So, what does he do? He starts doing them in the office. A guy next to him joins, the woman across the hall joins. The next thing they know, everybody and their brother is either doing pushups at 4:00 o’clock, watching the pushups, talking about the pushups.

And I see it as like the healthy version of a smoke break. And even during the pandemic, I was able to reach back out with them because many people were really missing those company rituals. The way that they came together to connect with each other and honor relationships was gone, and they said, “Yeah, how do you know it’s a ritual?” Really, it’s sticky and people miss it.

And so, during the pandemic, they would rotate and somebody would volunteer to lead the pushups. Again, yes, it feels soft, it sounds soft, touchy-feely, but it’s these things that people come together and remind them, A, why they like the people they work with, B, why they do what they do every day. At least in 2022, we’re still human and not a bunch of robots running around, so these things do impact people.

Pete Mockaitis
For now, Erica.

Erica Keswin
For now. You never know, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful, that ritual, and that does…as I’m thinking about to back to some of my workplaces and rituals, they just feel so good in terms of, boy, it’s almost like there’s a primal human tribe thing going on, like, “This is us and who we are and what we belong to and what we do.” And it can be doing 40 pushups at 4:00 p.m., it could be changing the lyrics to songs and singing dorky versions about your workplace at the annual meeting.

Erica Keswin
Right, it could be anything. And let me share this, so I would talk to companies about what a ritual is and the ROI of rituals, and some people still wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate what the ritual is. So, I came up with this, I call it somewhat magic question now that every time I ask it, the person was like, “I got it. That’s my ritual.”

So, the question is, and I asked this at Chipotle, LinkedIn, Microsoft, all these different companies, and I said it to, for example, Marissa Andrada, who’s the head of HR at Chipotle, “Okay, Marissa, when do you think employees at Chipotle feel most Chipotle-ish?” Very high tech. Very high tech, right? But framing it that way, Marissa said, “I got it. Every day at Chipotle at 10:15,” by the way, I don’t know if you’re a Chipotle fan, but my kids eat it all the time, I like it, too, actually.

Pete Mockaitis
I ate it today.

Erica Keswin
Oh, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
My napkins prove it.

Erica Keswin
Oh, my God. You’re right. You did eat it today. So, they open at…maybe you know this, I didn’t know this. Chipotle opens at 10:30 a.m. so I guess there are many people eating burritos at 10:30 in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done it before.

Erica Keswin
Okay. So, you’re perfect for this example. So, every day at 10:15, before those doors answer, and before Pete comes through the door, they all sit down, all the people that have been working there since 6:30 in the morning, chopping up the lettuce, making the guacamole, they all sit down and have a meal together. And that is when they feel most Chipotle-ish.

Other people said to me at the company KIND bar, Daniel Lubetzky, founder, former CEO and now executive chairman. He said people feel most KIND-ish, or KINDly, when, during their orientation, their onboarding process, every new hire, once a quarter, meets with Daniel. Even now that he’s not even with the company, he still meets with them and talks about the history of the company and the genesis and why it’s called KIND, and how his father was in the Holocaust and was saved by someone, and how that person showed kindness to his dad, that drove the mission of the company.

And so, rituals, you kind of said it yourself, it gives this feeling of this sort of primal “This is us coming together,” and that’s when you know it’s a ritual. It’s that it sticks and you don’t force people to do it. Like, it just organically happens and makes people feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing because I could see how you could try to force that and it would just be weird, like if you don’t like that.

Erica Keswin
Yeah, like if you have to force it, you need to move on. I tell people not to get their ego wrapped up in some of these rituals. Like, somebody might be listening to this and say, “Okay, we’re going to start doing pushups just like Allbirds at 4:00 o’clock,” and people might think, “Are you out of your mind?” And it might stick but rituals can come from the top-down, the bottom-up, inside-out, really from anywhere, so if something doesn’t stick, I just urge people to think about feel like changing it, get feedback, ask your team for ideas.

And, oftentimes, the rituals that are the most sticky are the ones that are connected, again, to values or even things that you’ve done before. And that’s why, many times, it’s an individual contributor, just like the example in Allbirds, that came up with the ritual to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to not forcing, it seems like, sometimes just the invitation will do, like, “Hey, I’m going to start doing these pushups and you’re welcome to join me if you like,” and then some will, some won’t.

I think what’s also interesting about the pushup is that it’s just a little bit, I don’t know, weird or I guess counter-cultural, or like you don’t tend to go into workplaces and see people doing pushups, like, “Whoa, what’s going on here? That’s a little different.” And in so doing, I think that might give you a little more juice.

I’m thinking about my work with HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, seminar for high school folks doing leadership development stuff. And so, there’s a bunch of like cheering going on, which is a little bit like camp, and so it’s not that unique because camps have been doing it forever. But, in so doing, there are the HOBY cheers, and HOBY people know the HOBY cheers, and then HOBY people can just sort of vibe in that way. And in doing them together, you really do get this crazy bond formed in like three days amongst you.

And I think that if we were doing something very ordinary, like, “Oh, we’re brushing our teeth. Okay, well, that’s what everybody does every day, generally speaking, so it doesn’t have as much oomph.” Are there some, maybe, ingredients or components or principles that make a ritual a ritual?

Erica Keswin
Yes. So, first, let me share my…and it’s interesting. I’ll talk about how brushing your teeth could be a ritual, may not be a ritual, but could be a ritual. So, a ritual has three component parts. The first is a ritual is something to which we assign a certain amount of meaning and intention, sort of number one. Number two, a ritual typically has a regular cadence. So, for example, 40 at 4, 40 pushups every day could be once a week, it could be once a month, it could be once a year.

The third part though is really interesting. A ritual is something that goes beyond its practical purpose. And so, what do I mean by that? I’m sitting here in my home office and, let’s say, the lights go out. And if I decide to light a candle so I can see what on earth I’m doing, that’s not a ritual. But if I light a candle every day, or every Friday, let’s say, at 6:00 o’clock, to signify the end of the workday and the workweek and the beginning of the weekend, I’m lighting that candle because it means something to me and there’s a regular cadence, but I’m not doing it for any real practical purpose. And so, that’s the definition.

So, when you think about having a cup of coffee in the morning, maybe your purpose is the caffeine, but it’s almost something…I also think of it as sort of back-of-brain to front-of-brain. Like, you might have a habit, you just might have a cup of coffee every day, but if you make something like that a ritual where you sit down, take a few deep breaths, connect with yourself, there’s nothing practical about it but it’s something that’s meaningful to you.

And so, in the example of the pushups, yeah, the one guy was trying to meet his goal of doing those pushups but, half the time at Allbirds, people were kind of joking around, sitting there watching, and so there wasn’t this practical purpose but it felt good and something drew them into doing it. So, that’s sort of my working definition.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these examples are so fun, Erica. Just keep them coming. What else have we got?

Erica Keswin
Oh, my gosh. There are so many. There’s a whole book on them. Let’s see. One of my other favorite rituals in the book is a company called Udemy, the online learning company. And one of the things that I have been thinking about a lot, both from the standpoint of a manager but also as an individual contributor, that professional development, people want to learn on the job, up, down, and sideways.

And I’ve been in the human capital space for 25 years, and gone are the days of all the rungs in the ladder of used to be able to get promoted every year. Now, we need to get creative about how people grow on the job. So, actually, I just wrote an article, which I’ll send you, if you send out show notes for your podcasts. But Jeannie Weaver at AT&T has a book club, and that has become a ritual for her and her team, and also something that is easy to do when some people are in the office and some people are remote.

The company Udemy has a ritual around professional development called DEAL, drop everything and learn. So, once a month, on a Wednesday at 3:00 o’clock, everybody kind of drops what they’re doing and takes a class in something. And, again, what I love about it is it may have nothing to do with your day job. So, in that definition of no practical purpose, it’s not that I’m sitting there, “How to improve a podcast,” “How to do an Excel spreadsheet.” There are people that shared with me that in November, during the Wednesday in November, they took a class on how to make a turkey.

And what they do is the team manager will bring everybody together and they can take anything they want. The only thing you have to do is share what you learned that month. So, again, it’s another way to connect, another way to bring people together in a way that might seem touchy-feely for the Myers-Briggs feelers in the audience, however, you’re learning more about each other.

And from a leadership perspective, you have some great employee who’s on the subway and runs, meets somebody, and they’re like, “Hey, why don’t you come work at my company?” you might think twice because you actually have friends at work and people that you know at work who kind of know you and know that you know how to bake a turkey.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that is fun in that not only are you learning but then you’re learning what other people learned, which is connecting, like, “Oh, you’re interested in cooking turkeys. Now, I know that about you.” And I guess with Udemy, it’s also a bonus in that if they’re learning the Udemy courses, then they gain some exposure to the platform and the product and may gain some insights, like, “Huh, this course isn’t that good, so maybe we need to update it,” or whatever. Okay. Cool. So, I love it. Let’s have another one.

Erica Keswin
I think there are, again, when you think about that employee life cycle, like let’s talk about meetings because a lot of meetings suck. So, you can think about rituals as a way to connect people. Now, here’s something. Beginnings and endings are what I call prime rituals real estate.

So, beginnings and ending of a meeting, the beginning and ending of a project, pretty much the beginning and ending of anything. So, Eileen Fisher, for example, the clothing company, they ring a chime before every meeting. And so, what that does is it just settles people. It gives them this feeling of, “You know what, we’re going to be at this meeting. I’m going to take everything that had been going on, all the chaos in the outside world, try to get rid of it, and come in and focus on what I need to focus on.”

During the pandemic, and even now we’re still in the pandemic, really, there is the importance of checking in, like that became a ritual. And what was interesting was, in 2020, probably for a whole year, sometimes there were meetings where 16 minutes of a 60-minute meeting were spent checking in. And then a year later, maybe 30 minutes of a 30-minute meeting. And at some point, like we needed to also do work in these meetings.

So, people will say to me, “So, what’s a way to have a ritual in a meeting that helps you connect but we can’t do this all day?” So, a couple of examples there, one CEO shared they have something, they have people say either red light, green light, yellow light, and they just kind of share how they are feeling that day. And what that does, the goal is not to solve it in that moment, but if you’re the team leader and Pete says red light, later that day, you can call him up and say, “All right, what’s going on? How can we support you as a company, as a leader?”

So, again, sometimes very little things. And one last one that I’ll share, a colleague from Microsoft has a cool ritual. She changed jobs in the pandemic and really didn’t know her team that well, so every week at her team meeting, a different person shares their origin story, which I sort of loved the way that’s phrased. You can go in any direction with that but learning somebody’s origin story, like stuff that you would never know about them, again, it kind of takes you back to where our conversation started with the firefighters and how to really get to know people in a human way.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like and I was going to ask about the remote work piece there. Any pro tips, do’s and don’ts when it comes to thinking about things remotely? I don’t know if there’s any tricks or software, tools, that you really think are nifty when it comes to some of this connection remotely?

Erica Keswin
Yeah, you’ve got to be even more intentional. It’s hard and you need to have protocols on how this should work. So, it could be something as…none of it is easy but something like, for example, every time somebody…let’s say you’re going to go around and people are going to share where they’re green, red, or yellow. One leader shared that everybody goes around and shares a one-word adjective that describes how they’re showing up that day. Rotate. “So, Pete is in the office, you go. Erica, she’s remote, let’s switch off, every person, so that we’re all engaging in the same way.”

Some people will say, “You know what, for all the remote people, we’re going to have one person that’s in the room be the point of contact that if there’s any issues with the technology or anything going on, that there is one person that kind of has their phone out and knows that they’re going to be contacted if there are any issues.”

And building in time for people to chit-chat a little bit over the proverbial watercooler. Having protocols around technology and really reminding people, “You know what, this meeting, we expect our cameras to be on,” which, by the way, I think that’s important but I don’t think they need to be or should be on in every meeting because Zoom fatigue is real.

And so, it’s just being as explicit as you can to manage expectations and to create an environment that’s as welcoming and as inclusive as you can.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I guess I’m also thinking about how not to do this because I think sometimes if folks think connection, they think, “Okay, we’ve got team building retreats, we’ve got trust falls, we’ve got ropes courses,” and I’ve had some good experiences with ropes courses myself but some people, they’re not a fan. So, how would you think about, when we say, “Okay, hey, connections are cool, rituals are cool. We want to do more of that. We’re excited”, what should we avoid doing as we’re getting some of this flowing?

Erica Keswin
So, I love that question because when I was writing the book and I asked people, “So, when do you feel most Chipotle-ish?” or fill in the blank-ish. What I was going to say next did not happen at Chipotle, for the record, but did happen in some other places. And the person I was talking to, all of a sudden, would look, get a little pale, and be like, “Ooh, God, I don’t know if I want to answer that question.” I’d say, “Why? What’s going on?” And they would say, “Well, now that you asked it that way, I feel like every time we come together and bond or do our ropes courses or whatever it is we do, we always do it over happy hour. We always do it when people are drinking, and that’s not going to work for everybody.”

And I had somebody come up to me afterwards, I had a talk one time, and said, “I just got out of rehab and this makes me feel really uncomfortable.” I had another company, when I asked them that question, “When do people feel most connected?” they realized that everything they do is either at night or maybe on a weekend when they were doing this bonding, and what about people that are taking care of elderly parents or need to pick up a kid from daycare? So, I do urge people to think about all the different ways that you connect through the lens of inclusivity.

And, again, it goes back to getting feedback from people around what’s working and not working. I am not anti-happy hour but it shouldn’t be the only way you come together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense. And, likewise, just in terms of including folks, it could mean a number of things, like, “Hey, ropes course don’t work for this person because they have an injury of sorts or disability of sorts,” and so that won’t work, or they got the rehab with the alcohol, or just sort of the timing schedule.

Erica Keswin
Anything, yeah. Right. There’s a lot of different ways that something is not going to be inclusive. I like it when companies will also think about creating like a culture committee and get people to…LinkedIn does a great job of this. It’s a real honor and professional development opportunity to even be in the room to think about all of these different ways for people to connect and they rotate it. And so, you do, you want to get different people weighing in on these issues.

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

Erica Keswin
No, I think we got a lot of rituals in there, so it’s great.

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

Erica Keswin
One of my favorite quotes is a Louis Pasteur quote, which is, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” And, for me, I don’t like to leave things for chance. I’m a planner and I feel like I just like to live that quote, that “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Erica Keswin
Well, since we’ve been talking about rituals for most, so I’ll share one of those. So, there was a study done, I call it the “Don’t Stop Believin’” study. Just my own name. I’ve made it up. A study out of Harvard was looking at two groups of people. They both went into a room. The first group went into the room and was told that they were going to have to sing karaoke to a bunch of strangers, and were told to go sit down and wait.

The second group was told that they were going to have to sing karaoke to a group of strangers but, while they were waiting, they were told to…they were given a piece of paper, and they were told to write down how they were feeling about what they were going to have to do. They were told to crumple up the piece of paper, sprinkle some salts on it, and throw the paper over their shoulder. And, again, the other group is just sitting in the room waiting.

And what the study looked at is both groups got up and sang their karaoke, and the study was looking at which one had higher performance, and that was measured by people being able to read the words on the screen for karaoke, number one. And, number two, when you are told, out of the blue, that you’re going to have to do something like that, sing karaoke, everybody’s heart rates spiked, went through the roof, which mine would, for sure.

But there was one group that was able to bring their heart rates down much more quickly, and that correlated with who was better to actually sing more accurately. And out of the two groups, I’ll ask you, which group do you think was able to bring their heart rate down more quickly?

Pete Mockaitis
The ones who are good at singing already?

Erica Keswin
No, the group that was given a ritual. The group that was asked not to just sit there. The group that was asked to actually write down how they were feeling, crumple up the paper, putting the salt on it, throwing the paper over their shoulder. And so, being connected, again, there’s no practical purpose for any of that, but being connected to something outside of themselves, it actually lowered their heart rates and they were able to perform better. And the reason why I call it the “Don’t Stop Believin’” study is that the song that they had to sing to the audience was the most downloaded song in iTunes history, which is “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Erica Keswin
Let’s see. Lately, I’ve been trying to read more fiction because I feel like I never had time to read fiction. I just read a great book called American Dirt, which I highly recommend.

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

Erica Keswin
Is an Oura Ring a tool where I track my sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Uh-huh.

Erica Keswin
I knew you’d be very jealous to know that I get a lot of 94s, 96s.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Erica Keswin
I’m like Fitbit people are very jealous.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m such a nut. I’ve got the Fitbit and the Oura Ring at the same time. I’m excited that the Oura Ring is going to be updating their sleep algorithm shortly to have even superior accuracy. And I will admit to refreshing their webpage more than once to see if it’s out yet. It’s not yet as of April 5th, 2022, but, anyway. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Erica Keswin
It’s my coffee ritual where I get a cup of coffee in the morning. Back in the day, I would sit there and have my coffee and do my to-do list and crank through my work, until one day, I realized that the coffee was gone and I hadn’t even tasted it, which kind of bummed me out because I’m really one-cup-a-day kind of girl, and at Starbucks it’s not cheap.

And that then went from becoming a habit to what is now my morning ritual where I sit and, instead of just working away through my morning coffee, I sit there and put the coffee and feel the heat from the mug in my hands, take a few deep breaths. Rituals are very associated with our senses. And so, that is what I do and it helps me start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; you hear folks quoting it back to you?

Erica Keswin
Yes. I would say the soft stuff is really the hard stuff and the most important stuff.

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

Erica Keswin
To my website, EricaKeswin.com. It has my books and a lot of articles I’ve written, podcasts that I’ve been on, and you could check out my Instagram which is just my name. LinkedIn is always a great spot as well.

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

Erica Keswin
I would say everything that we’ve spoken today about rituals at work ring true for rituals in your personal lives. And these days, to be awesome at your job, you also need to take care of yourself and put the proverbial oxygen mask on yourself and really focus on wellness because there’s a tremendous amount of burnout right now.

And so, I guess I would challenge you, and a great place to start is to ask yourself, “What do you do in your life that makes you feel most like you?” And that’s a great place to start to incorporate some of your own rituals into your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Erica, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your connection and rituals and fun.

Erica Keswin
Thank you so much. Great to meet you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you, too.