Can you live happier and be a better leader? According to Tal Ben-Shahar, co-author of The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact (and Make You Happier) in a Challenging World, happiness is the key to successful leadership–but just pursuing it isn’t going to get you there. Discover the SHARP model for a happier life, an easy way to beat procrastination, and the number one factor in predicting well-being.
- Here’s how you can beat #procrastination with just 30 seconds of #motivation
- What philosophy got wrong and religion got right on this week’s #leadership #podcast
Website: The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact
Bio: Tal Ben-Shahar is an author and lecturer. He taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University’s history, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. Today, Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multi-national corporations, the general public, and at-risk populations. The topics he lectures on include leadership, happiness, education, innovation, ethics, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, and mindfulness. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and have appeared on best-sellers lists around the world.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host, and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
We have the good fortune today, to have with us Tal Ben-Shahar. He’s a sort of giant in the positive psychology world. He’s a speaker and an author. He wrote Happier. He wrote Choose the Life You Want. He’s recently gotten together with Angus Ridgeway, and together they’ve formed the company, Potential Life. It’s a leadership development organization.
The book that Tal and I are talking about today is The Joy of Leadership, which he wrote with Angus. How positive psychology can maximize your impact, and make you happier in a challenging world. I’m really excited to have Tal with us, and I’m sure you will be too.
Tal, thank you for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Tal: Thank you for having me here.
Peter: My pleasure. I want to go through the elements of the book. One of the foundations of this book,is when Angus, who used to lead the strategy practice for McKenzie in Europe, the Middle East and Africa saw that there were great strategies, from his perspective, and that some got implemented by executives, and some didn’t. In his view, the difference between those leaders and organizations who were effective at implementing and executing strategy, and those that weren’t, was their leadership ability. Their ability to influence the thinking and activities of other people in order to achieve shared goals.
You weren’t necessarily involved in that research, but you’re obviously intimately aware of it. I’m wondering what it is that you saw in them, and this may just funnel into the conversation about the book, that really made the difference between them saying “Hey, here’s a great strategy, but somehow I’m not getting it accomplished” versus “this is what we’re executing and implementing.”
Tal: It’s very much about the mindset. What do we see our role as a leader. Jack Welch once said that he sees his role as being the secretary in his organization, reminding people to do things, and many people, many of us, or lay leaders, have a misconception of what leadership is about.
It’s about standing on Mount Sinai, or Mount Rushmore, and, basically, talking about the grand vision that you have, and then living happily ever after, or at least famously ever after. Whereas, leadership is in the details, leadership is about executing. It’s about doing. It’s about having the mindset, and the humbleness to get your hands dirty, and to remind yourself, and others, what needs to be done.
Peter: It’s interesting because I think this might be a little departure, and then we’ll get back to it, the humbleness that you talk about. I know a lot of leaders who have it, but they also have along with that this very healthy dose of confidence. This paired combination of saying “I might have humility, but I also believe in myself, and I believe I can get stuff done, and I believe I can drive things.”
I’m wondering what you’ve seen in your research that allows people to have both of those because we all know humble people who don’t get anything done because they don’t believe in their own capacity to act. And we all know confident people who step over the line and go into arrogance, as opposed to just confidence. What’s that balance that you’ve seen?
Tal: It’s a balance that has to exist, and it’s a very hard act to actually implement. One of the things that Collins and Porras, in their book Built to Last, talk about is the importance of not succumbing to the tyranny of the or, but rather embracing the genius of the and, and I can think of no better example of where this genius of the and is necessarily, than in being confident and humble at the same time.
Again, it’s very hard. In my upbringing, one of the stories that always captured my imagination, from a very young age, was the story talking about how important it is for us to walk around with two pieces of paper in our pockets. In one pocket we need a piece of paper that says “For me, the world was created.”, and in the second pocket there has to be a piece of paper that says “I came from dust, and I shall return to dust.”
Peter: I love that.
Tal: Having these two pieces of paper is so important, because when you’re over confident, you need to go that pocket that says “I came from dust, and return from dust.” When you’re not confident enough, “For me, the world was created.”, and having that balance, and being able to simultaneously hold these two, seemingly, opposite extremes, is extremely important.
Peter: I love that. You say that at the core of the essence of leadership is personal flourishing, and that’s very much a foundation of the book and your belief. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Tal: Sure, there’s a lot of research, obviously, on the relationship between success and happiness, success and flourishing, and the research, basically, points to a very simple truth, that success does not contribute to happiness. You see many successful people who are not doing very well, psychologically speaking, and you see people who are not well of, financially, who are very happy, but there is a relationship between these two variables, and a very important one.
It’s not that success leads to happiness, it’s rather that happiness leads to more success. What we see, is that if we arrange levels of wellbeing, even by a little bit, and we’re talking 3, 4, 5%, what you see, immediately, is that creativity innovation levels go up significantly. What you see is the teamwork in an organization improves. Relationships, in general, get better. What you see is that motivation levels go up, resilience levels. Being able to overcome difficulties. Physical health is actually enhanced. You see, all these factors that are improved, enhanced, when you increase levels of happiness.
Now, all these factors that I mentioned, whether it’s better relationships, better teamwork, whether it’s higher levels of innovation, creativity, being able to think outside the box, whether it’s higher levels of motivation, all these factors go hand-in-hand with great leadership, certainly today, in the 21st century.
When we increase flourishing, we also improve people’s performance as leaders.
Peter: It’s interesting, because on the one hand what you’re saying, which we know because you wrote the book on happiness so I’m going to believe you here, is that happiness leads to success. I’ve also heard, and I’m curious to get your perspective on this idea, is that the pursuit of happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.
Peter: Can you talk about that?
Tal: Yes, there’s a real paradox in this whole happiness field. On the one hand, as I mentioned, it’s good for us to increase levels of happiness, beyond the fact that it feels good to feel good, it also contributes to all these wonderful factors that we all want and crave.
At the same time, there’s research showing that people who directly pursue happiness are actually less happy, that it actually is associated with loneliness, with anxiety. What do we do with that? Do we fool ourselves and said “Well, I’m pursuing happiness, but not really.” That’s probably a difficult to do.
The answer, or the resolution to this paradox is that we need to pursue happiness indirectly. Meaning, we know what contributes to happiness, so if I experience a more meaningful life, if I experience a sense of purpose at work, or in the context of my family, I’m happier.
If I exercise regularly, and take care of my body, i will be happier. If I cultivate my relationships, spend quality time with people I care about, and who care about me, that will contribute to happiness. If I engage my curiosity, if I’m open to experiences that will contribute to happiness, so if I pursued these things, they will indirectly lead me to happiness.
Just saying “I’m going to go for happiness.”, that really doesn’t help. The metaphor I like to use here is of sunshine. If I look directly at the sun, then it’s going to hurt my eyes. However, if I look indirectly at the rays of light, perhaps through a prism, then I’ll see and experience a beautiful rainbow.
Indirectly pursuing happiness is like observing, enjoying the rainbow.
Peter: I share this with you because I know a little bit about your background, but in Judaism this idea of Na’aseh V’Nishma, which is you just do first. You act first and then you notice the impact of that action later. I’ve always thought that to bean essence of Jewish practice which is here’s a whole bunch of practices that will lead to connection and religious engagement, but it’s the practice that gets it. It’s not just the intention.
Tal: This is, perhaps, the most important lesson when it comes to bringing about change. You see, when it comes to change, western philosophy had it wrong, and religion had it right. Socrates, the father of western philosophy 25 hundred years ago said “To know the good is to do the good.” “To know the good is to do the good.”
Now, Socrates was a smart person, but in this instance, he was wrong, very wrong in fact, because we all know, for instance, what we should eat, what is good for us, and yet we all sin, and eat things that we shouldn’t. We all know that we should always maintain our calm and composure, even when all around us have lost theirs, and yet we lose composure at times, later regretting it.
To know the good, is not necessarily to do the good. Now, religion had it right. Why? Because religion understood that you first have to do the good, and then you learn the good, and then you know the good. They turned this equation upside down, and today research is showing just how right this approach is.
We know that if we want to change neuro pathways in our brain that leads to lasting change, that we need rituals, just like in religion, to do something over, and over, and over again, and that’s how we change. That’s how we also, change, literally, not metaphorically, that’s how we also change our mind.
Peter: It reminds me of the story that Sylvia Boorstein, who’s a Buddhist teacher and writer, shared with me where she was with her, I think, four year old grandson, and they’d walked up to this temple. There were a number of big stairs to go up to these big, huge, wooden doors, and her grandson held her back, and she said “What’s the matter?” He says “I don’t like those stairs” And her response was “Oh honey, you don’t have to like the stairs, you just have to climb them.”
I think this is actually profound for leaders who often spend a tremendous amount of time trying to convince people of what they should do, when instead, maybe the winning formula is to just say “Here’s what we’re doing. We could talk about why afterwards. You may need to know enough about why so that you feel like you’re willing to do it, but you just have to do it, even if you don’t like it, and we’ll see the impact of it afterwards.”
It’s a little hard to get away with that as a leader because everybody has free will and they might just cross their arms and say “I’m not doing it.” But in a sense, the motivation and the drive comes after the action and not before, which is another one of those ironic conundrums.
Tal: As you were telling that story, I was thinking of research on procrastination. Over 80% of the people see themselves as procrastinators. It hurts our well being, obviously, pushing things off, and one of the main characteristics of procrastinators is their belief that in order to do something, you really need to want to do something.
Whereas, those who don’t procrastinate say “Okay, you know, I want to, I don’t want to. I’m going to do it anyway.”, and very often, with the doing, also comes the motivation. It’s not motivation leads to doing. It’s rather doing leads to motivation.
Peter: Actually, at the moment of motivation, you don’t actually need that much motivation. I went on this bike ride that was in the rain and it was cold. It was an amazing ride for about 20 miles, and when I came back, someone in our apartment building looked at me, and I was muddy and wet and he said “Wow, you’re really motivated to go out in this stuff.” And I thought “You know, I only needed 30 seconds of motivation. I needed to walk out into the rain and start pedaling.”
10 miles in I wasn’t thinking “Oh, this is dumb. I should go back.” I mean, I was 10 miles in. I had to go back 10 miles. You don’t need motivation every second. When you sit down to write, once you’re writing, you’re writing. You don’t need to be continually motivated, but you might need motivation for those three minutes when you open the computer, sit down in your chair and write the first few sentences.
Tal: That’s exactly right, and you know, in procrastination researchers talk about the five minute take off technique, which is exactly that. Just sit down for those first five minutes, or go on that ride for five minutes, and usually, more often than not, it then becomes self perpetuating.
Peter: Right, it’s great. You have a SHARP model in this book which is strengths, health, absorption, relationships, and purpose. It all leads to this profound, flourishing, leadership. Can you give us a sentence or two about each, and then we can explore a little bit more in depth?
Tal: Sure, what Angus Ridgeway and I wanted to do was identify the areas, or the unique characteristics of great leaders in today’s world, and we identified these five elements as not the only ones, but the ones that account for most of the variance. The ones that explain most of what distinguishes the best from the rest.
The first one is strength, and that is about focusing primarily, not only but primarily, on the things that we’re good at, and the things that we’re passionate about. There’s much more return on investment, return on effort when we focus on strength.
Second, it’s about health. It’s about learning to manage our energy. Learning to deal with stress. Eating more healthfully, exercising, of course, on a regular basis. Then we have absorption. Absorption is about being mindful, being engaged, being present. This is so critical in today’s world, where we’re disengaged. We’re a distracted society with so many distractions all around us, so absorption is important.
The R of SHARP is for relationships. Your relationships is the number one predictor of well being. No surprise, it’s also one of the best predictors of leadership, our ability to engage in both positive and authentic relationships, and finally it’s about a sense of purpose. Having a sense of meaning in work, at work, being connected to what it is that we’re doing.
Peter: I have a question for you around this. As I’m listening to it, and it’s not a question I’ve got written down, but it got triggered when you said “We found these five things.” I’ve at this point, for the podcast, probably interviewed a hundred and something people, and so many different people have these research based”Here’s the six things. Here’s the 10 things. This is what we know. This is the difference between star performers and average performers.”I’m asking you this, not as a challenge but as a colleague in this space.
I don’t even know exactly what the question is, except that there are so many different views, research based views, on “Here’s what I have seen distinguishes”, and I’m just wondering what your perspective is on that, because I imagine you would have a good one, and you’re very research based as well?
Tal: If you look at a lot of research that finds, you know, the three things, the five things, the ten things, there is a lot of overlap in that field, and this is one of the things that we talk about in the book. We’re not about reinventing the wheel.
We’re simply about taking what’s out there and synthesizing it in an accessible way, because the real challenge of change is not the knowing, it’s the doing, and what will contribute to doing is having something that is accessible, and can be implemented with relative ease.
A lot of these models, you know, the five things, ten things, you will find there are overlaps there. Yes, once in awhile someone pushes the boundary, and introduces a new concept, a new idea, that hasn’t been introduced before, but that’s quite rare. Our book synthesizes rather than invents.
Peter: Great, so let’s go through each of these. Again, just for a few minutes, with the focus on the implementation and the execution, because I think that’s a theme throughout the book. It’s a theme in this conversation. It’s a theme in my work.
Starting with strengths, we all know it. I will stand up in front of an audience of a thousand people and say “How many of you have a performance review?” and everyone would raise their hand and I’ll say “How many of you have we don’t even call them weaknesses, we call them areas for development. It’s not a weakness, it’s almost a strength. It’s about to be a strength, don’t worry. Give me a couple of minutes, it’ll be a strength.
Then I’ll say “Raise your hand if that thing, in some language or other, has been there for the past 10 years?” And everybody raises their hand, so there’s an acknowledgement that I’ve got these weaknesses, and I’m probably not, maybe I’ll go from a C to a C plus, but I’m not going to go from a C to an A. I’m not going to be widely successful because I have gotten so good in my weakness.
And yet it is almost impossible to get away from trying to develop the thing that we’re not strong in, and the messages that people give us in performance reviews or in feedback, where everything focuses on not what can I do better than I’m already really great at. It’s how do you fix those things that you’re kinda miserable at.
I’m wondering what it takes to change that philosophy, or that mindset, or our own internal compass that says “I want to get better”?
Tal: First of all, it’s something that’s really embedded in us from a very young age. In school, you have a kid who’s, say, very good at mathematics, and not so good when it comes to language skills, and what was the focus? It was language skills, because mathematics, he’ll be fine. He won’t need to worry about that.
Peter: By the way you speak English very, very well.
Tal: Thank you, took me years to master. The challenge is, how do we get out of that mindset that we’ve inherited from our past? Easier said than done. The way to do it is also to think about sports.
I was recruited for squash when I went to college. The football coach didn’t even see me. Why? Because I’m 5’7″, and scrawny, and in sports, it wouldn’t even cross your mind to come to someone and said “Well, you should really bulk up so that you can become …” No, play squash. Play to your strength.
The thing though is, and this is important, when we’re talking about focusing on strength, we’re not talking about ignoring weaknesses, and that is why many people are afraid of going in the strength based approach, in that direction, because they are thinking “But, you know, I’m not good with people. I need to work on that. How can I become a manager, and only focus on my strategic thinking abilities?”
Well, Peter Drucker said it best, as he often did. He said “You need to focus on your strength, while managing your weaknesses.”, and that’s important. It’s not about ignoring. Again, we get to the genius of the and. You need to learn to manage your strength, and then focus, sorry, manage your weaknesses, and then focus on your strength.
Peter: I often think of it as mitigating the negative impact of your weaknesses and so it might be not even getting better at it, it might be delegating, but there’s some negative impact, and you gotta avoid that negative impact in whatever way you’re going to.
I might be too quick in saying this, but I think health explains itself, which is if you’re not healthy, if you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not eating right, if you’re not coming with your full energy to the work that you do, you’re going to falter as a leader.
Tal: Absolutely, and I’d just like to point out one thing that is important to emphasize, and that is our relationship with stress. Historically, a relationship with stress has been a negative one. You know, stress is bad. Stress leads to chronic disease, it leads to death, it leads to suboptimal performance, and so on. Well today, more and more we’re seeing through research is that stress, properly managed, is actually good for us.
I always give the analogy of going to the gym, and lifting weights. You know, when we’re lifting weights, we’re stressing the muscles. Not a bad thing, that’s how they develop. The problem is when we don’t provide time for recovery, that’s when we get hurt.
It’s not the stress, it’s the absence of recovery. This is something that Jim, Laura, and Tony Schwartz talk about in The Power of Full Engagement, so this is something that we emphasize. Stress is great, it’s important. Learn to manage it with recovery, and that’s when you maximize, that’s when you improve your performance.
Peter: Right, you talk about this distinction, which I know Jim and Tony do too, that we’re not in a marathon, we’re in a series of sprints. What I’m seeing increasingly,is people are running their sprints without an interval. Interval training is run as fast as you can and then recover, even if it’s for 10 seconds, and I don’t see us stopping for 10 seconds. We’re just running sprint after sprint after sprint.
Tal: And we’re paying the price. Just like physically, you would get injured, you would get exhausted, psychologically, mentally. That is what we see all around us.
Peter: So here’s my question about absorption. What I find often is that absorption is like happiness, which is it’s great when you’re there, but the pursuit of absorption is precisely the thing that can get in the way of absorption because you’re never really fully in that space. How do you get around that conundrum?
Tal: The nice thing about absorption is that it’s accessible, literally, at every moment in our life. It’s simply about returning to present. I love this, there’s a wonderful book by a Vietnamese, Tibetan monk called The Joy of Living, I believe, and what he talks about there are oops moments, where he says, you know, “Meditation is not about focusing all the time. It’s about returning to focus, and the oops moments are oops I just lost my concentration. Let me return to it. Oops I lost it again.”
This is the essence of meditation, and therefore, the more oops moments we have the better it is. Once again, it’s like exercising a muscle, returning to presence.
Peter: I’ve heard that with meditation. And the beautiful thing about that moment is, you may be in the past, or in the future, or you may be worrying, or you may be any number of things in your head, but the moment you recognize it, that’s the moment that you’re completely present. Meaning, you can’t recognize it unless you’re in the now. That moment, in my meditation, has always been very special for me, like when you discover the oops.
Tal: That’s right, and what’s important to understand also, about that moment, is that it’s accessible when you’re sitting down and meditating. It’s also accessible when you’re sitting down and listening to a conversation, or you’re participating in a meeting, so it’s accessible anywhere and anytime.
Peter: Let me ask listeners in this moment,what are you doing right now? Are you just listening to Tal and I have this conversation or are you doing something else at the same time?Is that something else distracting you from being fully present to what you’re listening to and the charm that exists between Tal and I? Are you really fully present to this conversation or doing something else? Just an oops check in, let’s say.
Relationships. You talk about authenticity and positivity, and I love that, and I think that’s so true in my moments of freedom, connection and relationships. What I also notice is the exact opposite, fear and vulnerability, that often prevents us from getting to that place. That we’re worried about fear and vulnerability and the risks, the lack of safety, and the fear of our history that we read as current.
We mistake history for reality. It’s very hard for people to get close in relationships and be committed and connected in those relationships for fear of vulnerability, which is specifically what would get in the way of that authenticity and positivity.
Tal: Correct, and being vulnerable, again, there’s wonderful work on this by Brené Brown. We pay a price for being vulnerable. We get hurt. At the same time, the price that we pay when we’re not authentic is a great deal higher, and it’s inevitable.
So many relationships, and here I’m talking about relationships at work, or a romantic relationships, or relationships with our kids. The number one predictor of long term success of relationships is our ability to be real, to be genuine within them, with all the costs thereof, and again, being authentic doesn’t mean being thoughtless, or it doesn’t mean having zero guards on.
You know, on a first date, you wouldn’t be able to be as vulnerable. You shouldn’t be as vulnerable and open as you are after 20 years of a relationship, but the aim should always be how can we reach higher and higher levels of authenticity, and in order to do that we need to open ourselves up gradually.
Peter: What it does is gives confidence to taking that risk. To say “You know, if I’m going to really say what I’m feeling in this situation then it feels important.” Meaning if I don’t say it I’m going to be walked over. If I don’t say it, we’re going to lose an opportunity here. Not being heartless or mean, but saying something that feels important to me. If I don’t say it for fear of the risk that I might lose the relationship for not saying it then that is already an indication that it probably needs to be said because it means you’re not showing up in the relationship in a way in which both of you will reap the benefits of really being in a relationship. It’s worth risking whatever that loss is in order to take a stab at having something real and authentic.
Tal: Yes, because not taking that risk is an inevitable loss.
Peter: Right, your final point, the key point in terms of living a purposeful life, and there’s something I really loved about how you framed this, which is that the focus of goals is to think of them as means and not as ends. That a lot of people can misinterpret the idea of purpose, life, in terms of just focusing 100% on the goals. Can you just talk a minute or two on that?
Tal: Sure, we go back to the beginning of our conversation when we talk about the relationship between success and happiness. Many people believe that becoming happier is about achieving that goal, achieving that milestone, getting that raise, getting into that school, or getting that job. Whereas, what we know is that, at best, achieving a goal leads to temporary well being, to a spike in our levels of well being, and then we go back to where we were before.
The path to happiness is not through the achievement of goals. However, at the same time, this is not to say that goals are not important, because if we do not have goals, then we are at the risk of being all over the place, being distracted, and not being able to be engaged, and present, so we need goals in order to liberate us to enjoy the here and now.
For example, if I know that I’m heading in this direction, and I want to reach the peak of that mountain. Once I know where I’m going, I can let go, and I can enjoy the process. If I know that I’m working on a book, I have that in mind. I want this book out. Now I can let go, and just focus on the present, which is writing.
Whereas, if I didn’t have a goal, I would, very often, wake up not having a sense of direction, not having a sense of purpose, and that would lead to unhappiness.
Peter: In a sense the goal of writing the book is what gets you to then say “Okay, even if I’m not particularly feeling it right now, or if I’m not particularly in the moment, I’m going to sit down, and I’m going to write for my five minutes to get myself motivated, and hopefully, I’ll stay for an hour and a half and get some good writing done.” Without that goal, you probably would never have to take the seat but the goal itself can help us move out of the “I’m just going to do what feels good in this moment” to “I’m going to do what moves me with a sense of purpose to achieve things that I want to achieve.”
Hopefully, in a way that leverages my strengths. That helps me to stay healthy and uses my energy in the way that will be strongest for me. That allows me to be absorbed and I’m not entirely sure how to intertwine relationships in there, but it’s gotta be in there somewhere.
Tal: Well, it’s in there if a relationship is important for you. It’s a goal. It’s an objective for us, and therefore, even through difficult times, we go through it. Nietzsche once said “If you have a what for, every how becomes possible.” If you have a what for, an important goal, an objective, you’re more resilient.
Peter: And there’s very, very little that I can think of that one can actually achieve with purpose that doesn’t involve relationships in some way in order to achieve it. We just don’t live in an isolated world in that particular way.
The book is The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact, and it make you happier in a changing world. Tal Ben-Shahar, it has been such a pleasure. It has been my joy to have you on this podcast and a joy to be in this conversation.
Thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Tal: Thank you very much, Peter. Thank you.
Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening, and stay tuned for the next great conversation.
How can you develop employees who care? That’s the subject of bestselling author Subir Chowdhury’s newest book, The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough. Discover how much your company stands to gain by developing caring mindsets, the four elements in Subir’s STAR formula, and the one question you should ask yourself every morning.
- “Making a difference can be ANYBODY’S business.” @subirchowdhury #leadership
- Don’t wait for leaders – be the change you want to see in the world. @subirchowdhury #change
Book: The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough
Bio: Subir Chowdhury is chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, LLC, a global leader on strategic initiatives, quality consulting, and training. Under Subir’s leadership, ASI Consulting Group has helped hundreds of clients around the world save billions of dollars and increase revenues. Subir has worked with many organizations, large and small, across diverse industries including manufacturing, healthcare, food, government, and nonprofit organizations.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
We have with us on the podcast Subir Chowdhury. He is a leading management consultant. He’s written several books, and the book that we’re going to be talking with him about is the one he’s written most recently. It’s called “The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough.”
Subir and I know each other from a group that we’re in together, the MG100 Group. You’ve heard Marshall Goldsmith on the podcast. Subir and I are both in the group together. He’s a delightful guy. It’s always great to interview for the podcast people who you meet who you know live up to their advice, that they preach certain things, that they also walked the path that they suggest people walk.
Subir is one of those people. I really enjoyed the book. It’s a short book that packs a punch, is fun to read, and leaves you with a real sense of some things that are important that we’ll talk about today. Subir, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Subir: Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m looking forward to it.
Peter: You open the book with a few different stories that seem to point to a common principle, which is that we aren’t different people when we walk into the office versus when we’re home, that what we do with the toothpick after we used it is the same as what we do with a quality process organizationally, that how we treat people in the office should not be any different from how we treat them at home, or in synagogue, or in church, or in a mosque. Can you talk about that a little bit and explain why it’s so important?
Subir: Yeah. As you know, and I want to do a little bit backup. As you know, last 14 books I’ve written and all the management consulting I’ve done for last 20 years using the idea of process improvement, right? I literally save organization billions of dollars, right? Basically, as you know, the Six Sigma became very popular, and I was one of the leading authority on that field. By doing all this process improvement, what I found out that some companies … suppose for the sake of discussion, we have two same industry, two similar-sized client, and for the sake of discussion, I’m just giving an example of G.M. Ford, or maybe automotive industry, or maybe Airbus and Boeing in aerospace industry.
Suppose both the companies hired me as a consultant and used my processes, and what I found out, one company is getting 10X return, another company is getting 100X return, and I was puzzled by that. I said, “What the heck I’m doing? Maybe my process are flawed,” so I went, brought all my consultants, and literally screaming at them, saying that maybe our process is flawed. Maybe we are not doing certain things correctly.
So then, after a lot of discussions, my colleague said, “No, Subir. Maybe we should … If somebody is getting 100X return, maybe we should start at those organizations.” Last six, seven years, I’ve been starting all types of organizations to understand why one is getting 100X return and the companies which are not getting 100X, which is only getting 5X or 10X return, and then what really immersed is nothing to do with process. Nothing to do with process. It’s about the people, right?
The argument I’m making is, is we really wanted to improve quality, or if you wanted to improve your organization, you have to think of how is your all the people’s mindsets are, right? If they don’t have the good mindset or I call it as a caring mindset, then you may not get the best out of that organization, right? Then, the question comes to, can the caring mindset can be taught? Can anybody become and demonstrate the caring mindset? The answer is yes. Ideally, what I try to do with this book is about how to teach common people from a janitor all the way to the CEO level and in between anyone of them to truly can practice the caring mindset and develop the caring mindset.
Peter: Have you reduced it to that distinction of the caring mindset that the difference between a 10X return on an effective process versus 100X return is that people care, and if you’ve got an organization of people who care, then you’re going to maximize the returns?
Subir: Yes, yes. Yes. Right. Right. You’re absolutely right. The other thing is that what is really even puzzling like recent incident in Google. You know about the … that Google wanting … Somebody wrote an email, and he got immediately fired, and all this stuff.
Now, if you truly understand what he wrote on that email, and I’m not suggesting anyone of the side I’m not taking, but the question is that some of the issues he raised is a core issue like if 90% of the Google employees have a one party viewpoint, another 10% have another party viewpoint, you cannot left out the other 10%. You can’t. You have to have, realistically, a good dialogue and having the caring mindset demonstration for both sides, and that’s what is missing right now.
In fact, America is paying a big price of literally not … You and I may not agree to certain things, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be hateful to you, right? I have to be not sharing my caring for you. We can have a different viewpoint. That’s okay.
Peter: I don’t want to necessarily go down this road, but I’ll just ask a follow-up question about it because what if that 1% perspective is a non-caring mindset? Meaning, so what if that 1% perspective is hate talk, or is a destructive voice, or the pointing the fingers and the blame? If that’s that 1% voice, is it still important to have that 1% voice included? I’m not saying yes or no. I’m just asking you the question.
Subir: Yes. I think we have to include them, and maybe over time, the 99% can turn that around, right? Think about in any organization, so I talked about the caring mindset. The other perspective is a lot of the time, these people, this human being do not understand. They can develop the caring mindset. They can really do it. See, that is one of the reasons that in the book, I talked about making a difference can be anybody’s business, any human being’s business, right?
You don’t need a big financial bet or you do not need any kind of a societal elite status to make a difference. You know like Mother Theresa was not rich, financially rich person when she started. Think about it, and then the money poured in, and people supported her cause, right? I think anybody can make a difference. The question is that it is the mindset. In the book, I define about what is the caring mindset, and I talk about the four element, and it’s very easy to remember. It’s called the “STAR,” right?
Peter: Great. Let’s go into each of those. I have a question for each one that’s a little deeper, but why don’t you give us an overview of the four elements of STAR?
Subir: Right. STAR basically stand for Straightforward, Thoughtful, Accountable, and Resolve, so it’s very, very simple. Straightforward. Straightforward means you talk from your heart. You just don’t do any politics or any of that and talk from your heart, and give your opinion, and be respectful to the other person, and listen to what the other person is saying, and then you still make your point in a straightforward way.
Now, if you don’t have the straightforward culture in an organization, then what will happen, the Volkswagen type of incident will happen because they are hiding the information. A lot of the time, in straightforward stuff, I talk about the reason people are not straightforward is two reason. Number one is that they are fearful or afraid, and number two is that a lot of the time, they have grandiose amount of ego or pride, right? These are the two things, right? If you can control those two things, you can become a straightforward.
Peter: Let’s talk about that for a second – about the fear, because most people I know who aren’t straightforward, it comes from a lack of courage. It comes from a sense of vulnerability, and sometimes, by the way, that vulnerability is well-placed. The fear is well-placed that ultimately, they might be punished for being straightforward or saying what they think.
Subir: Right, and that is the key question that you say that we’re punished, right? The question is that it is the leader’s job. When I dealt with Jack Welch, right? When he asked a question to the … even the low level in an organization, and if they don’t have an answer, they’re not afraid to telling it straight, and why is that? Because Jack never punish them, right? He never punish them. He basically, “Okay, you don’t know. Next time I come in, you fix it. Figure it out. Two months later or six months later, I’ll visit again. I wanted to see this fixed.” There’s no punishment, right?
I think that whole culture of the fear and punishment culture is the leader’s responsibility, is the top of the house. They are the one who clean that culture, right? Unless they demonstrate themselves and make sure that people within the middle management or the next level management, everybody is not punished for their openness. Then, it will be … Like for an example, in my viewpoint, I think in Google, they’re firing the employee. I strongly feel that the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, made a mistake.
I really felt bad. He should not have been … instantly made that decision. Rather than give him a little bit of a chance, have a dialogue about that, try to find out what really motivated him to write that article or whatever, and then dig in too little bit, but he did it too quickly, too fast because he thought about that 90% of their employees are alienating so he doesn’t want to go into that problem.
You cannot avoid that problem like that way. Rather than you try to discuss, and so that’s what I think. Without that problem, I think the more problem will come. Think about this way. White-collar crime in America in organizations costs $300 billion annually by a Cornell University study. $300 billion, white-collar crime. Now, that is sickening. Think about that. These are highly educated people are doing this crime, right?
Why they are doing that. In fact, one of the thing in the story I talked about, a gentleman about, Nick, he wants to get his next level promotion at any cost, anyone cost. Ultimately, when he diagnosed with cancer and he only survives six more months, and that is the six more months he wants to fix himself, and he wants to go to these next level people and try to apologize to them, try to earn their forgiveness. It’s a very profound story. Think about that, right? I think I always discuss about that if the leaders, true leaders come in and create a culture based on data, not based on their opinion or their emotion, they can develop a good organization, a good culture organization.
Peter: What you’re saying to my question of, “How do you help people have the courage to speak with straightforwardness?” your answer in part is, “Yeah, maybe you can help them have the courage, but really, it’s the leader’s job to create a culture in which every voice is heard, and important, and not punished.”
Subir: Yes. Absolutely. Yes.
Peter: Great. Okay, so straightforward is the S. Let’s talk about being thoughtful, the T of STAR.
Subir: Being thoughtful is basically about the attentive to the others, considerate, unselfish, helpful. Think about this way like every single day, when I wake up, my number one goal, when I was brushing my teeth, I ask myself, “What is the one thing I can do to another human being and give pleasure?” That’s it. What is the one thing I can do for another human being to bring pleasure? Right? That’s it, so that’s what thoughtfulness is all about.
I talk about a lot of the time especially the internet era with the social media era, even during the lunch break, we are looking at our iPhone and checking that out, and even in front of meal where other people are sitting and we are not talking to each other. How to avoid that? How to take that? Put your device out and to have some dialogue with your colleague. Try to look at them and even if you find another colleague that is stressed or whatever, try to ask them. Try to ask them, “Hey, what can I do for you?” Right?
I talk about being thoughtful is a two-step process. Step number one is listening. I think 99.9% of the people, we are very good in hearing, but we are not listening. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing means you are talking to me and I’m just hearing, but I’m not internalizing. I’m not understanding what you are saying. It’s going in one ear, another ear is passing out. That’s it. That is the hearing.
Listening means not only I’m hearing what you’re saying, I’m having the eye contact, I’m internalizing it, and then I’m putting myself in your shoes. When you do that, that was the time the second step comes in. Then, the empathy kicks in. If you and I are not having a dialogue, when you’re having an argument, the reason the argument happen is because we are not listening to each other, right? Then, the argument comes in, but if we truly listen instead of hearing, argument will not happen. Then, we’ll empathize, and then once the empathy kicks in, you will be much more inclining with my viewpoint and I’ll be inclining with your viewpoint, and that’s what is missing in organizations.
Peter: The challenge I see most people having around that is how busy we all are.
Peter: There’s a part of us that looks at our iPhones instead of talking to people because we’re shy or because we’re a little uncomfortable, but there’s also a part where everyone is working so fast and so hard that to actually listen, or to be thoughtful, or to do what you suggested, which is to take even a moment to say, “What can I do that would express care for somebody else?” that is a difficult thing for people to do because they’re so overwhelmed with business.
Subir: Okay, so think about this way. Very simple. First of all is the mindset, right? Unless you have the mindset, you cannot do it. First question to yourself is that, “Am I going to fix myself? Am I going to improve myself?” Every day, when I wake up, I feel I’m a number one failure in the world, right? I wanted to say that I have so many flaws and how I can fix my flaws. Every single day, I feel that I have lots of flaws and how I can fix myself.
As soon as I have that mindset, first thing I do is that, “Okay. What can I do?” You are absolutely right. We are too busy. We are not taking the time. Think about this way. Five minutes. Nothing else. Five minutes. You just sit yourself. Either you can meditate, or you can walk, or you can not looking at the iPhone, or whatever, and just try to find your own self inside of you, the person you have, and ask that very simplistic question, “Why I’m here? Why I’m in this earth? Can I make a difference for another human being? What can I do to my next-door neighbor?”
As soon as you have that mindset, then you can become thoughtful, right? Then, you will be more listening. Then, you will create more empathy. Remember, that I was … I gave an example about in my … I was taking a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit. Normally, I get the business class ticket during my business travel time. All is paid for. I’m sitting in the first-class cabin, and there is an older gentleman came in and sit on the first row of the economy class cabin, and the flight attendant served the drinks on the first-class cabin before the flight takes off, and this older gentleman asked a simple glass of water. Just a glass of water. The flight attendant responded, “Hey, we don’t serve any drink to anybody like in economy class until the flight takes off.”
Now, the older gentleman again requested, “I’m very thirsty. I have to walk so many blocks to come over here. Can I get a class of water?” She again didn’t even respond, right? Guess what happened, these are very profound lesson learned for me too because I was sitting on the window like on the aisle seat, but there’s another guy who’s also sitting on the aisle seat. That young man didn’t say anything. He went in the flight cabin area and then poured a glass of water, gave it, served to the older gentleman, and then everybody over there clapped.
Now, the real question is that I asked myself a question why I did not act where that other young gentleman acted, and I was continuously puzzled by that. Why not? See, a lot of the time, we see certain things. If we know that you can make a small difference, very small difference, just do it. That is a big lesson learned for me. Later on, any time I see some problem that I can make a difference or I can make some contribution, I try to act on it. A lot of the time, we hesitate to take an act on it.
Peter: You’re also saying something that is important and I think profound, which is you’re describing a situation in which someone has privilege and which someone else doesn’t have privilege. You have someone who’s in first-class who has privilege and you have someone who’s in the economy class who doesn’t have that privilege, and that there’s a responsibility, especially for those of us who are in positions of rank and privilege to be thoughtful about what’s around us, beyond us for people who don’t have privilege and do what we can that represents care and thoughtfulness.
Subir: Exactly, you’re right. Yes. That is so critical, and a lot of the time, we forget about it. Recently, she ultimately apologized. Even the treasury secretary’s wife, she tweeted something bragging about her expensive clothes and all these stuff, and then ultimately, Twitter is all over her. Then ultimately, she apologized. Right? It’s shade. You should not act like that. We are very lucky. Every day, when I feel … one point of time like the majority of the people in America is self-made. Majority of them, right? Think about it. One point of time, we are doubted that privileged position. We work hard, and on the process, we also got lucky.
Anyway, so the next point comes too after the thoughtfulness is the accountable, right, which is much more about taking an action, taking the personal responsibility, right? One of the quote, I talk about Mother Theresa quote, and she used to say, “Don’t wait for leaders. Do it alone.” “Don’t wait for leaders. Do it alone.”
The point she was making is, believe it or not, irrespective of our position, God gave us some kind of inner power to each human being, right? I was listening to a talk by Nelson Mandela, right, that after living in the jail for almost 30 years, that when he came out, still, he’s dreaming to make a difference for his nation, his country. He wants to rebuild. Think about in 30 years. Somebody took the 30 years of his life and the whole nation took the 30 years of his life. After he came out, first thing he was thinking about, how he could make a difference for his nation. Think about that. Right?
That is the part we have to think about that any time we see something, how can we take personal responsibility? If we are not making accountable our self, anything we see, either at home, or in the community, or in the workplace, right? If we don’t like whenever I … A lot of the time, when I talk with some of the leaders, they said, “Well, Subir. That is not my job.” I said, “Why not? Why not? Why you are not raising that issue because your paycheck is coming from this organization? If you don’t take that action now, then something … maybe over time, everybody else who works for you, they’re following that you are not a true leader. Then ultimately, they will do the similar thing, and ultimately, you will create a mess without even knowing for it, and then you will call a council like me to come in to help you to fix it.”
I give some example of a 13-year-old Chicago girl. Her name is Trisha Prabhu. She was one day coming from the school and she read a 11-year-old Florida girl committed suicide because of the cyberbullying, so she … It hit her so much. She thought the whole system, her school system, her parents, and her teachers, everybody failed her, so she felt, “What can I do? Enough is enough. I’m going to change myself.” She take that as a personal responsibility. A 13-year-old girl.
Then, she started digging to the research how to solve the cyberbullying issue. She came up with an app called “ReThink.” The app name is called “ReThink.” What that app does is that what she found out that adolescents, when they write some nasty email or text without even thinking about it, so what she does is that at that time, if you can stop them, so this ReThink app, what they do, if you have that app in your phone, or iPad, or anything, then what you do is that as you type a message, nasty message, immediately, that ReThink will automatically … Artificial intelligence. It will automatically kick in and ask the question, “Are you sure? Your message is going to harm somebody. Are you sure you wanted to send this message?” Guess what happened. 93% of the adolescent decided stop, not to send.
Peter: Wow, not to send it.
Subir: Think about that. Now, ReThink. ReThink. You can check that app. Now, the ReThink is adopted by Facebook, Google, and everybody is promoting. A 13-year-old girl did that. Think about that, right? If a 13-year-old girl can take the personal responsibility, and make something, and feel herself as an accountable on her action and she can make a difference, why not you? Why not all of us? Right?
Peter: Let’s talk briefly about having resolve, which is the fourth piece of the STAR model.
Subir: Having resolve is all about having the passion, having determination, having the perseverance, and I talk about always the story about when I came to the United States in 1991, and I was short of $200, right, because I suppose to given a scholarship, and I didn’t … My professor said no. He will not give it to me, and I got the message after coming to the US on the first day after landing in US, and I don’t have any money. I have $200 sorted. I went to a bank. Bank rejected $200, so I cannot even register.
What I’ve done, I went to … so all my other … people I met. Indians, Bangladesh, all these different people. We met. They said, “Subir, don’t worry about it. You can work illegally.” I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” Guess what I did. I personally felt that I need to resolve. I have resolve that I came to America. I had a big dream to make a difference in America. This cannot be the country. One person denied me doesn’t mean that America is bad, so I did not believe in that system. I believed in the American system.
Guess what I did. Next two weeks, I went to every single department, 23 department … 22 department rejected me. 23rd department opened the door for me, and the rest is history. I literally got the complete scholarship from Dow Chemical in that week for my graduate degree. Think about that. Coming to America for the first time with the culture shock. Everything. No family member, nobody, right? The first person on the first generation coming in from both my parents side, and I went to the 22 … knocked 22 doors, and the 23rd door opened.
Peter: You hear those stories … You hear about Harry Potter being given to 25, 26 publishers before it was accepted.
Subir: Rejected, right. Absolutely.
Peter: In order to have that resolve, you have to have the belief in yourself.
Peter: These pieces of the model fit together, being straightforward, being thoughtful, being accountable, having resolve. The example you gave about being thoughtful and having the man in first-class bring water to the older man in economy, that required thoughtfulness. It required accountability. It required some element of resolve. It required all of them, and these are the four things that seem to make the difference. You’ve reduced it to these four things, straightforward, thoughtful, accountable, and having resolve, that makes the difference between taking a process that you have in an organization that’s perfectly fine and having it have the 10 times impact versus a hundred times impact.
Subir: Exactly. Yes.
Peter: Those are the four things that really represent the kind of caring that you’re talking about.
Subir: Right. Ideally, if you ask me the question that, “Subir, why the hell you didn’t do this 20 years ago?” Very honestly, I wish my first book is on this area because then, I should have been … delivered better results in the process of improvement. You know what I’m saying? You know what I’m saying?
Peter: Every time. Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s great.
Subir: That’s what I was trying to do now.
Peter: Thank you. We’re with Subir Chowdhury. The book is The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough. Subir, it’s such a delight to have you on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. Thank you for coming on.
Subir: Thank you so much for featuring me.
Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Bryan Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.
Are meaning and happiness part of your career? Marshall Goldsmith, world renowned business educator and coach, returns to the podcast to talk about his newest book, Lifestorming: Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life. Discover how to break out of the trap of success, “leverage up” personal connections to advance your career, and shift from a poverty mentality to one of abundance.
- Don’t just live out your programing – you can change. Find out how with @coachgoldsmith #podcast
- How #volunteer work can advance your career @coachgoldsmith
Book: Lifestorming: Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life
Bio: Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized again as one of the top ten Most-Influential Business Thinkers in the World and the top-ranked executive coach at the 2013 biennial Thinkers50 ceremony in London! Dr. Goldsmith is the author or editor of 35 books, which have sold over two million copies, been translated into 30 languages and become bestsellers in 12 countries. His newest book is Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts—Becoming the Person You Want to Be, on sale May 2015 from Crown Business. He has written two New York Times bestsellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – a Wall Street Journal #1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
We are fortunate enough to have with us today, Marshall Goldsmith. I am fortunate enough to be able to call him my friend. Marshall is an executive coach and business educator. His mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change and behavior for themselves, their people and their teams. He’s written … I think the count right now is a million books. The book that he has been on the podcast for previously was Triggers. The book we’re here to talk about is Life Storming: Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life.
The way we’re going to do this podcast is a little different than others. We’re not just going to talk about the ideas in the book. When I read the subtitle Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life, Marshall is such a prime example of having done that and doing that in his life. I am fortunate enough myself to be part of the MG100 Group. It’s a group of people that Marshall has chosen to share his wisdom, experience and his practices in the same vein. He may talk about this a little bit on the podcast as other people he has admired have done. The Buddha, for example, where you just give what you know away for free, and he’s offered to do that for a number of us.I’m both grateful and enriched by being a part of that really amazing group of people and it’s another way of creating meaning and achievement in his career and in his life.
Without further ado, Marshall, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Marshall: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you for being one of our 100 coaches.
Peter: It’s my great pleasure. Believe me. I’ve spent a couple of days with you in Phoenix and I’ve already learned so much. One of the things I’ve learned, I’ll say is, and I think it’s a great gift that you bring and some of your friends who you include in this, Alan Mulally, who is the CEO of Ford and Dr. Jim Kim, who’s the president of The World Bank, is all these people who are doing incredibly complex work in a very complex world. The mantra that I left with is, it’s not that complicated. When you bring it down to what’s important, what’s essential, to following what’s most important to you and making an impact in the world that you want to make, you reduce it to what matters most. In the end, it’s not that complicated if you’re able to do that.
Marshall: That’s right.
Peter: Thank you. I’m going to stop talking. You’re going to do the talking. By the way, Alan Weiss was coauthor of this book with Marshall Goldsmith. There’s a bunch of steps to this path of creating meaning and achievement in your career and life. I think you’re an amazing example of having done that and doing that in your life. What I want to do is go through each chapter and have you share with us a little bit of your experience with it and maybe a story or two of how you’ve done this in your life because I think everyone’s going to get to know you a little bit better and it’s going to be interesting for the podcast.
Marshall: Also, it takes it out of more the theory realm and puts it into the real world.
Peter: Perfect. That’s exactly right. The first chapter, and it’s pretty self-explanatory when you just read this title, is Setting Our Own Aspirations. This idea that we could become programmed in all sorts of ways to act in ways we’ve always acted in the past or we’ve been taught to act in the past, but there’s ways of shifting that kind of programming so that we can really pursue aspirations that have deep meaning to us. I’m curious how you’ve done that in your life.
Marshall: I was brought up to believe … I was brought up in a small town called Valley Station, Kentucky, low income, low education environment. Middle school down the street, last year, it came in last place in academic achievement in Kentucky. We had an outhouse the first four years I was in school. I was not brought up in Harvard Prep, so the odds of me being ranked number one leadership thinker in the world and three New York Times Bestsellers from there would be like snowball’s chance in hell. I was given a lot of positive programs, and one of them was, “You’re smart.” I was told over and over how smart I was and that, “You’re gonna go to college.” Then I was also told, because my dad had a gas station, had no mechanical skills, I would never have any mechanical skills the rest of my life. People are brought up to believe they’re the smart one, the pretty one, the clever one, the lazy one, the whatever one.
I was in a hospital, and I asked people, “How many of you were brought up to believe that you were the responsible one?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. Then we talked about the blessings of that and then the curses, and three people started crying. They said, “You know, I get sick of being responsible. I’m responsible for my children, my parents, my siblings. I’m tired of being responsible all the time.” The thing I’ve learned is we don’t have to carry this programming forever, and most of us just go through life living this stuff out over and over again.
You met Dr. Jim Kim, and he was programmed to believe he was the smart one. He has a simultaneous MD and PhD with honors from Harvard in anthropology. First time I interviewed him, I think I told you this story, he’s very funny, after an hour, I said, “You know, Jim, in the last hour, there’s six times you told me how smart you were.” He was so embarrassed. He said, “What an ass.” I said, “You’re not an ass. You’re a great guy.” It’s very important though to realize we don’t have to live out these programs forever.
I was also brought up to believe that I was smart, but I didn’t have to work hard. It took me a while to realize I don’t have to be ashamed of working hard. It’s okay to work hard. It’s okay to love people. You don’t have to be ashamed of that. When you’re brought up to believe you’re a certain way, like Bono, the good singer, he’s a humanitarian, and he created this new identity. He didn’t used to be a humanitarian, and when he tried to change, people all crapped on him. They said, “You’re not a humanitarian. You’re a rockstar.” He said, “Heck with this. I want to help starving people. I don’t have to apologize.” We can all be a different person without living out this program over and over.
What I challenge people is think of the way you’ve been programmed to believe you are. Maybe there are a couple of modest changes you can make in this programming to be somebody different in the future without being a hypocrite or a phony.
Peter: How do you do that? If I’ve been programmed to believe that I was not the smart one then how do you shift that program? What are some small things that people can do to shift that kind of programming so that they’re not stuck in that place?
Marshall: Again, I have a degree in math. I think the first thing you can do is recognize there’s often not much logic to this. I was programmed to believe I had no mechanical skills. Not till I’m 26 did I question this. I’m taking a class at UCLA. What do you do well? What can’t you do? I said, “I had no mechanical skills.” The teacher says, “Well, how do you know?” I said, “Well, I took a test, the United States Army Aptitude Test. I scored in the bottom 2% of the United States. It’s hopeless.” He said, “How are your mathematical skills?” “Perfect score on the SAT Math Achievement Test.” “Then why is it you can solve complex mathematical problem, but you cannot solve simple mechanical problem?” Good point. “So, how’s your hand to eye coordination?” I said, “I play pinball games, shoot pool, drink beer.” He said, “Why can you play a pinball game and shoot pool, but you can’t hammer nails?”
I realized there’s no logic behind this. I was just programmed randomly to believe this. I lived this out in my life and it became true, and as long as we tell ourselves this, it never change. I coach people every week on it. I deal with this. They’ll say things like, “I can’t listen. I can’t listen. I’ve never listened. I can’t listen.” I look in the guy’s ear. “Why not? You got something stuck in there? Well, why can’t you listen?” Then they realize, “Why can’t I listen?” This is just some programming that I can’t do this. It’s just repeated over and over and over again, and just understanding the process can help you get out of the loop.
Peter: It’s interesting, taking small, small steps and seeing how you can change this programming. I was in a leadership program last week and there were 25 people in the room. I have this programming. It’s a silly, little thing, but I have a programming. I’m terrible at remembering people’s names. It’s so easy for me to say that actually because I’m so used to thinking it and saying it. I’m terrible at remembering people’s names. We sat around in the introductions and I thought “I’m going to change that. I’m actually going to really pay attention to each person and in the end, I’m going to go around and see if I know everyone’s names” Within 10 minutes, I had everybody’s names. It’s these little, small experiments that can disprove.
Peter: One other thing that this made me think of is Daniel Levitin. I don’t know if you know him, but one of the-
Marshall: Of course, I do.
Peter: He wrote Weaponized Lies.
Marshall: No, I don’t know him. I know a different Daniel Levitin.
Peter: He has written a couple of really great books, but one of the things he’s talking about is how people use statistics and the ways in which we can be fooled by numbers. We get fooled. One of his tests is if someone’s telling you something, is it plausible? He proves that point. He talks about going into a taxicab and having the taxi driver say to him, “You know, 20 billion people in the world don’t have Internet.”
Peter: You look at that, and you go, “Huh? There’s only 7 billion people in the world. That’s probably not plausible.” He says, “The point the guy’s trying to make may be right,” which is a lot of people don’t have Internet, but one question to ask about, for example, you don’t have mechanical skill is, is that plausible? I’m actually a pretty smart guy. Is it plausible that I wouldn’t have mechanical skill? I love that.
Marshall: That’s excellent.
Peter: I love that. The second chapter, The Importance of New Friends. One of the things that you talk about in this chapter is how relationships can hold us back, and how as we change, some of our friends can grow with us but that also might suggest that we need to build new friends. You want to talk a little bit about that in your life?
Marshall: Yeah. I’m going to start out the negative and the positive. The negative, extreme example would be a drug addict. They go to rehab. They kick the habit. They go back to the same neighborhood with the same friends. Almost always, boom, what happens? They’re a drug addict again. They really need to change their neighborhood, their friends, their environment, and the other good and bad news about the new world is we keep up with everybody. All the people you’ve ever known in your life are on Facebook. They keep up with you. Now you’ve got this laundry list of people, and you wonder really how important is it for me to know where my high school friend had breakfast last week? Is that really a very important issue in my life?
It’s very healthy, I think, number one, to discard some of these relationships by saying, “You know, there’s nothing against these people. There’s only so many hours in the day,” and then back to the idea of new friends, like our project I’m working on with you. I think it’s wonderful. I’m hearing you tell … I’m working with Sonya Namseon and she is a great person. We’re doing a coaching project together. I didn’t know her at all. She’s one of the 100 coaches in our project. I’ve got to meet a lot of new people that I wouldn’t have necessarily met before. I didn’t know you that well before. It’s been wonderful for me to meet new people and really expand my horizons and way of thinking.
If you want to grow, again, if you repeat the same experience over and over again, you’re not going to grow very much. Sometimes you need to say, “What do I need to do different and new, and, also, where’s some new people I need to meet?”
Peter: Let’s explore that a tiny bit, too. Let’s say I’m interested in doing more CEO coaching, and I have a group of clients who are at a certain level of CEO coaching, but I want to get to the next level. How do I bridge that gap? How do I shift from the current group of people that I’m working with to the next level? How do I get in with that crowd?
Marshall: The one thing I do is I don’t work with people over typically a year and a half anyway. I’m not big in long-term, what I call, dependency relationships. I work with people a year, a year and a half. Then I keep in touch with them after that, but I’m not their official coach, and I think which is try what I’ve done, and I think it would be healthy to do for everybody is you try to just leverage up. You work at this level. You become a success. You gradually move up to the next level and next level and next level. Then, after a while, you learn how to say, “No.” You say, “No,” to people who are not at the level you want to coach. It’s not that they’re bad people. It’s just you’re not going to have as much impact on world coaching a second-line supervisor as you are the CEO of Ford. It’s just a different level of impact.
Peter: How do you leverage that up, meaning you’re not working with them anymore, so they’re free.
Marshall: Let me give you a couple ideas. Let me give you a couple ideas. For people interested in coaching, one is do volunteer work because when you do volunteer work, number one, you’re working with very high-end people who typically appreciate the fact you’re volunteering, you’re helping them, you’re not charging them any money, but you’re building some very positive relationships. Number two, their boards are composed of very, very high-end people typically, and that’s a great way to meet people, and they say, “Well, gee, this coaching is working for Jim over there. Maybe I should try it myself.” You get to meet very, very high-end people. You’re doing good for the world and meeting high-end people and leveraging up at the same time.
Peter: That’s a great idea. Jim Wolfensohn, who was president of The World Bank a few rounds ago, when I was first starting my company 20 years ago, gave me that same advice. He said, “You join a bunch of boards. Get in contact with these people on the boards because then they see the work that you do.” It’s almost like the transition people or people who can link from one to the other. It’s beautiful.
This next chapter, called Behavioral Metamorphosis, is so soundly in your bailiwick, and I want to combine it with this chapter called Believe It or Not, which is breaking through the belief vault. We’ve talked a little bit about both. This idea of if you have new aspirations then you’ve created a little bit of a new community and now you have to break some old habits, you have to do things differently than you’ve done before, and along with new habits, you have to change some beliefs. That’s going to help you. I’m curious to hear your experience around both of those in your life.
Marshall: In my job as a coach, I see this every day. My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term change in their behavior. My clients are very, very successful people. One thing I’m proud of is my book, Triggers. Twenty-seven major CEOs endorsed the book. Thirty years ago, no CEO would admit to having a coach. They would have been ashamed or embarrassed to have a coach. I’ve really worked hard to change that, and I think what’s important is to realize you do need to look at what I call The Superstition Trap. The more successful we become, the more we fall into this. What’s that? I behave this way. I’m successful. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way. Very important to say, “No, I behave this way and I’m successful. I’m successful because I do many things right in spite of doing things wrong. I behave this way. I’m successful at this level.” If you want to get to the next level, this behavior won’t work.
Let me give you my own life example. The best coaching I didn’t ever listen to is I met a gentleman named Dr. Paul Hersey, who was the most famous guy in our field. He was kind enough to let me follow him around. He got double-booked. He said, “Can you do what I do?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe.” He said, “I need help. Can you do it?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I’ll pay 1,000 bucks for a day.” I was 28 years old. That was 40 years ago. I was making 15,000 bucks for a year. You know what I said? “Sign me up, Coach.” I did this program, was very successful, and then he called me in about two years later and said, “You’re making too much money. You’re too good at what you’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, making money. Your clients are happy, but you’re just gonna run around like a hamster with your head cut off, just spinning this wheel. You’re not writing. You’re not thinking. You’re not developing your brand. All you’re doing is just the same thing over and over.”
He was right. For 10 years, I lived that out. If I had to live my life over, I’d live the 10 years differently. Back to your point, that behavior, which was positive behavior, it got me to where I was going to do, really was holding me back. The other thing I learned from that is especially if you’re comfortable. Comfort is a real enemy of change. It’s very, very hard to change when we get too comfortable. It’s just part of life.
Peter: Marshall, what age were you when you learned that lesson, after the 10 years of having done the same thing over and over again, very successfully, but not changing?
Marshall: I was probably the ages of 30-40 years old, and at about 40, I met Frances Hesselbein, I met Peter Drucker. I was really encouraged to do more writing, building a more positive, long-term brand, up-scaling what I was doing, and then that changed my life. If I had to live my life over, I would have lived that 10 years a little differently.
Peter: What did you change? First of all, you’ve already talked about new friends and Hesselbein and you created some new friends and some new beliefs and recognizing that … I’ll quote someone who wrote an amazing book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. When did you write that?
Marshall: That was about 2007. I started writing it about 2006.
Peter: People listening, if you haven’t read that book, it’s really one of my favorites of all time, but I think it’s a really excellent book. You’re beginning to shift some of your beliefs, that this won’t get you to where you want to go. What did you change in your life that brought you closer to where you want to go? You’re running around like a hamster and not writing. What shifted?
Marshall: Another fellow who’d helped me was my good friend, Rick Culley. I was working for the New York Stock Exchange. He worked for them. I did this program. I got evaluated a 4.8 out of 5. I talked to Rick and I said, “Rick, you know, this is great. How can I do better?” You know what Rick said? “You’re asking the wrong question?” He said, “You can kill yourself. You might be rated a 4.85 out of 5. You’re fixing the wrong problem.” He said, “You need to be writing. You need to be thinking. You need to be developing your brand. You’re working on the wrong thing.” Really, that was a great learning for me that I was working on the wrong thing. Nothing wrong with what I was doing. I was just doing the same thing over and over again, and the marginal improvement was like this. It was really important to get that little jolt of quit wasting time on what doesn’t matter and really focus on stuff that’s much bigger payoff.
Peter: That’s when you started writing and coming up with new ideas.
Peter: The next chapter, now we have set our new aspirations, we’ve thought about who our friends are and how to create a community around us, we’ve got a behavioral metamorphosis, and shifted and looked at our beliefs. Now we’re at this piece, which is The Importance and Evolution of Character, the importance of who you are and how you show up. It’s not just what you do, but it’s the principles that you live by. I’m actually going to combine that with the chapter called Critical Abandonment where you’re choosing what to let go of because I think those two things work together a little bit. What are your principles, and based on those principles, what are you going to stop doing? What are you going to let go of? Again, a little bit of a story of your life.
Marshall: I think one thing in my book, Triggers, that I found very helpful in my life, if listeners don’t learn anything else today but this one lesson, it’s been a very good podcast, that’s before you speak, ask yourself, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the effort required to make a positive difference on this topic?” If the answer is, “Yes,” go for it. If the answer is, “No,” let it go. Peter Drucker taught me this. Our mission is to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart we are, and we get so wrapped in nonsense that we just really are not making functional use of our lives. This happens to people constantly.
I think really important, one thing I try to focus on is I do this daily question process. Every day, someone asks me questions about my life. They’re all yes, no, or number questions. If anyone would like to hear all my questions, send me an email, but one of them is, how many minutes did I spend on things that really are not that important? How much of my life was spent on doing stuff that didn’t matter that much, and things I’m not going to change? Maybe they’re important, but I’m not going to do anything about them. Just really focusing on, is this going to make a difference? One thing I focused on with my 100 Coaches project is, again, number one, new relationships, lots of new relationships, and then, number two, really looking at life in a different way. That was a creative idea. It got nominated one of The Top Eight Creative Ideas by Thinkers 50 this year.
Looking at life in a different way, I ask myself, “If I could work with anybody I wanted to and money was not an object, who would I work with?” Then I thought, “I don’t need the money anyway. Why don’t I just work with him?” That’s the inspiration of the idea. You get to work with much better people. Not better, but much more upscale people, much more interesting people in a way, and it’s just a different way of thinking. Back to your point, it’s a different mindset where you’re saying, “What if money didn’t matter? What would I do?” I’m old anyway. I have plenty of money. Just do what you want to do. It’s been very freeing.
Peter: In the book, there’s this conversation around shifting from a poverty mentality to an abundance mentality. That when you have enough money, and you’re demonstrating that right now, when you have enough security … I know people who are incredibly wealthy and who still have this poverty mentality… It’s still not enough. It’s not not enough because they’re greedy. That’s not the issue. It’s not enough because they’re afraid, because they want more security. Do you have advice for people to help shift that mentality from a poverty mentality to an abundance mentality?
Marshall: Yeah. I think a lot of it is just be willing to take maybe in the beginning a small risk, some risk where you say, “Well, okay, this might not work.” The other thing is trust people. Maybe somebody will take advantage of you. Who cares? Get taken advantage of. It’s not the end of the world. Very few people have cheated me in my whole life. Everybody’s nice. Almost nobody’s ever lied to me about anything. I think most people are just fine. Again, once you get out of that scarcity mentality, and also don’t make everything a transaction.
I’ll tell you something I learned. I was in high school. I was in charge of something called the March of Dimes Bread Drive. We’re supposed to raise money for the March of Dimes Charity. The bakery gave us all a loaf of bread. What you’re supposed to do is you give the bread to the people and then ask them if they want to make a donate. Then if they make a donation, you’ll give them the bread. My team, we were in the poorest neighborhood in town, and we came in first place. Why? I said, “Don’t do that.” You give people the bread. Then you say, “Look, you’re going to throw away the bread anyway. You give them the bread and you say, ‘Look, here’s some bread that a nice bakery gave us, and if you wanna make a donation, please do, and if not, it’s fine, keep the bread.'”
What did I learn? Give away the bread. Give away the bread. All my material? I give it all away. You can copy, share, download, duplicate. Give it all away. Doesn’t hurt me any. It saves a lot of time. I don’t have to worry about collecting money and billing people and some typo or anything. It’s all free anyway. Do anything you want to.
Peter: People are grateful and they’re going to say, “Marshall Goldsmith.”
Marshall: They’re very nice. I get thank you letters every day from somebody that says, “Thank you. My life is a little better.” What’s that worth? You can’t buy that.
Peter: I just want to say, because it touched me, and it feels really important, this idea of some people are going to cheat you, but take little risks, and that’s going to happen, but it’s not going to happen all the time. Maria Konnikova,a New Yorker writer, was on this podcast. She’d written a book called The Confidence Game about con artists. I asked her the question, “Have you ever been conned?” She said, “First of all, I wouldn’t know because a good con artist, you never know in the end that you’ve been conned. Second of all, I don’t wanna be the kind of person who can never be conned. I don’t want to live my life in such a way that I’m suspecting everything and that no one will ever get something past me”
I hear you saying the same thing. It’s like, “Take the risk. Every once in awhile, you’re going to be conned, and someone’s going to take advantage, but on the whole, your life is going to be a lot better. You’re going to have better relationships. You’re going to take more risks. You’re going to be able to do more things.”
Peter: That’s great advice.
Finally, I want to talk about legacy, in terms of creating meaning and achievement. Maybe you could speak a little bit about what you’re doing around your legacy in the MG100, which is such a great legacy move that impacts so many people in positive ways, myself included.
Marshall: I’ll give you the history of it. I went to a program that was put on by [Ishay Purcell 00:26:06]. [Ishay 00:26:08] is one of the world’s experts in design. She’s a wonderful woman. As part of the program, she said, “Who are your heroes?” My heroes were people like Alan Mulally and Frances Hesselbein and Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis. They were so nice to me, and they were great teachers, and they never charged me any money. She said, “Why don’t you be more like them?” I thought, “Gee, that’s a great idea. I should be more like them.” I decided I’m going to adopt 15 people, teach them everything I know for free and all that … When they get old, they do the same thing.” That’s payback. Pay it forward.
I made a little selfie video and put it on LinkedIn. It turned out it was the most widely viewed video in the history of LinkedIn. I’ve had now probably 14,000 applicants for the positions. It’s been wonderful. The idea is just give things away to people and be friends and help people anyway you can. The payback is terrific because you help other people, they help you, and everybody’s got a positive relationship.
The other thing is it’s like Bill Gates did, which I think is wonderful with money. He’s giving his money away. In a way, this is nice because if I give you money, I don’t have the money anymore. If I give you knowledge, I still have the knowledge and you have the knowledge, too, and then you can give it to other people. The idea of the project is not for the people in the 100 Coaches to be small versions of me. The idea though is for me to be to them like Peter Drucker was to me. I’m not Peter Drucker. He gave me a lot of stuff, though, and I used what he gave me all the time. If I gave you something that you can use … The other thing, back to the term, legacy, is we’re all going to die sometime, some sooner rather than later. What do you want to leave? Every time I talk about what Peter Drucker did for me, Peter Drucker is alive. I’m giving him that gift of after he’s dead, his ideas are still alive.
To me, that’s what’s nice about this project is creating an environment, where after I’m gone, the ideas are still alive, but then after you’re gone, your ideas are still alive in other people, as well.
Peter: That’s beautiful. What I’m hearing you ask is, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive impact, a positive difference, on this topic?” The idea that it’s a question to ask not only about where you’re spending your time, but how you’re living your life. Am I living my life in a way that it matters to me? I think so many of us can often get caught up in whatever achievements we’re trying to achieve that we forget to ask that question, so we end up accumulating things that don’t necessarily give us the meaning in our life that achievement is supposed to give us.
You’re not talking about not achieving, and if you think about the subtitle of this book, Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Current Life, you’re saying that your achievement should be in line with your meaning so that you not only reap the material benefits and rewards of it, but you’re also very much reaping the character rewards on it. That’s really beautiful.
Marshall: I’ve done five programs in my house with retiring CEOs, and the topic is, what are you going to do next? The first thing you need to realize they can’t just play crappy golf with the woman at the country club and eat chicken salad sandwiches while discussing gallbladder surgery all day. That just doesn’t work. A lot of them get depressed, they drive their wives and kids crazy, they just go off the deep end. What I tell them is, “You have to do two things. You have to find happiness and meaning.” Happiness, what I mean by that is you have to love the process of what you’re doing. I’m looking forward to getting up in the morning. I enjoy doing this. I like the process. Meaning is the end results of what I’m doing mattered to me.
No one can find happiness for you, but you, and no one can find meaning for you, but you. A research, which I’ve done with my daughter, Kelly … Kelly’s a professor at Vanderbilt, and our research on this is very clear. You need to achieve simultaneous happiness and meaning in life. You have to have both because if you have meaning without happiness, you’re a victim or a martyr. You’re doing important things, but you have a miserable life. On the other hand, if you try to amuse yourself and do things to make you happy that are meaningless, you experience emptiness. Neither one of those is good.
After the ninth cruise, the cruise director jokes are no longer funny. Again, how many rounds of golf can you play before it’s just boring. Then, all of a sudden, there’s nothing there. You need to do both. Does this make me happy and is this meaningful to me? If the answer is, “Yes and yes,” you won. Basically, what matters in life, if you take care of your health, you have a middle class or upper middle class or above income, you have great relationships with people you love, only thing that matters is happiness and meaning. If you say, “Yeah, most of my life has been doing things that make me happy and are meaningful to me,” you won. That’s about all there is. That’s about it.
Peter: Marshall, how old are you now?
Peter: How long do you hope to be doing all of this for? At what age are you planning to …
Marshall: I know my retirement date exactly. Dead. Dead.
Peter: That’s great. That’s great. I went into this work partially with that idea in mind as I was strategizing where I want to spend my life energy. The most vibrant, interesting, engaged people, the people I enjoy the most were people who were much older and had never retired and had never had any intention of retiring, and they’re just engaged in life and young and feel. I was asking myself the question, “What can I do that I wouldn’t have to stop doing because I got too old?”
Marshall: It’s a real blessing being able to do something where you don’t have to stop, and you can keep doing it. Also, what’s a real blessing about what we do is you can do it for free. You don’t have to charge money. If you want to help a nonprofit, when I work for a nonprofit, it’s exactly the same as I work for a for-profit. What I do is the same. I just don’t charge them money, and the work is equally fun.
Peter: Marshall Goldsmith is with us. His latest book, along with Alan Weiss is Life Storming: Creating Meaning and Achievement in Your Career and Life. Marshall, I’m honored to know you. It’s a great pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with our listeners.
Marshall: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you for being one of our 100 Coaches.
Peter: It’s my great pleasure. Believe me. Thanks.
If you enjoyed this episode of The Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about The Bregman Leadership Intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit PeterBregman.com. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood, who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.
How do you talk someone out of believing in a lie? There’s a better way than just spouting the facts, says Daniel Levitin, author of Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. In an era where misinformation is increasingly mistaken for truth, this episode couldn’t be more important. Discover the lines of reasoning that actually break through to people who subscribe to conspiratorial, irrational and unscientific theories.
- Part of leadership is understanding the question behind the question @danlevitin
- How to show tact when someone is factually wrong, but emotionally right @danlevitin
Book: Weaponized Lies
Bio: Daniel J. Levitin is the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. He is also Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI. An award-winning teacher, he now adds best-selling author to his list of accomplishments as “This Is Your Brain on Music” , “The World in Six Songs” and “The Organized Mind” were #1 best-sellers. His work has been translated into 20 languages. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Cris Williamson, Victor Wooten, and Rodney Crowell.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most. With us today is Daniel Levitin. He is a fantastic writer. I loved a previous book that he wrote, The Organized Mind. The current book that we’re talking about today is Weaponized Lies: How To Think Critically In The Post Truth Era. The name was changed from the hardback, and we’ll talk about that a little bit. It was first called A Field Guide To Lies. It’s a tremendously fun book to read. It’s about statistics in the best kind of way, how we think about ideas and how we talk about ideas and how we try to prove our points and how other people try to prove their points in ways that may be misleading and in ways that require further investigation. He’s a professor at the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley and already from my conversations with him, a delightful guy. Daniel, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Daniel: Thanks for having me, Peter.
Peter: It is so fun. You use such great examples and you allow the reader to engage with the statistical challenges. You write things and it gets me, as I’m reading it … We talked just now about a point you make about how second graders, that kids read fewer and fewer books after second grade. I think I’m saying this incorrectly, and there’s all sorts of questions around that, and you begin to think, “Well how long is a book in second grade? What else are they reading?” All these things that allow you to recognize that a statistic is rarely just a truthful number that proves its point, and you’re really unpacking that in the book, so thank you for writing it. Let’s start with the change in the book title. You were just talking a little bit about it. You changed it from “A Field Guide To Lies” to “Weaponized Lies,” and maybe also speak about the idea of framing this whole conversation as lies. I think is kind of an interesting question.
Daniel: Well, so I began writing the book in 2001 actually, and was collecting examples from the media, from my students at McGill University before I was at Berkeley, and began in earnest to write it in 2014. And, this was before we saw the rise of Trump and his statements that in many cases are misleading or untrue, or just plain out false. And the book came out before Trump won the election. It was always our plan to release “A Field Guide to Lies” in paperback, in order to make it affordable to people who don’t want to shell out twice as much money for a hardback or just to have the portability of the thing, easier to read on an airplane in paperback.
And we were thinking, “Well is there something we can do to kind of announce the release of the paperback, and build some excitement?” And my editor at Penguin suggested that we change the title to “Weaponized Lies” from “A Field Guide to Lies,” which is a phrase I had used in an opinion piece I wrote for the New York Daily News in December, not about Trump actually, but you may remember there was a story floating around in October of 2016, Pizzagate. That Hilary Clinton was running a child sex slave ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC, and this drove a mentally unstable man, from one of the Carolinas to drive up to Washington DC, with a semi-automatic weapon and then discharge it there. Now, this whole thing about Hillary Clinton was a lie, and here’s a case where it had become weaponized.
Somebody literally took a weapon in hand, because of this lie. I thought, this marks a kind of a turning point, in public discourse and in our consumption of news. That many of us are now believing things that aren’t true and the consequences aren’t simply that we’re stuffing our heads full of nonsense, we’re now acting either politically or physically based on untrue information.
Peter: So let me ask you a question directly related to that because, and I’m jumping seven questions down from when I had planned to ask you this but it’s related to this particular topic, which is, I was down South with my family. My wife is from Savannah, Georgia. We were in North Carolina and we were with one of her cousins. And I made some comment about Obama or Trump or something, I can’t remember exactly what I said. But I remember his response very clearly, which is, whatever it was that I said, led him to say, “But Obama wasn’t even a US citizen.” And I said, “are you kidding ?” and his wife came by and said, “Don’t talk politics.” But he was saying, “No, absolutely not. He was not born in this country.”
That’s not a statistical question, it’s someone’s opinion based on data that they’ve heard somewhere, with counteracting data. How do you engage in that kind of a conversation? Or, do you just not? I mean I didn’t quite know where to go from there.
Daniel: Well so I think one needs to separate the political from the factual here. So, clearly, the person you’re talking to, has a beef with Obama. Or, if not with Obama personally, with Obama’s policies or platforms. And that’s a separate issue and I think what the … It depends on whether or not you want to have a conversation with this person that will bring you guys closer together, or not.
Peter: I want to pause for a second, because it think that’s such an important point that you’re making, which is before you engage in any of these kinds of conversations, the first question is, “What’s the outcome that you’re going for?” Because it’s not a question that most of us answer. We just get triggered when someone says something, or we just blindly believe. And, what you’re saying, which I think is so important is, “What is the point?” We so often want to get to the truth, but it’s also worth saying, “What’s the point? Am I trying to get closer to the person? Am I trying to win something? Why am I engaging in this conversation?” I think that’s a brilliant and very important question.
Daniel: Right, and part of leadership, I mean this is a leadership forum. Part of leadership is understanding the question behind the question, or the comment behind the comment. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you a story.
I was in a taxicab some months ago, and the cab driver said … he saw me working in the back seat on my computer and I have a little mobile internet, hotspot device, you know I’m working on … He’s says, “Oh do you have internet back there?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he says, “You know it’s a shame with all the technological progress we’ve made in the world … I understand that there are 20 billion people in the world, who don’t have internet.”
Now, you and I are laughing because we know that there aren’t 20 billion people in the world. I don’t know exactly the number, I’m not the Rainman, but it’s somewhere in between seven and eight billion people in the world. There’s not 20, so the number is clearly false. But the comment behind the comment, what he’s getting at, is an emotional point, which is that there’s a lot of people without internet and internet can be a democratizing force and a force to help people be lifted up out of poverty, to get them educated. It can be a force for tolerance. It allows you to see other people living other lives. So, we engaged at that level. We talked about the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, and how the internet can be powerful.
I asked him if he remembers the first time he used it. We had a wonderful conversation. At the end, I said, “And oh by the way… ”
Peter: You know, it’s amazing … I have to tell you, you’ve just shed light on a conversation that I had, and I took the absolute wrong tack. I was in Cape Cod, and it was when there was a hurricane coming up, and the hurricane was down in Georgia, North Carolina. This was probably about six or seven years ago and it was coming up the coast. And everyone was nervous and stressed out and buying water, and somebody said … We were at a beach actually. This was probably about 24 to 30 hours before it was supposed to get up to where we were in Cape Cod.But it was still 24 to 30 hours away. It was in Georgia or South Carolina or something like that, and the guy said to me on the beach, he said, “You know, this is going to be the worst hurricane ever. It’s moving up the coast at 500 miles an hour.”
Daniel: Faster than a jet.
Peter: Right and so what I should have said, which is what you said, is “You know, yeah, it’s really a big storm and it’s coming fast and we’re all a little nervous.” Instead, I was kind of a jerk, I said, “You know, 500 miles an hour, so it’s going to be here in about 45 minutes? Right? This thing’s going to be here in an hour.” And I said, “That’s ridiculous. It can’t possibly be 500 miles an hour.”I didn’t approach it in a useful way.
Daniel: It depends though, right? You have to know your audience, is one of the things that I say. So, if you were doing live news on television or radio, and the head of FEMA, or the head of the US Geological Survey said something like that, it’s your responsibility as a journalist to come back at them. No, I guess it wouldn’t be the US Geological, what would it be? Some meteorological agency, but you know what I mean. You’re talking about a public official, and you’re journalist, and those are the roles you’re playing. You have right to call them out and to fact check, and, “Could that really be right? Could you be off by a decimal point?”
Peter: And you talk about it, in the book, in terms of plausibility. You just ask the question to say, “Is it plausible if there’s 8 billion people in the world, that 20 billion of them don’t have internet?” Or, “Is it plausible that a storm could be moving twice as fast as a jet would move?”
Daniel: Right. And so with your experience in Georgia with the guy who says, “Well Obama wasn’t a citizen,” I mean what are the things you don’t like about Obama, or about his administration? Or what direction do you think the country should be taking? Where would you like to see the country in ten years from now? What I find when I talk to people who hold different political views than I do, in many cases we agree on where we want the country to go and what we want. We want the country to be secure. We want to minimize poverty. We want people who live here to feel that they opportunity. We want clean drinking water.
Now, we might disagree about the best way to get there. But as a starting point for the conversation we envision the same end state, and having established a rapport then, at the end of the conversation you could say something like, “Gee. If he really wasn’t a citizen, half the country seemed to be against him at any given moment. Don’t you think somebody would have filed suit and this would have been adjudicated and … You know. There are a lot of people who hated him. Not just you. Right?”
Peter: Yeah. That’s actually great. That’s a point. And you make that point in the book too and it’s great which is to say it’s a little bit like the plausibility argument. “But if this were true, wouldn’t you also see X, Y, and Z happen?”
Peter: And it’s interesting. That would have been a great way to answer it. And now I’m starting to think of this list of poor conversations that I’ve been in, and to throw them at you so that you can give me better ways of answering them because that’s very smart. And what I love about what you’re saying too it’s a very human approach. We’re not just rationalists trying to disprove people who use statistics poorly, but it’s about, ultimately, in the service of the truth and the relationship.
Daniel: Well there are two things going on here, Peter. One is that we’re trying to get along with others and build a society where people can talk across the aisle so to speak, and have civil discourse without just yelling at each other. And then at the same time we’re trying to inform ourselves about what’s really true so that we can make evidence based decisions. And I hope I don’t need to justify why evidence based decision making is better than superstition and rumor and innuendo. But I mean the fact is that it turns out that people who use evidence based decision making have much better life outcomes, greater life satisfaction, they live longer, they make better personal, and health, and medical decisions, better financial decisions. But parallel to that is you can’t reason somebody out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.
Peter: That’s great. Let’s say that one more time because it’s a very important statement.
Daniel: You can’t reason somebody out of a position or a belief that they didn’t reason themselves into. So if somebody’s made up their mind about something emotionally like Obama is not a citizen, showing the facts and evidence isn’t going to change that most probably. It might. You can hope that it will. I’ve gotten dragged into some arguments with 9/11 conspiracy and moon landing conspiracy people because I’ve gone around the country, actually several countries, talking about the book. Which I love doing. I love engaging readers and would be readers. And it’s interesting to me. I do think that facts are important. It’s been said we’re a post-truth era, and I think that’s horrible if it’s true. If it’s true that we’re in a post-truth era. It’s horrible because it threatens to send us back 400 years.
I mean, what was the age of enlightenment if not the introduction of evidence? We were no longer going to burn witches at the stake and resort to superstition. We were going to use reason and rationality, and that enlightenment brought in things like the germ theory of disease and the discovery of electricity, and a bunch of great boons to civil society. But where I’m going with this is that conspiracy theorists have gotten their emotionally, and sometimes talking facts with them doesn’t help.
But since you opened the door, I’ll tell you one of the moon landing conspiracists I talked said, “Well we’ve got a hundred pieces of evidence that the moon landing didn’t happen.” And I said, “Well give me the strongest one you’ve got, and let’s talk about that. And then let’s just agree that the others … If the strongest thing you got doesn’t hold up, then we won’t talk about the others because by definition they’re not as strong.” “Okay,” she says, “This one’s going to blow you over because it is airtight, solid, and it’s ten times more compelling than anything else we’ve got.” I said, “Okay.” And she said, “Well, if you look at the pictures of the flag on the moon it’s kind of rippled like it’s moving in the wind.” And I said, “Yeah. That’s pretty interesting isn’t it? Because the moon’s supposed to have no atmosphere, so what’s it doing rippling in the wind? And why is it standing upright instead of flopped down if there wasn’t wind?” And she said, “Yeah. That’s the point.”
I said, “Well, NASA people are actually rocket scientists and they knew that there wasn’t going to be an atmosphere, and they knew there was going to be this photo opportunity. So they had put this metal rod along the top of the flag in order to hold it up, and there were one or more rods sewed into the thing, and when they folded it for the flight the rods got bent and as they tried to unbend them you ended up with these ripples in the flag.”
And I said, “Moreover, there is archival video of the moon landing and you don’t have to rely on NASA. You can see it on the CBS new site, or even home hobbyists who took their old super 8 movie camera and shot right off the TV set. And you can see that this is really contemporaneous with the event, and in the video the flag is perfectly motionless. You’re assuming that if you see a still, there might be a more intriguing story in video that shows it flapping around. But no, the video shows it perfectly rigid because in fact there’s no atmosphere and it was rigid.” So she says, “Oh, yeah. Okay. Well forget about that. I got 99 more.”
Peter: Right. And that’s the challenge. I think all of these stories are fantastic, and they’re in the context of actually developing your skill to see through the characterizations and the statistics that might be otherwise misleading. So it’s not just entertaining as a book, it’s also very instructive as a book. For those who are just listening in, I’m speaking with Daniel Levitin. The book is, “Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era.” And for those of you who can’t tell, I adored it.
It feels like there’s two, I’m sure there’s more, but there’s two categories, Daniel. One is the outright lies. You give this example of someone who’s against Planned Parenthood and they’re trying to show on this graph the number of cancer screenings versus abortions, and the way they show it with the data seems to show a disproportionate amount of abortions compared to cancer screenings that are happening. And you look at that and that’s on purpose. It seems very targeted to influence a decision by distorting the data in your favor. And then there’s people who may be just mis-characterizing things because they don’t see through it. Because they haven’t read your book. Because they haven’t taken a statistics class.
In your experience, how much of it feels like outright lies and people trying to bias decisions with distorted statistics? And how much did you see are people who are just uninformed and sloppy in the way that they used statistics?
Daniel: You know, I don’t know how to answer that. I think really, I’m not qualified to answer it. One of the things that bugs me, Peter, is pseudo expertise. I talk about it in the book where you’ll get a pundit on TV, or radio, or a podcast and they do know a lot about one thing, but they are easily led to start pontificating about things they’re not an expert on.
Peter: You know a friend of mine, Marshall Goldsmith, says and I love this quote, “If you’re not the world’s expert in something, why are you opening your mouth?” And that would stop a lot of conversation from happening.
Daniel: Well, I’m not the world expert basketball player but I still enjoy a good pickup game. And I’m very far from being an excellent guitarist, but I still enjoy playing, and I’m enjoying this conversation. I’m not the world expert on this stuff, but I do know my limitations and I think you’d need a media studies person to really the answer question. My impression is that, without assigning proportions, there are different categories of error.
There are people who are really trying to fool you because they want to separate you from your money, or they want to influence or inflame you about a political or social event, and there’s that calculated, “I’m going to use these deceptive practices that I’ve learned in order to fool you.” And that’s clearly a lie. Then there’s another category of people who didn’t understand the data properly themselves, and it’s not just data and statistics. They didn’t understand the story. They didn’t understand the issue themselves. And they didn’t know that they didn’t understand it, and so as you were alluding to like your friend says, they just start opening their mouth and talking about it without realizing they just don’t know much.
And then you have a third category of people who I guess are kind of like the second category in that they just don’t know any better. They learned something along the line, they didn’t challenge it. They probably should have, but they didn’t know how to go about challenging it. And I think that in the second category of people who are willfully ignorant. Who should be, and they know they should be asking but they don’t. And then the third category you just have people who weren’t properly trained. This happens all the time. You’re in a workplace and somebody says, “Oh will you make this graph for us?” And you say, “Well I don’t really know how to do that.” “Well you know, we need it by 2 o’clock for the Penske presentation.” And so you do it.
Peter: I think it’s the third category that I’m curious about talking about because when you talk about this conversation you had with the moon landing, or the Mark Twain quote that you talk about that was really maybe Billings not Mark Twain, and who knows. And part of the ability to be discerning in those conversations is to actually have data, right? So you could be in that conversation with the woman who’s questioning the moon landing because you actually had data about what that flag was doing. I find myself in conversations where someone’s saying something.I’ll give you a great example.
I was talking to someone about global warming, right? And I’m pretty confident that global warming is happening, and I’m pretty confident that human beings have participated in accelerating global warming. But to be honest, I’m confident at that without having read any of the research. And I rely on the fact that there’s lots of experts who seem to be across the aisle, who are scientists. So I’m in a conversation with someone who I felt really didn’t believe that global warming was happening, and I said, “Do you believe global warming is happening?” And he said, “I do actually believe that global warming is happening, I just don’t believe that human beings have anything to do with it.”
And I find myself in that situation that I find myself in too often, where I have this gut response which is, “You’re wrong, and I disagree with you.” And I’m pretty sure I’m right, but in reality I haven’t spent the time or the attention to look at the data and the information to be able to actually engage in a conversation with them. And I’m wondering in that moment, how you engage in that conversations or is the only thing you can do is to drop it?
Daniel: Well, It’s a good question, Peter. I’ve thought about this a lot. Most of what we know, or think we know, we don’t really know first hand. I’ve never seen a cancer cell. But I trust this community of experts who have, so I believe that cancer exists. I know people who have cancer and who’ve died from it, and who’ve beat it. And it could be that it doesn’t really exist and that there are toxins in the environment and there’s a vast conspiracy by Big Pharma and the US Government, and the hospital industry to make us think that something’s going on that’s not. But I haven’t seen DNA myself. I actually don’t know that the sun is really 93 million miles away from my own observations. But we trust these experts, and we trust that the experts have a system of checks and balances and self-correction.
And we have to in order to function as a technological society. We have to trust the experts. And we have to insist that experts have certain certifications. So before you get on an airplane, at least in this country, and I’d say the G10 countries in general, the mechanic who worked on it has to have been a certified mechanic. It’s not just some guy with a wrench. Right? There are scheduled inspections every certain number of hundreds or thousands of flight hours. There are very particular things they need to look for and test, and you’re entrusting your safety. Same with doctors, with lawyers, accountants. There are these … They’re not perfect. Every once in awhile there’s an engine falls off the wing of a plane, or a tax audit happens and you find out your expert made a mistake. But it’s a pretty good system. It’s the best system we’ve got.
And so we do trust experts. I think that’s reasonable. The second part of this is that you can actually do a little bit of research on your own that’s not too time consuming, and I did this with the climate change issue because I try to be open minded. I try not to just adopt the views of someone without asking a few simple, as you communicated, plausibility questions. So my entry point on this, I’m not saying this is the best entry point, this is just where I happened to land, was there had been an open letter published, might have been in the New York Times. I don’t remember. Some months ago an open letter signed by something like a 1,000 climate scientists saying that global warming was not real. Or that it was not human caused. I mean it was something that goes against what you and I have taken to believe as the conventional wisdom.
And so I started going one by one, because they got the signature of all these people. I went one by one and I started looking them up to see who they were. Who are these scientists? These 1,000 scientists that say that global warming is not human related. And about 990 of those 1,000 scientists were not working in climate change, or didn’t have degrees in climate change, or didn’t have advanced degrees. So it would be somebody with a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering signing it. Look, civil engineering is a specialty, and they know a lot of stuff I don’t know, but there’s no reason to think that a civil engineer has expertise in climate science or can make sense of the climate science literature.
The other thing I was interested in was among those people who were holding PHDs in climate science, or climate engineering, or meteorology or some related field. Earth sciences, right? I mean they call them different things in different university programs, but atmospheric sciences. I mean they’re different names right? Some degrees might be in a physics department. That’s okay, but are they publishing in journals devoted to climate science? So there’s a person who’s got a degree from a physics department, who’s a physicist, but all that person’s publications and research and expertise have to do with magnetism. I would say that doesn’t count. That’s not a climate science. They’ve got to be engaged with climate science for me to look at their opinion.
And so this whole controversy about, “Oh well, not every climate scientist agrees. Well, they pretty much do if you define climate scientist properly.
Peter: Right, right. It makes a tremendous amount of sense. Last question that I want to ask you, which is there’s one other category.
Daniel: Oh, by the way. If I could just make an analogy. I’m sorry but I’m passionate about this. If your doctor … If three doctors tell you you have heart disease and that you better exercise and you better cut out the bacon or something, and then you keep getting opinions, at some point if you talk to 100 cardiologists, maybe one of them will tell you it’s genetic and it doesn’t matter what you do. Or maybe you’ll start talking to urologists about your heart problem and you’ll find a bunch of them who have different advice. Take that into account with the climate debate.
Peter: This question goes to even the open question of how we think of expert. When you talk in the book about New Age and I was in conversation with some people who in a very New Agey kind of environment, where it was a very funny conversation where we were in a hot tub and one of them was saying they don’t use chlorine in this hot tub they use whatever it was they were using.
Daniel: Well, maybe bromine.
Peter: And maybe it was bromine. And one said, “My doctor said that it’s not very good for whatever, your health.” And the other one looked at her and kind of grimaced and goes, “Your doctor? Like, who believes a doctor?” And the other one said, “No, no ,no. A chiropractor.” And they go, “Oh. Okay, okay.” Like, now it’s credible. And so it’s that question of who do you hold up as the expert. Like is there agreement even? I mean I guess you first initially have to get agreement on whose opinion or whose perspective we respect and say is the expert, and then work down from there.
Daniel: Well, so this gets to a question of certifications and again it’s an imperfect system but most professionals have an organization that certifies them. The roof workers, people who do roofing for your houses and buildings, there is a professional organization and if you’re unionized you have to go through special training and certifications. And if you’re not you can be a member of a professional organization if you meet certain standards. Airline mechanics, doctors, AMA certified, lawyers have to pass the bar. Gemologists. There are three or four professional organizations for people who will appraise jewelry.
The membership in these, in some of them anybody who pays their dues gets in. I would say that’s not an effective organization for you to know whether the person’s really an expert or not. It might be effective for these people to have a voice in government or to lobby. But what you want is an organization that holds its members to some standard and these exist, and you should look for them.
Peter: Chiropractors, for example, have an association. They have an association that requires certification and education in order to get there. It’s just that there might be a disagreement between one set of experts, and another set of experts who are equally certified in their own methodology and in their own history of their expertise. But you may have to make a decision at some point to say, “Which set of experts, which set of methodologies am I going to hold credibility with?”
Daniel: You’re right. You’re right. I mean there’s a lot of medical information floating around and I tend to look to places like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic for definitive answers. They don’t always agree with one another, but their websites are good sources of knowledge. They’re at the cutting edge in many fields. But you’re right. You can find disagreement and that comes to really it’s the third section of my book, “Field Guide to Lies” or “Weaponized Lies.” The third section is how the scientific method works and science works in fits and starts and scientists don’t always agree with each other, and you can be left for a period of months or even years in limbo where you don’t know what’s true.
Peter: And that’s also where you can use the methods of the book because if one set of experts is saying, “This is what I believe,” the next question is, “Where’s the data,” if we’re going to go for evidence based. Then to say, “What was the statistically valid research based approach that you looked at the number of people in hot tubs with bromine and what kind of illnesses did they get?” And if it’s, “Well I had a friend who,” then chances are that’s not statistically very valid. Versus, “Yeah we did this double blind study,” and et cetera et cetera.
Daniel, thank you so much. The book is, Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. It’s an international bestseller. It’s really an excellent book and I suggest that you run out and buy it. It’s a fun read that also educates you. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Daniel: Thanks for having me, Peter.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our Big Arrow Process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit PeterBregman.com. Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.
How can we have productive conversations around sensitive issues? Bestselling author Mark Murphy offers a solution in his newest book, Truth At Work: The Science of Delivering Hard Messages. Discover the eight steps in a “truth talk,” the key to getting someone else to understand your perspective, and how to distinguish for yourself between facts and interpretations.
- “Their buy-in is critical to making a behavioral change.” @LeadershipIQ on speaking #truth to employees
- Discover the 8 steps of a #truthtalk with @LeadershipIQ on this week’s #podcast
Book: Truth At Work: The Science of Delivering Hard Messages
Bio: Mark Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author, founder of Leadership IQ, and a sought-after lecturer. Mark’s previous books include Hundred Percenters and Hiring for Attitude. His firm Leadership IQ is a top-rated provider of cutting-edge research and leadership training. He has personally provided guidance to more than 100,000 leaders from virtually every industry and half the Fortune 500. Mark has been featured in such publications as Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and The Washington Post.
Peter: With us today is Mark Murphy. His most recent book is, “Truth at Work: The Science of Delivering Tough Messages.” It’s a really critical book and critical concept, which is that the hardest thing any of us have to do, the thing that holds us back most often from getting traction on what’s most important to us is often a conversation that we’re not having. Mark has the solution for us. In ” Truth at Work,” it’s a very well thought-out, disciplined process and he’s here to talk about it with us today. Mark, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Mark: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Peter: Mark, you talk about the science of delivering tough messages and you talk about the truth talk, the need for truth talks. What’s a truth talk?
Mark: A truth talk is, essentially a real dialogue. It’s a real conversation where we surface issues that, not everybody wants to talk about and the reason it’s important is that, several-fold. Number one, we have, right now, going on a real lack of conversation. What we have throughout the media, throughout social media, we have a lot of what I would call, “Reciprocated diatribe.” That is, people kind of shouting messages back and forth at each other, but that’s not a conversation. Generally speaking, when you think about a conversation there are as many questions as there are statements. It’s a two-way sharing of information but not just a sharing of information. There’s an assimilation, a digesting, a dissecting of that information and ideally, somebody’s perspective is going to be changed. That’s not what we have at the moment with this reciprocated diatribe. We have shouting, but that’s not a conversation, so that’s really what a truth talk is supposed to be.
Peter: It’s interesting, because when I think about these difficult conversations that people have it almost always starts with somebody saying, “I’ve got to deliver a tough message to this person. I’ve got to tell them something that’s going to be hard for them to hear.” We enter into it, it sounds like, as a setup, right? Because we aren’t thinking, “I have to have a conversation.” We’re thinking, “I need to deliver a message.” You’re saying that the idea of going into a conversation with the intent to deliver a message is a mistake?
Mark: It’s a mistake in that it puts us in the mindset that the other person’s perspective isn’t relevant or valid. Even if we’re talking about, for example, lets say we have an employee who’s late 15 days in a row. It’s not that I, necessarily, care that this person has some incredibly valid reason for being late 15 days in a row, but rather, if I go into the conversation that their perspective is irrelevant, much less stupid, I’m already setting this up for the person to get defensive and not hear anything that I have to say. I can’t work around their psychological defenses if I don’t go, at least, go into it with the idea that they have a viewpoint. Now, it may not sync with mine. Their viewpoint may, ultimately, lead to them not being a good fit with my company, but it’s not going to be … I’m never going to get them to really understand my perspective if I don’t, first, reach out and try and understand what’s going on in their head, because their buy-in is critical to them actually making a behavioral change.
Peter: I can hear certain leaders that I work with, their voices in my head, saying, “Wait a second, the guy’s late 15 times. It’s not rocket science. I’ve got to let them know they can’t be late. Done. They’re going to need that perspective, it’s not rocket science.” Refute that for me.
Mark: There’s kind of two ways to look at it. One is, if we’re at the point where it’s not rocket science they’ve made the choice not to show up, well, then just fire them. If we actually want to sit down and have a conversation where we’re trying to get them to understand why they can’t be late then we need their guard to come down a little bit. We need them to engage and actually figure out, “Yeah, the boss has a point. This is the relationship we need to have. I need to show up on time.” My … because, I get a lot of the same thing from leaders that I see.
“Well, yeah, they’re late. It’s terrible.” Then just fire them, but we’re not having a truth talk at that point. At that point if somebody has messed up so much that they’re clearly not a fit? Great. What I see a lot of managers do is put themselves through this process where they’re having this pseudo conversation. They pretend like they’re sharing some deep information and getting but-in from the other person, but really all their doing is telling the person, “Don’t be late.” Okay, I’d do that but that’s not a conversation.
Peter: Let me ask you one other question that comes to me and then I want to dive into the meat of the book.
Peter: I had a conversation very early on in my career. I had started my company, this is probably about 20, 18-years-ago, let’s say, and there was a coach who was working for me who violated a contract. There was a contract that said that they can’t contract directly with the client because they’re contracting through our company. He went around and tried to do that. I called him in to have a conversation with him and I really wanted to approach it with curiosity. I really didn’t understand why he would do this. I said, “First of all, am I right?Did you go around and contract directly with the client?”
He said, “Yes, I did.” I said, “Help me understand what’s going on for you that you made that choice. We have a very clear contract and you already knew but you made that choice and I want to understand.” His response was, “Look, I don’t want to be psychoanalyzed.” Then my response was, “Okay, so you violated the contract so I’m going to have to fire you.” But I tried to approach it to understand his perspective and he came back with, “I don’t want to be psychoanalyzed.” I’ve actually heard that a couple of times. I’m wondering from a truth talk perspective when you have a message but you’re still coming with curiosity. How do you avoid that?
Mark: There’s a couple of things. Number one, is that in a real conversation it does take two people to want to engage in this and when you have somebody whose defensiveness is so up that they say, “Listen, I would rather opt out of the organization than I would sit down and have a true dialogue with you.” I mean, odds are this is a person whose been caught, their embarrassed, etc, etc. You know, kind of coming into a conversation like that, this is one of the things I would always tell somebody is, “Know what your goal is.” If the goal is ultimately, there’s no changing it, they violated the contract. You’re going to, “Free up their future,” or you know, my euphemism for firing them.
You’re going to separate ways, part ways with them regardless of the outcome of this conversation, oftentimes, somebody can sense that, and they’re basically saying, “Listen, I don’t want to have 20-minutes of preamble before we get to the, ‘You’re out of here.'” At that point honestly there isn’t a lot of comeback, because this isn’t, this also is not a great setup for a real dialogue. We already know what the goal is. The goal is, you broke this, non-negotiable, immutable rule and so no matter what each of us says in this conversation, you’re still getting let go. There are going to be people who will just say, “Listen, just fire me. Just, let’s just make this go faster. Band-Aid time. Rip it off and be done.”
Peter: You know, that’s interesting, because I actually think I was open to … If there was some reason that I could understand and we could figure this out, we can get through it, but, maybe that’s … Maybe I wasn’t being honest with myself? Maybe I wasn’t coming to the conversation with the kind of openness I thought I was coming with and he sensed that? That’s interesting. It’s something to think about. Let’s briefly go through the eight steps of the anatomy of a truth talk. Very short overview and then we’ll go into some more detail.
Mark: Yeah, so, essentially, every truth talk kind of has to begin with some understanding of what might be blocking this person from wanting to engage in this. There’s all sorts of psychological defenses and even financial defenses that prevent the person from these truth killers. Prevent them from wanting to have a real conversation. Once you get some lay of the land we really want kind of jump in their head a little bit and get a sense of what’s going on inside their head. This is where I get some resistance from managers sometimes. Where they come back with the, “I don’t want to understand their perspective,” and I approach this more like, “Pretend you’re a negotiator. Yeah, you have your position, but you’re not going to get a great deal unless you understand what’s going on in side the other person’s head. You can’t sell unless you understand their perspective, you can’t negotiate unless you understand the other person’s perspective.”
The fact is you don’t have to agree with it. I’m not saying you have to come away and say, “Oh, they should be allowed to be late 15 days in a row.” No, but you have to understand it before you can deal with it. Once you do that you basically got to get away everything else, all the emotions, the emotional reactions, the interpretations and get right to the facts and this is kind of the heart of a truth talk, is that truth talks are not really big, emotional explorations. They’re really getting rid of everything else that isn’t factual so we can then have an unemotional conversation about what’s really happening. Once you do that, we can then invite this person into a conversation. This is really as simple as saying, “Hey, listen. Would you be willing to have a conversation with me about this? I’m not coming in to yell at you. I actually want to have a conversation. I want to understand this.”
Once you’ve done that, now, you can listen to them, understand where they’re coming from, and, it’s always a good idea when possible, to let them go first, kind of share where their head is at. Which is like sales 101, negotiating 101. Don’t start with the big speech, elicit from the other person. Once you’ve done that you can share your perspectives, maybe create a word picture, which is sort of a common understanding of what our expectations here are, come to some agreement and then we’re ready to get some buy-in and actually move forward. If I were to distill a truth talk into its essence it’s basically, jump inside the other person’s head, figure out what’s going on in their mind. Get rid of all your emotional baggage. All my stuff. I’ve got to get rid of that. Once I’ve gotten rid of that I invite them into a conversation and now we can start to hash things out.
Peter: Step 2 of focusing on the facts and getting rid of the emotional piece makes a tremendous amount of sense and is tremendously difficult, right? Because we often confuse our emotional responses with facts. My question is, what guidance can you give us that can help people distinguish between facts and interpretation of facts and the emotional reaction to facts and the goals that we’re trying to achieve? How do we separate that out to really have a conversation about facts?
Mark: There’s kind of two techniques. One of them is incredibly simple and a little goofy, but it’s if we literally, imagine you’ve got a blank piece of paper in front of you and you just make like, a two-by-two grid. You label this grid, “Facts, Interpretations, Reactions and Ends.” What I would recommend and I do it, personally, before I go into a tough conversation I want to actually make my notes to myself and say, “Okay, this is a fact,” and, “They’re being disrespectful.” Okay, I’m going to put that in the fact. Well, okay, now once I kind of label everything out I go back and I look at it and I say, “I put some stuff in the fact box here, and I’m not entirely sure.” Then the second thing I want to do, I have an acronym, “FETISH.” I would say, you want to scout for the facts. You want to make sure they’re specific and candid and objective, but, ultimately, you want to make sure that if there were a video camera in the room would the video camera see the situation the same way I saw it?
The video camera or the tape recorder might say, “I don’t know that that was disrespect, per se, rather, I think that might be just a series of words that we’ve interpreted as disrespectful. They said, “Your idea will not work.” Is that disrespectful? Did they see it as disrespectful? Well, the video camera would have said, “No, they said the words, ‘Your idea will not work,’ that’s not the same thing as totally being disrespectful.” If we actually box this out and then we make ourselves look at the stuff we put in the fact column and say, “Would a video camera see this the same, exact way that I saw this?” Oftentimes what we find is no, it’s, this is not, really, fly-on-the-wall kind of perspective here, this is not the way the video camera in the corner would have seen this situation. That is sometimes what we need to do to force ourselves to really segment out what the facts are versus what our interpretation of those facts are.
Peter: It feels like a critical practice in life, right?
Peter: Which is, that I think most of us walk through life feeling like our perspective is probably shared.
Peter: And that when people do things we often personalize them and feel like they’re doing them to us. I had someone tell me the other day, “If it starts raining and you’re walking outside and you get all wet, is the rain targeting you?” Right? I thought that’s actually a very good point. The rain is not targeting me it’s just raining. That’s what rain does. That’s actually true for people in many ways, so to depersonalize it helps, to identify what’s actually factual and what’s my reaction to the situation that’s happening? Still, it’s hard. I think it requires, maybe, years of therapy to say, “I will look at a situation and not invest all of my emotional baggage in that situation, and be aware that I have emotional baggage that I shouldn’t be investing.” It’s not that easy, I think, to do. Have you found with leaders that you work with that they get it immediately or there’s a process?
Mark: Some do, some don’t so for the ones that don’t they’re two things that kind of help. Number one, is that once you understand that the brain is essentially an interpretation engine … Our brain absolutely works against us in this regard. Our brain does not, if we, we’re kind of hard-wired. If you hear a rustling in the bushes outside your window for example, the brain does not, naturally say, “Oh, my isn’t that interesting? There’s a rustling in the bushes.” If I, I have a 13-year-old daughter. If she and I were up, she’s my horror movie buddy. If she and I were up late, watching some horror movie and I hear a rustling in the bushes I’m likely to say, “Aw, dang that’s one of those clowns coming to get us. I saw that in the movie last night.” Or, if I were a birdwatcher, I might say, “Oh, well isn’t that interesting? I bet that’s a Yellow-Bellied Red-Haired Thrush,” or something.
Mark: Our brain is hard-wired to view the world with interpretations rather than dispassionate facts but the other thing and this is important, is that social media is actually training our brain to respond in the exact wrong way. When you think about what works on social media? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., they want us to respond quickly and emotionally. When you respond quickly and emotionally that’s what Twitter thrives on, but that is the exact wrong response when you’re walking into a tough situation. One of the things that I find works well is, (a) Pointing out to people that, “Listen, part of this is not you. Part of this is you’re surrounded by stimuli that say, ‘Respond emotionally, respond personally, do it, quick, quick, quick.'” Somebody once asked me, “How do I make my brain work faster in a touch conversation?” My answer was, “You don’t. What you can do, though, is slow the conversation down.
Even something as simple as saying to somebody that walks into your office and says, ‘You know, I’m pretty ticked off of what you did in that meeting last week.’ Say, ‘Okay, look, can we just pause for a second here?'” Because if we start to insert just a three count before we start reacting and uncorking, and if you train yourself to a) three-count it, b) pull out a piece of paper, say, ‘Do you mind if I take some notes? I really want to give this it’s full due?'” You can habitualize those things and over time they will start to train you that when you see something that sets you off? You’re going to kind of hard wire this response that, ‘Breathe, just breathe. Pull out a piece of paper.'” Even if you’re not consciously thinking, “I have to think about facts and interpretations, reactions and ends and all of that.” Forget that for a minute. Habituatilize a three count and a piece of paper that does, bit by bit, over even just a couple of months, start to make a difference.
Peter: You’re talking to the guy who wrote the book, “Four Seconds,” so you know, you have an all-ears audience to this one.
Mark: I figured maybe we had some intellectual simpatico here.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. One of the things you said that I found very interesting and counter-intuitive is, if I understood you correctly, setting your own goals after taking in their perspective. It’s a step that says you’re taking their perspective, then you’re deciding what it is you want to achieve. It’s … that’s very counter-intuitive, because, most of us won’t go into a truth talk without having a goal of what we want to achieve with it. I mean if someone’s late 15 times, my goal is for them to not be late 15 times. Talk to us about how you really not go into a conversation with an intention of what you want to achieve?
Mark: Good question. One of the things, let’s go back to that 15 late example. You go into it and if your goal is truly, “I want them, I cannot have an employee that is late 15 times,” we kind of have an inflection point here. We can either say, “There is no salvaging this. This is, violates the rule, we’re done here.” In which case my goal is I’m just going to go fire them, and, at the point we’re not really having a conversation. If we are going to have a conversation though, part of what I’m doing when I’m kind of climbing inside their head a bit and trying to figure out their perspective is, “I’m assessing what kind of goal I have any shot of achieving here.” If I really look deep into their perspective, I’m looking at their pattern of behavior. I’m listening to the things they’ve said. I may take a step back and say, “You know what? My goal isn’t a conversation here. I might not be able to do this.” This is the thing that sometimes we go into a conversation with one goal in mind but if we don’t open ourselves up to the possibility that the data may tell us something different? The data being there, what’s in their head and what comes out of their mouth. If we don’t open ourselves up to, the data may change my goal and force me to readjust what is doable here?
Then, essentially we fall back into this reciprocated diatribe where, I’m going to yell, they’re going to yell, and we’re going to end up at an impasse. It’s not so much that it always has to be perfectly linear, rather it’s more a case that I need to be open that I may learn something about them that forces me to reevaluate whether my goal is doable, not doable. You know you go into a tough conversation with your boss, for example. You’re like, “Okay, I’ve got kind of a jerk as a boss, this is untenable.” If I go in and I say, “My goal is they’re going to treat me with respect?” Okay, well, maybe, but you may find something out and you can set that as an initial goal. I mean, yeah, that’s fine, but you may go into the conversation and all of a sudden you’re starting to realize that this is not going to work. Rather, I’ve got to adjust my goal to, “I’ve got to just keep things quiet for the next six months so I can find a new job.” That’s the adjustment process that we need to be open to.
Peter: Briefly, I want you to share this idea of word picture, which I found very compelling and important in conversations where we may be using words that each of us has a different interpretation of.
Mark: The word picture concept was born out of this idea that if I go tell one of my employees, “I need this report done ASAP.” We’ve all got a different definition. That could mean in the next five minutes, it could mean by the end of Friday. Who knows? It’s non-specific and so the word picture concept was partly that and partly … One of my surveys recently found that only about 29% of employees know whether or not they are truly doing a good job. Okay, so, people don’t know if they’re on the right track with their work, and we have fuzzy definitions of a lot of different words. A word picture, essentially said, “Take everything you want your employees to do, where every boundary you want to set in the conversation and break it into three categories. Essentially, bad, good and great. Needs work, good work and great work. Then you want to define each of those categories in a really, behaviorally specific way.
For example, if I go talk to my kids and I say, “I want you to do better piano practicing.” They’re going to look at me and go, “But I did good piano practicing.” “Well, it’s not good enough. It doesn’t meet my definition of what good enough is.” They’re going to look at me and go, “But I don’t know what that is.” I would sit down with them and say, “All right,” because I torture my children this is exactly what we’ve done. Sat down and said, “All right, we’ll define, let’s define what bad piano practicing looks like.” “Well, I guess, if I just played a piece through three times and I sit there for 15 minutes that would be bad.”
“Okay, perfect. I like that. I can see we’re not doing it enough times we play it through. What is good piano practicing?” “Well, good would be I’d sit here for 40 minutes and I would, if I make a mistake when I’m playing my piece through I would stop and fix it.” “Ah, I like that. What would be great piano practicing then? If that’s good, if that’s nice, you can live with that, what’s even better?” “Well, I wouldn’t even bother playing my piece all the way through. I would only work on the parts where I know I’m struggling and I would play it until I have worked out all the kinks in that particular measure.” Okay, now, what I’ve essentially done is I’ve created this behaviorally-specific grading scale for what, bad, good and great is.
Now if I go have a conversation with them I don’t even have to say, “You know, that piano practicing wasn’t very good.” I can just say, “So, where do you think that piano practicing fell?” Then they could say, “I know that was, needs work. Oh dad I’ll go do it some more.” It allows them to automatically self-correct. The same exact thing happens in the workplace. If we do this for a tough conversation we could go into a conversation and say, “All right, well tell me what a bad conversation would look like?” “Well, we both walk away. We’ve said our piece but we’ve used a lot more sentences than questions and on and on and on.” And it’s just a way of saying, “Let’s define some stuff. Before we start talking across each other lets just define some stuff so we know exactly what it is we’re talking about.”
Peter: It feels important and it feels like the risk of sounding or feeling patronizing as the person leading this exists and you have to really go into it with both confidence but also humility and a willingness to learn. Because I can imagine that everyone you go into a truth conversation with might feel like your ten-year-old son?
Mark: That’s one of the, an absolutely huge risk and that’s one of the reasons why we actually have to begin with their perspective rather than, “I’ve got this agenda and I’m going to shove it down their throats,” because that can, even if you don’t think we’re letting that leak out it can still leak out. That’s why if a conversation really, truly has to be … I want to understand. If we don’t go in with that ounce of humility, that curiosity, I want to know what’s inside their head. If we don’t truly feel that? It absolutely, unconsciously, leaks out. They pick up on it and now all a sudden it feels very parent-child. That’s exactly what we do not want to happen.
Peter: We have been speaking with Mark Murphy. His most recent book is, “Truth at Work: The Science of Delivering Tough Messages.” Mark, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
Mark: Thank you so much for having me. This was great fun.
Can a little bit of rest actually make us far more productive? That’s what Marilyn Paul explores in her latest book, An Oasis In Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life. Discover why even an hour of rest a week can increase your productivity, Marilyn’s principles for establishing a rest routine that works, and how real rest is different (and more enjoyable) than sitting on the couch.
- “It’s like supercharging who you are.” @marilynbpaul on the effectiveness of taking a day of rest
- Relaxing isn’t just sitting on the couch – it’s actively doing something joyful @marilynbpaul http://bit.ly/2ujkNqn #productivity #joy
Book: An Oasis In Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life
Bio: Marilyn Paul is an explorer of time management and well-being. She helps people find their path to balancing the inner, intuitive spaciousness of oasis time with the pleasures and efficacy of getting the right things done.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
With me today is a delightful guest. A friend of mine, Marilyn Paul. Her latest book is “An Oasis in Time. How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.” She has previously written a great book. I love the name of this. “It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.” Her focus has been very much on how we can bring ourselves to our greatest effectiveness. It’s often what we do around the effectiveness that gets us there. I’m delighted to have Marilyn on with us. Marilyn, thank you for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Marilyn: It’s wonderful to be here Peter. Thank you.
Peter: This feels like an important book. First off, tell me what it is, right? An Oasis in Time, what you mean by that, and why is it an important book?
Marilyn: I wrote “An Oasis in Time” because of the treasure of Sabbath. Even if I say the word Sabbath, I know that people are cringing.
Peter: Right, because we’re not speaking to a religious audience. We’re speaking to a leadership audience.
Marilyn: No. Just the words “Ehhh …” I don’t want that. But since I’ve learned more, and more about keeping Shabbat, I’m Jewish, that’s my background. So, let me say a little more. I’m a workaholic, I have a PHD from Yale, I’ve done years of management and organizational change consulting. I burned myself out. I’m a meditator, I tried meditation. I do all of that. I exercise, taking good care of myself. Shabbat has been key to what I now see as phenomenal effectiveness.
So, that’s why I wrote the book because I think that there’s more here than people know, and I showed them how. I can show you how to get there.
Peter: Great. So, two things. One is define Shabbat because for a lot of people, they don’t know what that is.
Marilyn: All right. So, first of all, Shabbat means to stop. That’s all it means. Stop. Stop your everyday, everything, and do something else. In the Jewish tradition, it’s 24 hours, or 25 hours. For Christians, it can be a day. For anyone, it actually could be ceasing for an hour a half a day, a day.
Peter: The second question, which I think you’ve just answered is, you’re not writing this to Jews, to try to convince them to observe the holiday of Shabbat, or the rest of Shabbat. What you’re saying is, there’s wisdom in this Jewish practice of taking a day completely away from work. Away from electronics, away from having conversations about work, away from doing work.
The way I’ve heard it described that I like the best is, we spend six days a week trying to change the world in some way. Trying to fix things, trying to shift things, trying to make things happen, trying to change the world in some way. We spend one day just recognizing, being grateful, enjoying, appreciating the world as it is, with no intent, or attempt to change it.
Marilyn: Absolutely. Beautifully put.
Peter: Thank you. So, what you’re advocating in the book, and not just advocating, but really kind of helping people to actualize, to make happen is the importance. The words you use, “The Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.” The importance in our society right now at this particular time of taking a time out.
Marilyn: Exactly. So, it sounds impossible, but when I tell people, “This is what we do in my family.” They say, “Oh, I can never do that. I need eight days a week to get things done. Not six.” So, here is the critical feature that I have learned, and know from talking with so many people. When you take a day off, your brain calms down. Your body rests. You reconnect with those you love, and through that, you regain perspective and creativity.
It’s like supercharging who you are through this brilliant idea of a day of rest each week.
Peter: It makes total sense to me conceptually, right? It feels right. I want to bring you to a moment of challenge, which is I was with my daughter this morning, and she was eating, and reading on her phone. I said, “Isabelle, please just turn your phone around and just eat.” When you eat, you eat. When you look at your phone, you look at your phone.
Peter: She said, “Dad, you always read when you’re eating. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen you brush your teeth, and not do something else at the same time.” Children are really fantastic for calling us to task, and cutting through the BS, and being real. She’s actually right, and I was thinking I start brushing my teeth. It’s just two minutes, I literally have a beeper that goes off in two minutes after brushing my teeth, and I find myself distracted, and bored, and wanting to at least turn on the radio, and listen to NPR, or something while I’m brushing my teeth. That’s just for two minutes.
You’re suggesting an entire day, and my question is, it’s kind of a rubber meets the road questions, which is how do we actually bring ourselves to do this? To get the benefit without driving ourselves crazy in the first three minutes?
Marilyn: All right. So number one, it’s true. We start to rest. Often what happens for people is they feel even more tired. Partly why we’re going non-stop is when we stop, we feel that overwhelmed, that feeling of fatigue, the lack in our lives. Yes. So, why not multitask?
Peter: Two things. One is we may feel that tired, and at the same time, all of the thoughts of everything we haven’t done has time, and space, and room to come up. Suddenly we feel overwhelmed. A moment of rest gives us this simultaneous feeling of tired and overwhelmed. The tension that requires a solution, or suggests a solution is to do more stuff.
Marilyn: Yes. Absolutely true. So, part of what this, what I am saying is this requires trust, that you actually can get through those first minutes, the first hour of tearing your hair out. “I can’t wait to do one more thing.” I talk about overcoming the “one more thing” syndrome. I’ll rest when I just send this email, then I’ll close my computer.
Or I’ll rest. I see I’ve got laundry to put away, then I’ll see my computer, the laundry room door. Whatever it is, there’s always something to do. So, the premise of this, and I think the wisdom of our ancient teachers even back then, thousands of years ago, they could see that we need to stop, to recognize who we are, what we’re doing here, we need perspective, and we need to turn our attention away from the every day.
It takes practice, it takes fierceness, and I can talk more. How do you actually … Hey, how do you actually do this? One, step by step, little by little, and keep rewarding yourself for doing it. I talked to scores of people now. “How the heck do you do this?” And I have a number of principles, which I can tell you right now.
Marilyn: Principle number one: Figure out why. What is it costing you to go non-stop like this? Being ruthless about why you want this. You’re tired, you’re sick, you don’t have enough time with your family, or friends. You feel yourself burning out, things don’t feel like they have meaning for you, you’re not getting to some of the things you most are about.
One woman said to me, she’s an executive, she’s on the go. All she wants is an hour a week to work on her beading. She’s a craftswoman and she knows how much that would give her. For someone else, it was kayaking. For someone else, it was time with friends, not friends across the country. They had not seen friends who live in the town, the next town over. This way of life costs us, and we need to look at that.
Peter: Let me ask you a question around that because I think the way that a lot of people think, and maybe I’m just revealing my own gaps, and failures.
Peter: Is they come up to a time, and they ask, “What is the most productive use of this time?” If I have this paper to write, if I have these bills to pay, should I really just sit there, and stare into space, and do nothing? Or should I get that stuff done because that stuff is not going away, I’ve got to get that stuff done, and I’ll be able to relax afterwards.
So, we’re making a choice to spend unproductive time, when there’s a lot of productivity that needs to happen. Help me out here.
Marilyn: Yeah, sure. So, that’s the theory. We say, “When we’re resting, it’s not productive.” But let’s think about something. Let’s think about productivity slightly differently. It happens in rhythm. Tony Schwartz actually wrote a fabulous book called “The Power of Full Engagement.” He and Jim wrote. And one thing they could see from highly effective tennis players, is that productivity, and in this case, effectiveness comes in a rhythm. It’s a rhythm of action and rest.
Okay, we know that. So, maybe we meditate 15 minutes, maybe we think about meditating. But what research shows is that downtime is not unproductive time. It’s essential for the level of productivity that we ant. What we want is to be firing on six cylinders all the time.
Peter: In effect, we’re running sprints, not a marathon?
Marilyn: We’re running sprints, not a marathon. We are not machines.
Peter: We need recovery time in between?
Marilyn: We need recovery time. So, one thing we need to say to ourselves is when I am resting, I am recovering my capacity to be hugely productive. It only looks unproductive. We have to talk to ourselves differently. The key is when you go back to work after your hour, or your day, things look different. All of a sudden you say, “I don’t need to address that. I don’t need to do that. I can do in five minutes what I was going to do in an hour.” When we’re tied, we’re not effective.
Peter: You’re valuing yourself more, or equally than you’re valuing what you produce?
Marilyn: Also, though, it’s a little more than that. You actually understand fully, and deeply that much of our time, we are not producing what we want. We’re going, going, going. We’re doing the next thing on the list, but at the end of the day, many people I’ve worked with say, “What did I do today?” And they’re not doing the right thing.
Look, everybody says, “Work smarter, not harder. Be more effective. Focus on the strategic.” But you need brain power, and physical strength, and courage, fierceness to do that.
Peter: Got it, great. Okay, so the first step is to understand why you’re doing it, and the reason why you’re doing it is because really you need to. We’re operating in rhythms, and this is the rhythm that will actually help us to be more productive ultimately. What’s step two?
Marilyn: So, you need to so badly, that you’re willing to walk through fire. So, the fire is, and I experienced that a lot. It’s Friday afternoon, it’s time to stop, and it’s true. Everything I did not get to this week, comes up. “I’ve got to do this, and I’ve got to do that. I’m not shutting this computer until I get back to that person.” And you learn a skill.
The skill is you write it all down, tell yourself “Things will look different on Sunday morning, or Monday morning, and stop.” It’s like ripped from me. I’m ripping myself away from my work.
Peter: The hardest piece of this is the transition. You’re able to rest, and you’re able to work. But going from work to rest is where the biggest pitfall is, it’s the most difficult thing.
Marilyn: And know that in advance. Don’t expect this to be easy, and don’t expect yourself to just say, “Oh, I’ll get back to it on Sunday, or Monday.” Know your tools. You take a pen, you write it down, or you make notes, then you talk to yourself like, “I am finally going to get to this.” So, that transition, know that it will be hard to know that it might take a month or two just to take an hour a week. That much.
There was an article in the New York Times. David Leonard talking about the Schultz hour. That hour when you’re not answering the phone, you’re consciously stopping, you’re slowing down, you’re enjoying the moment, you’re not trying to achieve anything, that hour could be the best in a sense, most productive hour of your week.
So, you get your big why, and you start knowing it’s hard, and you start with an hour.
Peter: It’s interesting because even when you say the hour, and you’ve talked about meditation, and I’m a big proponent of meditation, and I’ve talked about it on the podcast, I think that meditation is not the rest that you’re talking about. There’s an activeness, and almost a productivity to meditating when you’re meditating, you’re actively doing something. That’s different from sitting on the couch, relaxing, and not doing anything.
When you’re meditating, you’re not, not doing anything. You’re actually doing something. So, the not-doing-anything, and really giving your brain a rest, relaxing effort. For a lot of people, meditation is effort, and relaxing effort may require that you be sort of intentional about not doing something in that space other than relaxing.
Marilyn: Exactly. So, here’s something else about that, which is, if you’re really meditating, you’re working at it. Secondly, your hour of not doing anything might be playing with your kid in a totally different way. You’re just there with your child. You’re not trying to get to something else, or playing with your cat, or your dog. Or you’re taking a walk, a savoring walk. So, you’re not doing nothing staring at the wall. You’re doing something.
It’s not just mindfully. We want mindfulness. It’s a mindful, joyful, gratitude filled something, that maybe something that you’ve not been able to get to for a while.
Peter: And let’s use my definition earlier, which I think works to, as an assessment to saying “Is this what I should be doing?” Which is, “Are you doing something to change the world in some way? Or are you doing something to just appreciate, and enjoy, that we’ll get joy from the world as it exists and as it is?”
Marilyn: Beautifully put. So, now you’re in that moment, and you’re catching your breath, and you’re enjoying the moment. For many of us, even that much takes practice. We can read 1000 books on happiness. But when it comes to enjoying this moment, here we are. We’re just in this moment. Sometimes we don’t like it so much. But we have a tool to bring ourselves back, and to appreciate this gift of life that we’re given.
Peter: Do you have other thoughts or advice around that transition? Because my experience is that it the most difficult part. It’s the transition from work to rest. So, one of your thoughts is to write everything down that you have to do, and you’ll get back to it. Other tips that you could share with us that would help us to move through the transition? To get to the place of rest?
Marilyn: Sure. So, one thing is to alert yourself to the fact that you’re transitioning earlier. So, I give myself a couple of hours. I used to sort of work, work, work, right until, “Oh, time to light candles. No, that’s not so effective. I have to back it up. I have to start transitioning earlier.
Peter: Just to explain to listeners, lighting candles is what you do to mark the beginning of the rest for you.
Marilyn: So we, according to Jewish tradition, bring in the rest with candles. That’s part of what helps. So, part of what helps is having a ritual. In our case it’s a traditional ritual. Another part is taking a shower. Another part is pouring yourself a glass of wine or a drink, and stating out loud, even yelling, “The week is over!” Whatever it is.
So, there’s a number of things we can do to attune ourselves to the fact that we’re in transition.
Peter: Great. It’s so important because if you’re moving from one space to another, there’s a marker. If you go to a synagogue, or a church, you know when you’re in it, and you know when you’re out of it. But time just bleeds one minute into the next. So, creating some kind of a ritual that says, “this time is different” is really useful.
Marilyn: You begin with intention, and another key is you’ve set an end in time. What helps with starting is knowing in advance when your oasis time is going to end, and you stop. Whether it’s an hour, you say it’s an hour. I’m done. Because you’re alerting your psyche that if you’re willing to begin, you’re committing to ending, and you’ll come back to it next time.
Peter: Great. Anything else that comes to mind around the transition before we go into the rest piece?
Marilyn: Yeah. So, other things around the transition are deliberately slowing your movements. Often we’re thinking fast, we’re moving fast, and it’s beyond taking a deep breath. It’s actually moving a little more slowly. Training yourself, even for a minute. Anyone on this podcast can try it. Just move your hand at half the pace you usually do. You’ll see your whole starts to slow down.
Peter: It’s true. I’m doing it now, and it works.
Peter: It’s great.
Marilyn: So, that’s part of the beginning. Another thing that helps with beginning, is at the beginning of the week, knowing. This again, you know this so well, and I use material, and I love it. It’s at the beginning of the week. Know what your week is about, and don’t let yourself get … We all get sidetracked, captured by the immediate. But if you can say, “This is what I’m most wanted to do.” And for the most part do it, it makes it much easier to let it go.
We have a habit of trying to do too much. So, that habit we have to let go of a little bit.
Peter: So, we’ve now moved our way, we’ve made the decision, we know it’s important. We’ve moved our way through the transition. It’s a little bit of torture, but we’ve gotten to the other side of it, and we’ve slowed ourselves down.
Marilyn: Right. Through the pain.
Peter: Is there anything important to know about the time that we’ve committed to rest other than what we’ve talked about?
Marilyn: So a few things I think. One is really practicing letting go of achieving, and knowing. So, we’re all about achievement. Getting things done, being the best we can do, doing personal growth. Whatever it is, it’s all about achieving. What is life when we’re not achieving? What are we even doing here?
Peter: That’s very scary. I don’t know that I want to even know the answer to that, which is why then maybe I don’t rest.
Marilyn: Yes. So, just a little hint about that. It’s magnificent. Our value is huge, even if we get nothing done for the rest of our lives. It’s a workaholic premise, and I am a workaholic. I believe, and was brought up to believe that my value comes from my productivity. There is a whole other way of being, which gives us even more of what we want, but it takes practice.
Connecting with love, with our neighbors, friends, and family. It’s incredibly nourishing and satisfying to do that when we stop trying to get something else done when we’re in the moment. There’s so much on this. Mindfulness, sufficiency, enjoyment, and this is our chance to see how good it really is. It’s not bad.
Peter: Let’s spend one more minute on this because I think it’s important, and I think it’s actually hard to grapple with, to understand.We hear it all the time, we read it in the literature. Focus on who you are, and what you value for yourself.
Peter: But on the other hand, I think I fit into this category probably of workaholic, and someone who sort of values his productivity. I conceptually understand, but I don’t know if I really believe that my value comes just from being myself, that people want to be around me, just for being myself.
Ultimately it might be because I’m interesting, I’m funny, or whatever. Or I make them feel good. How do you break through either the illusion, or the sense that our value comes from what we’re able to contribute?
Marilyn: So, let’s … Right here, I want to remind you, and people, and myself, we’re talking about one day a week. We’re not talking about every day. We’re talking about taking one day a week, for valuing slightly different values. We’re not going to transform into totally different human beings. But we’re going to stop consuming. We’re going to stop using digital media. We’re going to discover, and again it could just be an hour, or a half a day. All those things that we do know on some level are true. That pause is a pause that lets us live our lives more fully.
All we’re talking about is introducing rhythm into our lives. Deeper rhythm. Like, “Yes, we’re going all out, but then weekends, we’re going all out on home stuff.” And we’re still available to work. It’s really stopping all of that for a limited time period.
Peter: Marilyn’s book is “An Oasis in Time. How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.” And Marilyn, it’s just such a pleasure to have you on the podcast, and you have so much wisdom, both here and in the book. It’s a reminder to us that rest is not the opposite of productive, right? That it’s an enabler of productive, and you write about it beautifully, and you speak about it beautifully. Thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Marilyn: Thank you Peter so much for having me.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I seen companies is a lot of business. A lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com
Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.
How do you “show love” in your professional life? It sounds like a crazy question, but according to former Yahoo Chief Solutions Officer Tim Sanders, being genuinely selfless is actually the best thing you can do for your career. His newest book is Love Is the Killer App: How to Win At Business and Influence Friends. Discover the three ways you can show love in the professional world, the rules for smart giving so you aren’t taken advantage of, and how to be a super-connector–not a networker.
- How do you show love in a professional context? 3 ways, according to @sanderssays http://bit.ly/2uWuie6 #love #business
- 2 rules from @sanderssays to make the #payitforward system work for you http://bit.ly/2uWuie6 #networking #podcast
FREE SAMPLE: Read free excerpts (special to our listeners): timsanders.com/bregman
Bio: Tim is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller Love Is the Killer App: How To Win Business & Influence Friends. It’s been translated into over a dozen languages and has been featured in Fast Company, USA Today, the New York Times, The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor and on CNN. His other books include Today We Are Rich, The Likeability Factor, Saving the World at Work and Dealstorming (coming out 2/23/16).
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host, and CEO of Bregman Partners.
This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
Tim Sanders is with us today. Tim and I met a year ago at a dinner with a good friend of ours, Tavo. Everything he’s going to talk about today that’s related to his book, he represents as a person. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him personally. We started off and ended off with a big hug, and everything flowed from there. We’re lucky to have him with us today. Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends was the book that put him on the map in a big way. He was the Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. He’s a writer, a speaker, and a smart and nice guy.
Tim, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Tim: Great to be with you Peter.
Peter: I thought Love is the Killer App was a really excellent book and really fun. You talk about a love cat. Describe the love cat.
Tim: In the book, I created this persona. I call it a love cat. It’s based on the song, if you remember, “Love Cats.” “We move like cagey tigers, no two can get closer than this.”
I first heard that phrase used to describe a person back in 1997. It was used to describe Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher. Someone said, “He’s a tough old love cat,” and what that means is that this is a person who finds their professional success caring for other people, and showing this care by sharing their intangibles, their knowledge, their network, and their compassion to make the other person successful. When that’s what you do, where you find your pleasure and your meaning, you, my friend, are a love cat.
Peter: There’s a sentence that you wrote on page 142 that I think was the most important sentence in the book. “Love cats are in the business of getting others to trust us, to let us become a positive force in their life.”
Talk about it a little bit, because I think it’s profound.
Tim: When we think about trust, Peter, oftentimes we want people to trust us in order to buy from us, in order to follow us, in order to do what we want to get what we need, but I flipped trust. I flipped the script. My sales job in life is convincing people to believe that I really want to help them, and expect nothing in return. I want people to trust me intellectually, so when I give them knowledge they will be open to that knowledge and willing to act on it and read more. I lump into trust that my network of relationships is not only valuable to them, but available to them.
I think most importantly, when I tell somebody, “Dude, I really care about you,” and I give them a hug, I want them to trust that we just had a real interaction, and not think I’m trying to ingratiate them. That’s how I think about trust.
Peter: That’s great, I love it.
On the one hand, you do want your trust to lead to something that is mutually beneficial. Am I thinking about this correctly? I think this is where people could get a little stuck, confused, or where it might feel a little slippery. I want to make sure we’re super clear about it.
Tim: Yeah, and this is where I’m kind of crazy, but remember, nice smart people succeed. If you help the right hero for the right reason at the right time, they don’t have to do anything for you for that to be incredibly rewarding. I always assume, as a guy who’s been doing this for 20 years, I assume that he is paying it forward, not paying me back, and it releases me from my ego’s economics about how much did I get out of this transaction.
Here’s why that’s important to the long term career, here. Because I don’t ask for anything in return, I create surprise and delight and a world of takers and traders. It has helped me, over the last 20 years, build a brand as a guy that actually helps without expecting anything in return. That brand has led to awareness, surprising opportunities that fell into my lap by third parties that heard about it from them.
I gotta tell you Peter, I didn’t write this in the book, but I picked this story up on the road, I’m not alone. In New York City, there’s a guy in the life insurance business, his name is Elmer Leterman, just one T in Leterman. His company still exists to this day. He started his company in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, trying to sell life insurance. You can imagine it was a tough sale, right? So he started this thing around 1932 called the Leterman Lunch. Every week he’d find three people that should meet, and he’d put a lunch together to get them started on an opportunity. Maybe he’d find a chef who’s of a job and has vision for a new place in the meat packing district, he’s already got chefs lined up and a menu designed. He’d invite a construction guy, he’d invite an investor. That’d be a classic Leterman Lunch.
Here’s the catch. He would never bring brochures or business cards to one of these lunches. If you were the chef, out of gratefulness you could say, “I want to buy life insurance from you, I appreciate what you’ve done.” Leterman would look at you like you slapped him in the face, and he’d say, “Focus, Peter, on the opportunity.”
He could come to the opening of your restaurant a year later with the line around the block, and famously he wouldn’t accept a free meal or even a cut in line. When he shook your hand at the front door, he would ask you, “How did you pull it off?” And this is the punchline. He had so much humility about what networking really did for a person, one step. He had so much detachment from what he got out of it, 10 years later he’s a deca millionaire life insurance guru, because he was swimming in endless referrals because in a contained market, doing this 50 times a year for a decade, he compounded the power of his brand and no one would do business with anyone but Elmer.
What he and I have in common is that we trust the system. What is that system? We trust the system where money goes where it’s wanted, and stays where it’s well kept. I consider my breaking free of reciprocity as something that makes me very different than the average guy that wants to “network” with you, but what he’s really doing is screening you to see what you can do for him, and holding out that little carrot, whatever that is, piece of advice, somebody you can meet. I think we’re jaded about those kind of people in the world we live in.
Peter: It feels like one of the elements to that is long-term versus short-term thinking. A sense of, I’m actually going to think in terms of decades, not days. If I think of decades in terms of days, I can allow these relationships to blossom.
It also seems like it’s something else though. It’s not an enlightened self-interest. It’s actually a genuine life of service.
Tim: One of the books that really changed my paradigm … It was like, I had this moment, Peter, in 1996/1997 where the whole thing came to me. I was like, “I’m going to be the only guy anybody knows that will help them without expectation, and I’m going to stockpile knowledge, I’m going to build this massive network, I’m going to give it away. Here’s where I got the idea. I was reading the Being book by Abraham Maslow, you know, “Toward a Psychology of Being”, and he talked about the difference between B-Love, and D-Love.
B-Love is a being form of love, where you feel like you’ve got everything in the world you need, and you’re completely fascinated and immersed in the other. All you want is for the other to do better and be happy, that’s B-Love. You’ve usually really actualized a lot to get to that stage, because everybody else lives in D-Love, that’s deficiency love. I want to love you, so you’ll love me, because not enough people love me. I love you in part based on what you can do for me, it’s a quid pro quo. D-Love produces nothing but anxiety for people on both sides of that relationship, at some point. At some point they disappoint you, you disappoint them, and it’s a negative way of living. When I read about B-Love, I’m like, “This is who I’m going to become.”
When I made that move in my career, this is right when I went to work for Mark Cuban in 1997, the timing couldn’t have been better. This is something I’ve learned through many times of change. When things are really rocky, people are looking for answers. By the way, that’s out of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, one of my favorite movies. Looking for answers when times are tough. If you can be that person, who’s willing to mentor someone … I just came from a lunch where I mentor someone who’s really at rock bottom, and I really want to help him. If you can do that, it changes the way you think, and it also gives you incredible power and confidence when you’re doing the rest of your life.
I made a little decision around 2000 … I’ve been doing this, and a lot of bosses were like, “Tim, you’re too nice. People are going to take advantage of you, you’re an open target,” and I realized I needed to tweak my system based on two little pieces of advice I got from Stanley Marcus Jr., who gave me a lot of help at the time.
Number One, only help heroes. If I do screen people when I meet them, it’s not to ask what can he do for me, it’s to ask, does he have a heroic quality about him? In other words, are you a giver or a taker? If you have ambition, if you have courage, if you have purpose, I’m going to help you. If you’re a taker, I’m going to shun you, and that’s what makes the world go round.
Peter: So that’s how you define heroic? Heroic is someone who’s out there not just trying to take, but who’s a giver?
Tim: They’ve got courage, they’re in motion, they’re going a little bit too fast. You can read the passion on their faces. They want to do something positive, and they’re not trying to find a shortcut through me. I’m going to give my all to that person with that expectation, because to get statistical here, eight to nine times out of 10 they do pay it forward. I don’t measure reciprocity.
The second rule, Peter, that I came up with that kind of protects me and allows me to be very vulnerable in these relationships, I only invest the time I’m willing to lose. It’s like an investor who’s really smart about their money. How much time do I spend a week mentoring and networking? About six hours. I steal those six hours from other time-wasting activities, like meetings I shouldn’t have about side spin off businesses. Facebook I shouldn’t be surfing, shows I shouldn’t be watching, things I shouldn’t be enjoying, like sports maybe. I steal time from the rest of my life to give it away. But my core 48 hour a week work on my career is sacrosanct, and that’s the way I built a separation if you will, between my love life if you will and my professional life.
Peter: I think it would be useful to spend a minute or two each on knowledge, network, and compassion, because that’s the formula that you have.
Tim: Absolutely. So here’s the premise. The way that you show love in a professional context is you intelligently share your knowledge, your network, and your compassion, to help another person succeed. Peter, these are the intangibles that every human possesses that if you share them intelligently, you actually have more, not less. It’s very different than time or money, that’s why I focus on these three. No one’s ever guilty receiving the knowledge/network/compassion. They get guilty when they take your time and money.
So, knowledge. What I mean by this is what insights, or information, can I give the other to solve one of the other’s information problems. What can I do to mentor the other to help that hero make the next step of his or her journey. Knowledge is a tricky one, right? Because in my mind, knowledge sharing is the foundation of a relationship at work. When you admire someone, believe in someone, trust them on a professional level to follow their advice, they’ve shared knowledge with you that’s relevant, that’s accurate, that’s uniquely valuable. I think of it like this. You give good return on attention in every meeting. That’s called ROA.
To do that, though, the challenge you have is you must be a voracious aggregator of knowledge and insights. Not the stuff everybody else is reading and knowing. The first step I head to take to become that love cat is I had to replicate … I was working for Cuban at the time. I had to replicate his bookish behavior. That guy wrote 50 books in 1997, before the end of the summer, because he knew that the future was in the books and that long-form reading was more committed than short-form reading. He used to always quote Bobby Knight, the basketball coach, because he was an Indiana guy, and it would always be like this, “Everybody wants to win, but only a few people are willing to do the hard work to prepare to win.” I took that to heart.
I would spend all of my off time, I mean get up early, when I flew, on the weekends, as I drove into work, absorbing long-form content. When I started to do that, I found I had a lot left over I could share. A few years into this journey, I discovered this thing called prescriptive reading. I didn’t make this up, this is a Michael Dell practice, but I heard about it, and I was like, what a brilliant idea! He would read at least one book a month that solved one of their customers’ biggest problems. He liked to read outside of his industry. Maybe he’d read something to do with healthcare, or he’d read something to do with government management or whatever. He’d read a book on behalf of the other person.
I took it a step further. I would read a book to solve a customer’s challenge, or to help understand their future, and I would study it like a student, I would mark it up and take notes. If it was a really good book, that’s the swag I would give that client the next time I saw them, and we’d have a discussion about those contents. That’s the way I made knowledge sharing a programmatic part of my life. I do that to this day, except now prescriptive reading is half of every book I read. I read about three books a month.
Peter: That’s great. Network.
Tim: So, your network is your greatest net worth. You may not be able to solve somebody’s problems you meet, but I’m telling you a friend of yours can, so think of it as a really valuable asset. I know you read the book, this phrase I use is … I like to say, you can share knowledge and you’ll never get dumber, right? It doesn’t go away. But if you share your network with the wrong person at the wrong time, you might lose one of your own nodes, because they’re like man, I hated that guy, right? So I believe that the difference between sharing knowledge and network is like the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken’s involved, but the pig is fully committed. You must be intelligent about how you share your network, right?
The first thing you gotta do is really organize your network. I spend a lot of time inputting things into my network. Taking LinkedIn and moving it into my Outlook network. I want to make my network as portable and as addressable as possible. It’s almost like the book thing. Gotta read a lot of books to share knowledge. Gotta organize your network to share your network. I find that the key here, also, is I have to change conversations to create opportunities, because I don’t want to be thought of as a networker. That’s a bad word, now. We think networking is a shortcut, right? I want people to call me a super connector. Tavo is a super connector, the person you referred to that put us together. That’s what he does.
The super connector asks different questions to find real opportunities. A networker’s gonna be like, “Well, Peter, what are you doing right now? What do you do? What’s your job, what’s your asset base?” More or less, that’s what we ask in most conversations. I don’t want to know that. I want to know instead, what’s your “wow” project right now? What are you working hard on right now that you’re passionate about? We’re going to have a conversation about that. I’m going to be quiet, and you’re going to take me on a journey from like, headline, to body copy, to hopes and dreams and challenges and obstacles, and within that part of the story, oftentimes you will reveal to me an opportunity to introduce you to someone to bring a resource to the table.
Most of my conversations, I’m laying in weight like Columbo, with one more stupid question to find that networking opportunity. You have to stick with it. The last thing I’ll say about networking is you also need to make it programmatic. About 15 years ago, I made a commitment that by Friday at three I will have introduced three people that should meet. Unlike Leterman, I don’t have to have a lunch. I can use video like we’re doing. I can use a conference call. I can even use a three-way email. I’ve been working very hard on the technique around three-way email to make sure the right links are in the email. I text the benefactor, that’s the person that’s going to help, before I even send the email, or call that person and say, “Answer that email, this is a good one.” And then I follow up with the beneficiary the next day, to say, “Did you seize the opportunity?” I’ve really worked on that.
As a matter of fact, I made a connection today before I went to lunch, but I’m still short one for the week. But hey, it’s only Tuesday.
That’s networking for me. Put three people together every week that should meet, and get out of the way. I promise you, your network will double year over year. Double year over year.
Peter: You talk a lot about getting connected and staying connected and the process for that. How do you continue to stay connected to your network and follow up when you’re not necessarily matching everybody together? You’re doing it very actively, so that allows you to stay connected, but how do you stay connected and not be annoying? How do you not lose the connection to relationships you’ve developed, even if you’re not tapping into them or helping them in a particular year?
Tim: First of all, you’ve gotta put yourself out there, right? I try to program myself to attend enough events where the majority of my network is present every year, to at least see, let’s say 15 percent of them face to face at some point. You’ve got to put yourself out there.
Second thing, is I stalk people. I talked about how I stole some time away from social, I actually set aside certain time for LinkedIn, Facebook. I troll people, but in a positive way. I’ll got through my feeds and just kind of randomly see who in my network is talking about what, if I can be encouraging, if I can contact them. Frequently that leads to in-mail messages, which leads to conversations like this. I find that social networks, especially LinkedIn, and to some extent Facebook, provide you a good opportunity to kind of look in on the people that you already know.
Here’s a little trick that I think is really important, and I just have been doing this for a few years since I read my buddy Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, which obviously is kindred spirit to Love is the Killer App. He talked about this idea that every week, at least once a month but if you can every week, reach out and talk to somebody that you haven’t talked to in at least a year. Preferably two or three years. They’ll be grateful that you reached out, you’re not being annoying. If you listened, and you asked the questions I just talked about, you know, what are your wild projects, what’s your passions? They’re really going to appreciate the conversation.
But Grant says, and this is true, is not only does that keep those loose ties in the network, it broadens your horizons greatly. They’ve been off doing things for a year, or two years, and three years, and they’ve learned things you don’t know. As they express to you what they’re working on, it actually makes you better in the future at sharing knowledge with the next person, so I love that idea of finding a dormant connection in your network, reaching out, and having the highest quality conversation, which is either face to face or video, is the new belief I have now.
Peter: You mentioned Adam Grant, and if I’m remembering his book correctly, I think he came out from a research perspective in saying that takers don’t win in the end, but neither do the pure givers. It’s the givers and takers, it’s the ones who have a balance between the two, because the givers often get walked on. I don’t know how well you know Adam, and how much you know about the book, but I’m curious if you have a thought around that.
Tim: Well, I’m not a pure giver, I’m a conditional giver, right? Adam hadn’t read Love is the Killer App, he hadn’t met people like me. He found out about me because somebody came into one of his lectures and said, “Man, you sound like Love is the Killer App,” so when I got to know him a little bit, he was intrigued by the idea that I only help heroes, and that when someone that I wrongly thought was a hero turns out to be a taker I never help them again, and he thought that was a nice hack, so that a person could be a conditional giver, but never a taker, and not get taken advantage of.
When he studied the idea that, you know, the person who’s a giver as well as a taker, I think what he was studying was financial, and that’s never been the issue with me. I really want to be satisfied with my career when I look back on it at the end of my life. That’s what I consider success. I don’t consider success accumulation. I think that his definition of winning and my definition of winning are slightly different, but I think where we come together is around the idea that nice, smart people succeed, nice people get crushed by takers. I totally agree with him on that, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to be a pure giver to anyone that wants you. I think you must be intelligent about how you approach this, because if you give too much away and don’t leave time for yourself, you’re going to lose the very resource base you had to share to begin with. I’m always thinking about how I build my business, and protect that time.
I will say, Peter, there have been people who I’ve helped who’ve come back and said … I had a guy a couple years ago, he said, “I want to do this for you,” and I’m like, “Nope, nope, I don’t help to get anything in return, I’m the love cat.”
He looks at me, and he goes, “Look, I’m in a tough place right now, and I just want to feel like I helped somebody, and I can give this to you and I know for a fact you need it,” and I learned to accept. I’ve done a better job in the last few years in empowering the people I help to give back, because then it’s not about me owning them, or them feeling in debt to me, sometimes people want to give back and you must be receptive. It’s just if you go into it not expecting anything, you have that opportunity to stand out. That being said, I’m willing to take if they want to give.
Peter: It’s interesting, because there’s a certain vulnerability in giving, which you’ve described, and there’s also a certain vulnerability in receiving. Receiving might be different than taking, right? Which is what you’ve just described as not even taking so much as receiving. There’s a vulnerability in receiving. It’s difficult to receive in some ways.
Tim: But that vulnerability, it’s really important, though, Peter. Love is like oxygen. If you stop being vulnerable, then you’re going to suffocate on your own loneliness, right? I love vulnerability, and I’ve just made my life now about all the hacks and safeguards that let me be that tender-hearted guy and not get crushed by the real world.
Peter: Give us a sentence on compassion.
Tim: Compassion is your desire and commitment that others do not suffer unnecessarily. I really take it from Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness. I’m a southern baptist by trade, but I could not shake that definition the Dalai Lama had of what compassion means.
Think about it. In every part of how we care about people, from mentoring someone in need, to user experience design, the end of suffering is the goal. When I show someone compassion, I participate in somehow alleviating their negative emotions or embracing their positive emotions, and that’s what it means to be a compassionate person.
Peter: I want to finish with the question that you gave me. Tim, what are your wild projects and passions? Let’s see if there’s a place where we can connect on that level, and if there’s any way I can help, I would be happy to.
Tim: You know, good question. I bought a lot of musical equipment over the last few years for my wow project, to make a couple of fun songs and have a little bit of fun with that. That’s like a side project, but my wow project for my life right now is working on my book, which will be my 6th book, it’ll be my follow up to Love is the Killer App. Earlier in the interview, I actually said the title of the new book accidentally, I’m not supposed to do that. It is a book on how to be faster at falling in love with people you meet in your professional life, and how to be more resilient when they disappoint you later.
If you burn out on caring about other people, you cannot lead people and you cannot be a good provider of any type of service. As the guy who wrote this thing back in the ’90s, here I am in my 50s, I’ve been thinking a lot now, Peter, about how we stay the kind of person who’s willing to really fall for someone, and be okay if he or she doesn’t say thank you later.
Peter: It’s an emotional resilience to disappointment.
Tim: That’s exactly what it is. I was going to call it Love Intelligent, but the whole LQ thing just smelled bad, so I’ll stick with whatever title I accidentally said earlier, which you’ll tease out on playback, which I think is a much better title, unless the band sues me.
Peter: I now know what to play back to to hear it.
Tim Sanders, Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. This is one of five books and the sixth is the one that you’re about to come out with. You also wrote The Likeability Factor, sort of your L-factor. Tim is, as you can tell, a passionate guy full of life.
Tim, it’s a pleasure both to know you and to have you on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
Tim: My pleasure, my pleasure. I’ve actually parked an excerpt for everybody of Love is the Killer App at timsanders.com/bregman
Peter: That’s awesome. We’ll put that in the show notes as well.
Thank you. It’s such a pleasure, Tim, as always.
Tim: Thank you.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review.
A common problem I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole. That’s the problem that we solve with our Big Arrow process.
For information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com
Thank you, Clare Marshall, for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.
What makes a successful mentorship? It’s not about having a mentee who listens and a mentor who teaches well–it’s all about values compatibility. Ken Blanchard is the co-author of over 60 books on leadership, so he knows a thing or two about collaboration himself. One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One, co-written with Claire Diaz-Ortiz, explores how you can grow your career by creating powerful mentorship relationships. Discover why logistics are irrelevant, the wisdom behind the mentor model, and the difference between essence and form.
- BOTH parties learn in a mentorship relationship – @kenblanchard explores the dynamic #podcast #business #mentoring
- Can we create an environment where everyone can win? @kenblanchard thinks so #mentoring
Book: One Minute Mentoring
Bio: Ken Blanchard, PhD, is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world. He has co-authored 60 books, including Raving Fans and Gung Ho! (with Sheldon Bowles). His groundbreaking works have been translated into over 40 languages and their combined sales total more than 21 million copies. In 2005 he was inducted into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 bestselling authors of all time. The recipient of numerous leadership awards and honors, he is cofounder with his wife, Margie, of The Ken Blanchard Companies®, a leading international training and consulting firm.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
We are very fortunate today. We have with us, as our guest on the podcast, Ken Blanchard. You know him. If you don’t know him, you should know him. I read the One Minute Manager, I don’t know exactly when it came out, but at least 25 years ago when I first read it. I have to admit that I was predisposed not to like it. The idea of a parable book, I don’t know, it bothered me somehow. I loved it in spite of myself. I think it was such a great primer. It was so succinct, so clear, so effectively focused and written in a way where when people were moving into management roles and they’d say, “What book should I read?” And they were expecting me to give them some sort of tome or David McCullin Social Motivation, 680 pages, which is also a great book, but nowhere near as immediately practical and usable as the One Minute Manager was.
I always suggest that book. If you’re listening to this and you are gumming into management, and even if you’re an experienced manager, I recommend reading the One Minute Manager, because it’s both a quick read and the stories stick with you. Today we’re here with Ken to talk about his new book, One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor and Why You’ll Benefit From Being With One. He wrote it with Claire Diaz Ortiz. This is, I don’t know if it’s his 60th book or somewhere around there, because he’s written at least 60 books. He has sold 21 million copies of his books. He’s one of the top 25 most prolific or bestselling authors of all time, according to Amazon, and all of that while being an actually incredibly nice guy. He’s the chief spiritual officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies. It tells you a little bit about who he is both at a practical level and at a soul level. Without further ado, I could go on, Ken, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Ken: Well, Peter, it’s great to be with you. Just a quick comment about the One Minute Manager, because life is what happens to you when you’re planning on doing something else, you know? I got invited to a party when we came out of sabbatical leave to California from University of Massachusetts by a woman who wanted to have authors come together, and I had written a textbook with Paul Hearse, and so I had somehow qualified. We’re at the party and Margie meets Spencer Johnson, my wife, and Spencer wrote children’s books, this whole series of value tales, The Value of a Sense of Humor: The Story of Will Rogers. The Value of Honesty: The Story of Abe Lincoln. She hand-carries him over to me and she says, “You guys ought to write a children’s book for managers. They won’t read anything else.”
He was working on a one minute scolding with his psychiatrist, and I invited him to a seminar that I was doing. He sat in the back and laughed [inaudible 00:03:26] he came up running at the end. He said, “Forget parenting, let’s do the One Minute Manager.” He’s a children’s book writer and I’m a storyteller, so we decided to write a parable about this young man searching for an effective manager. Nobody knew us, and who would have ever thunk it, you know? We were on the Today show and Labor Day 1982 and it went on the best seller list the next week. It never left for two to three years. It was just kind of ridiculous. We now have the new One Minute Manager that came out because we hadn’t rewritten it and they needed an ebook.
They said, “Read it, see if you want to make any changes.” I read it, Peter, I laughed because he’s on his intercom system. Are you using your intercom system today? Everybody he was supervising was gathered right around him. We changed the One Minute Reprimand to One Minute Redirects, which is much more consistent with the philosophy today of side-by-side leadership. Life is kind of fun to look at the absurdities that get you going, you know?
Peter: I was interviewed recently and someone was asking me about the sort of strategy of my career. My answer was, “My career has been deeply unstrategic. You look for opportunities that see, and I constantly try to move closer towards what brings me joy and what brings value into the world. You can’t fully strategize that. You have to try something out and say, “Huh, this is kind of interesting, and if I tweak it here a little bit I bet it will be more fun or I bet it will add more value.” It’s very opportunistic.
Ken: That gets to why I wrote this book with Claire on mentoring, you know? I hadn’t thought about writing on mentoring, but Claire is in her early 30s and she came to me. She said, “Ken, in the past mentors have always been older, and I think us young folks could learn a lot from you older folks.” I’m 78, “But I think you older folks could learn a lot from us youngsters, particularly around technology.” It was, what can we write about cross-generational mentoring with the belief, which I hadn’t thought about, but after I thought about all the co-authors I had, every time you’re in a mentor or mentee relationship, both parties learn. That’s the exciting thing about it is that if you stop learning I think you oughta lie down and let them throw the dirt on you because you’re already dead.
Peter: I found that to be something so interesting in the book. I want to share a brief experience, which is that when I first came out of college I worked with Outward Bound. I did paired courses. I ran and course directed paired courses, which were when you took six corporate executives and six urban youth and you put them together. At the beginning the … And the corporate executives paid for the urban youth. They were paying sort of covering their costs. There was a sense of, “Okay, I’m coming in and I’m going to mentor.” Man, I’ll never forget these moments where the corporate executive is 80 feet up on a ropes course, hanging over the ground, terrified, shaking, and the 16 year old kid is looking at him going, “I believe in you! You got this! I bet you could do this!”
It was this complete reversal where they really kind of understand. What I loved about this is that it wasn’t just the reverse mentoring, the cross-generational mentoring the way you described it in the book, it’s not just Josh who’s the mentee and Diane who is the mentor. It’s not just Josh as the mentee teaching Diane about technology, which is the obvious thing, but actually asking deeper questions and helping her think through her life in way that I found I wanted you to talk a little bit about. You depicted in a way that went beyond what we traditionally would expect the younger to teach the older.
Ken: Yeah. Some people said, “He acted a little bit too smart.” You know, I think that a great mentoring partnership is somebody who is inquisitive, wants to learn, is a good listener, and knows how to ask questions. No matter what your age is. Josh was really good, and Diane had been warned by her mentor that if you try to mentor somebody, if you go mentor somebody else you’re going to learn a lot too and put things into perspective. That’s really what happened too. It was really kind of interesting. My 11 year old grandson, he mentors me periodically. He’ll say, “Gramps.” You know? Then he’ll give me some insights, you know, that he’s had. It’s just marvelous to see.
Peter: Talk to us a little bit more about the, you know, maybe just give us a quick rundown for people who want to get a sense of the book and are thinking about kind of wanting to learn about mentoring and mentee relationships. You have a step-wise process that fits the term mentor, you know, it’s sort of a pneumonic around mentor, starting with mission, and engagement, and network, trust, opportunity, review, and renewal. Do you want to give like just a sentence of each to give the listener a little bit of context.
Ken: Let me say one other thing first because we were talking offline about whether I might mentor you or you could mentor me or whatever. The key thing is when you’re looking for a mentor or mentee, before you get to the mentoring steps, which is, “What are we going to do now that we’ve decided to work together.” Is there’s two aspects of working with somebody. One is essence and the other is form. Essence is heart to heart and values to values.
Form is, “What are we going to do.” The mentor acronym is about form. The first thing is in the book Josh meets a couple of people that they think he would be a good mentor, and there’s just no clicking with them in terms of values and all, so he passes. I have found that advice was so powerful to me because whenever you jump into form with somebody before you’ve gotten essence, the essence will bite you in the tail eventually. You want to first know, “Is this somebody you would be interested in spending some time with. Do you think that you share some values alike?” Then you can get into the form. I think that’s a good thing to talk about first.
Peter: I love that. How do you engage in the essence question? Is it you have a meal with someone or you take a walk with them or you engage in conversations that’s outside the realm of necessarily what you want to be mentored about? Meaning you move away from the do and you move towards the being and say, “Are we connecting on that level?”
Ken: Yes. Well, that’s really important. To give you an example of that, I had an idea a number of years ago to write a book called, On the Power of Positive Management. I went to a guy who was really well-known as positive thinking and all. All he wanted to talk about was form. Who was going to do what, how are we going to break up the royalties and all, so I passed. My publisher called me and said, “Ken, I heard you were disappointed with your meeting. Have you ever thought about writing a book with Norman Vincent Peale?” I said, “Is he still alive?” You know? He said, “Not only is he still [inaudible 00:10:58].” He was 86 years old at the time.
I flew to New York, had a lunch, three hour lunch, with Norman and his wife Ruth and our publisher. In three hours of meeting with Norman and Ruth, there was not one form question. It was all essence. “Tell us about yourself. Tell us about Margie. We’ve heard about your wife Margie. Let us tell you about us.” At the end of the lunch, Norman turns to Ruth and asks the ultimate essence question, he said, “Ruth, do you think we should do a book with this young man?” We hadn’t even talked about what the title would be. She said, “Yes, under one condition.” He said, “What’s that?” “From now on when we meet, he will bring his wife Margie. The four of us will work on this together.” [inaudible 00:11:45] but it was just so sweet, because they could have cared less about the form. They wanted to know if we were going to be able to click in there. That’s such a powerful concept.
Peter: I love it. There’s wisdom of age in that, which says, at a certain point I’ve got X number of years left. I want to make sure that I’m, you know, what I was saying before, which is to have joy and add value. That’s so no matter your age, that is the question to be asking, right?
Ken: [inaudible 00:12:21] yeah.
Peter: No matter your age, in the scheme of things it’s all really short. The question is, “Where do you want to invest your life’s energy and who do you want to invest it with?”
Ken: And once you decide, “I’d like to invest that with you.” Or somebody, then you get to the mentor model, which is a wonderful way to say, “Let’s get the form straight.” Because M stands for mission, which is what do we want to accomplish in working together. You know all good [inaudible 00:12:51] starts with clear goals. You know, if people don’t know what you want to accomplish they can’t get there. It’s just kind of agreeing on expectations. The E stands for engagement, which is, “Okay, now we know what we want to accomplish, how do we want to meet? Is it always going to be face-to-face over a meal, or can we do so on Skype? Can we email? How do we want to engage each other?” Then, N stands for network. One of the important things about mentoring, no matter what the age spread is both of you have a network of people that might be useful to the person you’re interacting with to say, “You know, I have somebody maybe it’d be interesting for you to talk to and all.”
Like I met Truett Cathy, the chairman of Chick-Fil-A through Norman Vincent Peale. He said, “Here’s somebody I think you’d really enjoy because he’s running a company, you know, very different than our center for positive thinking.” T is trust, because if you’re going to have a good, powerful relationship, you’ve got to learn to trust each other. In fact, I wrote a book on trust with a colleague by the name of Cindy Homestead, who had been studying it for 20 years. Everybody has different definitions of trust. She said, “When you’re in a mentoring relationship or any, there’s A, B, C, D of trust.”
A is does the person have the ability of skills that’s necessary for what you want to work on together. B is are they believable. If they tell you one thing, do they walk their talk? They say my door is always open and you can never get them. They got three secretaries you’ve got to go through. C is that essence, connectedness. How do you feel about them? D stands for dependable. They say they’re going to meet you a certain time. Do they meet then, or they keep on changing it and you can never count on it, and also trust is really important. Then you get to O, which is opportunities, which is different than network, which is, “Here’s an interesting opportunity that you might want to take a look at. It might be something that might help you on your journey and all.”
Then, finally, R is to review and renew, which is have a period of time where you say, “How have we done to this point? Do we want to renew or do we want to say we’ve really done that?” So like I’ve written a number of books with a lot of people, but some people I’ve written more than one book because, well we finished one, we had such a connection [inaudible 00:15:32] we said, “Well what could we do next.” With Sheldon Boles, I wrote Raving Fans, and then we wrote Gung Ho, you know, and things like that. It’s a nice little acronym for form.
Peter: That’s great. You know, you check out on essence. That’s the bar that you move through. That’s the door that you walk through where you say, “Okay, now we think about form.” What are some of the challenges as people engage in the mentor-mentee relationship that people should look out for? I know a lot of people who, and a lot of organizations, that try to set up mentor-mentee programs. Some of the challenges that they face is people meet once or twice and then everybody gets busy and they stop. What are some of the challenges you’ve found when you look at these relationships, and also what are some ways around them?
Ken: Well, I think that one of the big ones is that you get busy. That’s why it’s so important, the engagement step, which is, you know, we’re going to get busy, but we oughta at least email each other once a week so we stay up-to-date even though we might not, because of schedule, face-to-face for about a month. Some way that could keep the thing going. Where they break down is you don’t have the rules of engagement set up, and then all of a sudden it just kind of drifts away. Peter Drucker said to me years ago, “Ken, nothing good happens by accident. Put some structure on it.” I think that’s what’s important, is to put some structure on the thing.
A lot of times at companies where they set up mentor programs they assign you a mentor, which is a problem because you might not have essence with that person, whereas if they said, “I think we’d love to have you get in a mentoring relationship, and here’s two or three people we’d love for you to sit with.” If you kind of find out if you’ve got a really kind of a nice match mutually, then let that be your mentor rather than, “You know, here’s a new person, doesn’t want to say, ‘god this person is just not my cup of tea’.”
Peter: And you have some advice at the end of the book for organizations about setting up mentor programs, which I think is really important for leaders who are listening to this who are thinking about, you know, “How do we bring this into an organization in a reasonably codified way?” One question that I have is, how important is it for there to be organizational structure around a mentoring program versus to say to the organization, “We value mentoring. We want you to look for people that you can learn from. We want you to ask people, whether we want you to approach people.” But to leave it to an entrepreneurial energy versus creating some structure around it that supports the process. Before you answer, I just want to say to people, we’re talking with Ken Blanchard, the book, his most recent book, is One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor and Why You’ll Benefit From Being One.
Ken: Well, I think that people need to realize, and we’ve done that with our work in the whole area of leadership is that you have to have different strokes for different folks. Some people have an entrepreneurial spirit about them and that’s great to say, “We believe in mentors and suggest you try to find one.” But you might get somebody else who doesn’t have that kind of outward personality and all that maybe some structure would be. I think it would be really good to talk with people to say, “We think that this is an important thing. Would you rather kind of take the ball yourself and run with it, or do you want some structure that we could set up in all?” So you’re really helping diagnose with them what might be helpful to them.
It’s really interesting, I don’t know what your experience is, mine as I’ve looked at this, Peter, I don’t think there’s ever been anybody who’s really been successful who hasn’t had mentors, you know? We’re doing work with the Football Hall of Fame now, and I’ve gone to a couple of times to the hall of fame thing. I went when Don Schueller, who I wrote a book with, was inducted. All of the people who get inducted don’t talk about all of their successes. They talk about the people who mentored them, and who were important that got them to where they were that they are receiving this induction into the hall of fame.
It really is interesting, we were out there last year, you know, with Tony Dungy was put in, and they all talked about people who had impacted their lives. I think when you think back at that is I don’t know anybody who is successful who hasn’t had and be able to name a couple of people that made a difference in their lives and their careers.
Peter: I want to speak to something that I have felt in myself that I’ve felt recently a huge turnaround in, that feels important around getting mentors, which is I think that there’s a sense that I know I have felt, and that I know other people feel, of competitiveness, that you know, you look at people who have gone before you and you want to do better, and you want to, you know, you’re kind of competing, and you’re a little jealous. I have felt that with people. I recently had this big shift, and I actually have Marshall, who we talked about before, I have Marshall Goldsmith to thank for this a little bit, who I felt a little kind of competitive with. Then, I stop and I go, “I’m crazy, like why am I … I have so much to learn. I have so much to learn.”
It is such hubris, such ego, such a waste of energy to approach relationships with competitiveness as opposed to approach relationships with a sense of learning and appreciation of what’s been created. I think that feels important in this conversation around mentoring, because there’s a generosity on the side of the mentor and an appreciation and an openness and a learning on the side of the mentee that’s necessary, I think, for these relationships to really have their power.
Ken: Yes, and what I love about the whole movement around mentoring is to maybe do something about this competitive thing. I’ve always felt one of the sad things about organizations is you go out and hire people who are either winners you steal from other companies or potential winners, and then you put them into this performance review system where you have to screw a certain percentage of them if you’re going to be a good manager. You have to have a normal distribution curve. Now, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Why would you want everybody to win if you set really good, observable, measurable goals that will help the organization as well as that person’s department.
I think if we can get people off of this thing that what you need is not people competing against each other, but how can we help each other, because if everybody in my department wins, then we all win. Why am I trying to say, “Boy, I want to outrun him.” There was some of that in the book with Josh, because this young guy came in, was outperforming him, you know, in sales, which was making hiM, “Oh god, this guy, you know, he’s not even wet behind the ears at all.” Rather than Diane convincing him to say, “I bet you could learn something from him, you know, rather than think about competing.”
Peter: That’s a huge shift for people. There’s a big kind of, you have to confront your own fears and you have to confront your own ego. You have to confront a number of things that allow you to grow, but I think that’s what’s necessary for growth in general. It’s probably why you have the title of chief spiritual officer.
Ken: Well, you know, what’s interesting too is that one of the reasons I’ve been able to write a lot of co-authored books is that I’m not a competitive person in the sense that I really want to help other people win as much as I want to win. I’m not in there … You know, so I’ve become good buddies and have mentored in some ways Patrick [Lynchioni 00:24:08] and Tony Robins and some of these guys who [inaudible 00:24:10] and Renee Brown who I think are such great up and comers, and why wouldn’t I want to do anything I could do to help them. You know what? I’m just learning tons from them. I just need, we just need to get that mind shift from life is all about this competitive game rather than life is about how you create an environment where everybody can win.
Peter: I love that. I love that, Ken. I want to really appreciate you for the wealth that you have shared with the leadership community and the way you’ve shown up in a way, I mean talk about hall of fame, that has inspired so many of us. I’ve loved this conversation. It’s coming to the end, but I wanted to really both appreciate you and say thank you. The book is One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor and Why You’ll Benefit From Being One. I know I speak for all of our listeners when I say, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Ken: Well, it was really a joy. Working with Claire was such a joy [inaudible 00:25:23] she lives in Argentina. We did a lot of the stuff on Skype and other kinds of stuff. Life is really fun. I’m re-firing, not retiring.
Peter: I love it. I love it. Thank you, Ken. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit Peterbregman.com. Thank you Claire Marshall for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.
How does a company grow its revenue from less than $400M to over $1 billion? That’s the growth trajectory Don Kania led when he became CEO of FEI, raising the company’s share price from $19.38 to $107.50 in just 10 years. Learn how Don rebuilt FEI’s leadership team to put the company first, when it’s appropriate to make executive decisions, and how to rollout strategy changes that hold people accountable.
- You need a team of leaders that matches the value of your company #podcast http://bit.ly/2ug2KQ4
- Why well-functioning organizations are better than superstars, according to Don Kania http://bit.ly/2ug2KQ4
Bio: Don Kania became President, Chief Executive Officer and a board member of FEI in August 2006. Prior to that he was most recently President and Chief Operating Officer of Veeco Instruments Inc., where he had worked since 1998. Prior to that he held technical and general management positions of increasing responsibility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. From 1991 to 1993, he was Research Director at Crystallume, a manufacturer of thin film diamond coatings. Dr. Kania is a member of the Board of Directors of American Science and Engineering, Inc. and the Board of Trustees of Pacific University and the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation. He holds B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics and engineering from the University of Michigan.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most. We have a treat today. With us is Don Kania. Don and I have worked together for years, probably a decade or more. Don was with Veeco before he left and joined FEI as CEO. When he was CEO of FEI, he stepped into an organization with a stock of 19 dollars and 38 cents and revenue under 400M dollars. That was in 2006. 10 years later when the company was sold, the stock price was at 107 dollars and 50 cents and revenue was over a billion dollars. So from $19.38 to $107.50 from under 400 of revenue to over one billion, Don did a tremendous job with FEI and he and I worked together for that period of time. So I have both a really nice friendship with Don as well as have learned a tremendous amount from leadership.
Don, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Don: Hi Peter, it’s good to be here.
Peter: So Don, let’s jump in with what you found was most instrumental in helping you move the organization the way you did. There’s obviously a lot of things that you did. I want to focus on both what seemed to have made the most difference and also the people element to it which I think is the team that you had and what you did with the team which I think in our conversations was an important element.
Don: Yeah. I think there was two big elements when you take a step back. One is what the company was doing, the strategy of the company was flawed and I don’t that’s gonna, let’s not spend a lot of time on that today. But I think the other major piece is then to get the job done and to evolve the strategy, you need a team of people and a team of leaders, but more importantly that can execute on that and do it in a way that matches the values that you want to have in your company. And that’s, I think, a real important point for people that lead organizations and in particular for CEOs, that how you want this done, particularly reflecting the values that you want the organization to adopt or buy into is absolutely critical to getting the job done that your organization is tasked with doing.
Peter: Great. So let’s define this as a story and be really specific about it. What did you find when you stepped into the role and you had enough time to figure out what your team was looking like and what the issues that you were facing were?
Don: A little background that the organization had suffered from a lot of strategy changes and that ended up manifesting itself in the organization with lots of passive aggressive kind of behaviors where particular in the rank and file, if I keep my head down and I do the best job that I can, ah, the strategy will change and whatever, but I’m going to try to do my best.
Peter: And was it a sense of, “I’m going to wait this strategy change out because another one will come and maybe i’ll get on that bandwagon?”
Don: So why bother? Right? So I’ll just do the best that I can and that could create some pernicious behaviors, too, where there was a little self-serving activity going on, but at the end of the day, I think we had a good group of people but those, that behavior from management elicited the behavior from the rank and file. That was one.
I think on the management team, there was definitely some weakness with just technical capabilities and certain rivalries and failure to cooperate across international borders within the company, across organizations within the company. So [inaudible 00:04:18] alignment, a variable strategy, passive aggressive behaviors, and at the end of the day, some of the members of the management team were just weak. And so there was a fixer upper here that required some work.
Peter: How long did it take you to figure that out, right? You’re stepping into the role, you don’t really know anybody yet. How long did it take you to see what you’re describing?
Don: A lot of this comes pretty quick. I remember I committed to the organization when I came in that after 30 days, I had the classic 90 day plan widgetry, right? But after 30 days, I’d get up in front of everybody and tell them what I saw and kind of give them an update. And I’ll never forget. I put, “Passive aggressive behavior,” on there. You certainly can’t put explicit things about the management team but strategy and we need to align the organization with the strategy and that we need to get our behaviors in such a way that we align with the strategy, one, and work together as a team. And I think that was kind of news to the organization that rather than have any kind of individual culture, we wanted a culture, I wanted a culture I guess to be clear, that was about teamwork. Because to get things done, it’s a lot of people coordinating on a lot of things. And so we took a very biased view to the organization that would be a teamwork oriented culture and a teamwork oriented rewards system to do with it.
Peter: So you just did something in this conversation that I think you do really well and that I want to point out. And talk to you about how this played into the change that you were making. You said, “Look, what we want is teamwork.” And then you said, “Hold on. I want, that’s what I want.” And I’m curious about the role of you stepping in and saying, “I am the leader and this is … there’s a role for democracy and there’s a role for saying, ‘This is what’s important and how I’m going to make things happen.'” Can you talk a little to that?
Don: Yeah. There’s a … You could tell, there’s a little battle in the head on this one, right? Because if you choose a team-oriented culture, right, even as a CEO, you’re a member of the team, the management team, in particular. But at the end of the day, you’re also the CEO and the CEO has last call on decisions and so that was a weapon that I used infrequently. “I’m the CEO, we’re going to do what I want.” It happened in a couple of MNA instances. It happened in setting some of the value frameworks for the company, teamwork included. I think you have to start somewhere with some of these things and on some things, I’m just not a big believer that you should build a consensus around it, because I always hate the least common denominator that comes out of that often.
So let’s just pick, as a leader, you pick a few things, not everything, and then let that be a framework and then I think you have to be open after that to listen to the nuances to have it fit with what you’re trying to get done and how your organization thinks and works and particularly for us, a global organization, where you had, we had a big European content, a big Asian content, make sure that the things that you’re outlining or your non-negotiables are clear and understandable to them in their own cultural context. So I mean simplicity’s really important.
Peter: Yeah. And again I want to underscore what I think you do and did very, very well which is really making a distinction between signal and noise, that there’s a lot of noise in the system and I think you were really brilliant at saying, “Here’s what’s important. All this other stuff is not important.” And sometimes the stuff that was really important, if a consensus wasn’t being driven fast enough, you had to step in and you chose to step in and say, “Here’s what we’re doing because this is important and I don’t want to spend six years thinking about this.” And I think that was very powerful.
How did you help people not see what you were doing as yet another change in strategy that they could sit out?
Don: I think it was seen that way in the beginning. I think it’s the classic change management kind of aspects to this is show success, stay the course, pick, explain, stay the course, repeat. Repeat. And then repeat. But then show those successes, show we’re doing this because of this, and then say, “Wow. We did this and this happened.” And then I put out another simple … Things have to be simple for organizations. You’re not allowed to change the strategy unless you have new information, substantive new information. And in the past, it was more whimsical. And I think we’ve all experienced that in our careers. But if you kind of put that barrier to change, okay? You woke up this morning and you didn’t like that strategy say, “Well, no, can’t do that. Sorry, you’re stuck.” But if you come back with, “Oh my goodness, we learned,” we were a tech company, “technologically we could or couldn’t do something,” or we learned something about the market that we didn’t understand before or whatever, then we can have a discussion.
And I think that helped create a little bit of a barrier to the next levels being having some capriciousness in what they want to do as well. But repetition, repetition, repetition, stay the course, feedback positively when it’s there. Admit, hey, if it didn’t work, fine, but I have new information and we’re going to try something different, but the only reason we’re changing is because we learned something.
Peter: Right. So what kind of pushback did you end up getting? Let’s move down the line a little bit – you come out and say, “This is what I’m seeing, passive aggressive behavior, it’s really important that we’re a team, etc.” What did you face then?
Don: I think just first it was the skepticism, right? And then there was a process that you and I went through is to work out to some techniques to make it more real, to explore how we can change the behavior, because that’s certainly an effort that requires time and consistency to show change. And then there’s some people changes that had to happen because there were members particularly in the management team, the executive team, that carried that passive aggressive behavior a bit too far and I’ll admit I moved through slowly on some of those points. So we could maybe talk about some of that. But the idea of team change, which, at the end of day though is the biggest message to the organization that there is real truth to the commitment to change and where we’re going. And those that don’t buy into it no longer are employed by the organization.
Peter: I’ve said and I really believe that if you really want to change a culture, you have to do dramatic story worthy things that tell people that you’re moving in this particular direction. And firing senior level members of the management team is certainly a dramatic story worthy thing.
Don: Yeah. It reminds of the … I had an executive who was in charge of all of the technology of the company. It was a tech company, right? So in a way, he held the golden keys of the future. And he was passive aggressive to defiant in certain areas and he had to go. But he was one of the longest tenured employees in a critical position and as I explained to the board, I had made a decision to this, they told me I shouldn’t do it. Senior executives told me I can’t do it. “You can’t do this. You can’t do this.” And it slowed things down but eventually I had to do it for oh so many reasons and the great learning there is when you know it’s the right thing to do, you’re right, you need to do it. You always do it too slowly because we’re all human beings and it’s hard to make that call.
And at the end of the day, though, there was, I closed the loop with this particular executive actually a few years later and he even admitted it was the right thing for him, it was the right thing for the company. And these things have a way of working out and the message to the employee base was fantastic and it really was clear that people understood there’s a new leadership, we’re going in a new direction, there’s a commitment to make that happen, and any barrier no matter how senior or how important or perceived to be critical to the future will be in the way of making that change happen.
Peter: I would argue that the more critical they are to the future, if they are a barrier, the more important it is that you deal with it, right? Because it’s so counter-intuitive. If you’ve got someone who you think is indispensable to the company and they’re not showing up in the way that you need them to show up, AND they’re super hard to let go of because they’re critical to the future of the company, if you don’t let them go, the message you’re sending is that you can get away with things, if you’re sufficiently important. But the message when you turn them over is the same but in reverse. And a much stronger message than if they were less important.
Don: At the end of the day, in this kind of transition because of the human component is so difficult. It’s never as bad as you think. And often times, it’s never as good as you think either. Organizations are robust and people fill in the gaps and I’m not a believer in super star culture including myself. So that also fit with the culture elements that we wanted to drive forward in the company.
Peter: How do you convey that last statement in practice when ultimately people in senior levels are often trying to show that they’re really indispensable or they’re trying to be indispensable or they’re trying to show all of their value? And that last statement that you made that you’re not into superstar cultures and that you’re more focused on the organization, first of all, there’s a lot of research to support that on this podcast, David Ulrich and I were talking. And the research that he’s done is that a well-functioning organization has four times the impact of a group of talented stars. So in other terms, if you had five talented stars in a mediocre organization, they would be much less effective than a stellar organization with more mediocre people.
And so how do you convey that when you have senior leaders who often want to show how great they are?
Don: I think there’s lots of aspects to this. One is the right people and we talked a little about that in terms of the organization. But then teaching trust to the organization, that we’re all in this together. Therefore, we have to trust each other and then you have to build up that trust. So we can get the job done and then align a rewards system with that kind of behavior. So we’re all in the same boat on the class of rewards system, everybody is, and you know what? We’ll all share in the win. Now, there’s tiers to it of course. The people with more responsibility as you go up the pyramid or whatever, but okay, that’s appropriate.
But at the end of the day, my MBO, my payouts were all tied to the same metrics as my entire management team. We’re all tied to the same ones and there was no special for you or special for you or whatever. Nope. And we’re all in this together and we all need to make things happen and then you make the day to day operations or the rhythm of the company support that. So when you have meetings, they all orient around getting things done, dealing with problems as a group. No finger pointing. Because the other aspect of having a team that trusts each other and when things aren’t working and somebody gets rejected and you move them out that reinforce just a lot of the team dynamic, that okay, we’re going to reinforce this behavior. We’re going to keep this going forward.
And then within the organization, we all have problems. Management’s job is to solve problems. And pick the right ones, pick the important ones, and then it’s all hands on deck. It’s not about the failure of that individual because if you’re on the management team, you’ve passed the test. Now we’re dealing with the practicalities of running a complex global organization. Let’s deal with the issues. Let’s reallocate the resources that we have to get the job done that we all will be rewarded for. That’s easy to say, amybe, but it’s hard to do and I was thinking more about this as we’ve talked is that it requires a certain attitude on the leadership side to be a little selfless in this whole process in that you kind of give up some power to get the benefit or working together.
And then if you think about it from a corporate strategic perspective, I always like to say that where I want my executives spending their time is beating the competition not beating each other. And if you can get that energy all focused on let’s go win in the marketplace as opposed to A against B. Wow, to me, that’s harnessing the effort in the right place, because it’s hard enough winning in business, much less dealing with internal, don’t want to do it. And I have no patience for it either. So that’s sort of, okay, I’m the CEO you got to deal with that part. I don’t really care about … you need to have a strong enough ego to know, “I’m very confident. I can do this really well. Now let’s make this organization go.”
Peter: I have to say I think your lack of patience has been a real benefit to the organization because there’s a certain point at which you just didn’t suffer fools. You weren’t willing to let things go to a point where everyone gets frustrated with them. You’re able to draw a line and more forward and I think that’s a very useful skill when you’re trying to grow a company aggressively.
A couple of questions Don about first of all the incentives – when you said everybody lives or dies by the success of the company, were there distinctions between people’s incentives if their particular function did well and the company didn’t or in the management team was everybody compensated in a way that the organization continues to do well, everybody gets compensated? If the organization doesn’t even if your particular function did well, then you’re not making out while the rest of the organization doesn’t?
Don: That’s and 80/20 description of it. We did have a component that was local. But at the end of the day, the funding pool for all the bonus programs, the stock programs, was all driven by the company’s performance and within two-thirds of your comp, your variable comp was based on global metrics for the company and then there was an individual piece. But by the time you did the arithmetic, it was a relatively small piece of the puzzle. So if you look at that compensation as part of the incentive to successful and I didn’t see that as the only thing.
Again, I told people, “If you want to come to FEI and you’re only interested in money, don’t come. If you’re interested in being well reward in a successful organization and driving and doing great things in the marketplace and learning how to do stuff to win and learning how to build teams and working as a team member, then you should come to FEI.”
Peter: It’s so obvious when you say it. And yet it’s so clearly not what you see in most organizations. I can’t tell you how often I look at organizations and the focus of competing with each other seems to take precedence over the focus of collectively competing in the marketplace.
Don: And not to say we did everything perfectly because there were, I stupidly created issues at points in time and sensitivities came up when we started to talk about secession planning, how to do secession planning and things like that. And particularly for my position which I decided at the end of the day, it’s a stupid idea for the CEO to be involved in secession planning for himself. That’s a board responsibility. And the CEO may be a member of the board but it’s not the CEO’s responsibility to do it and you need to get that off your plate because it creates so much political behavior that you just don’t want it.
Peter: So now everybody’s trying to be loved by Don in order to-
Don: And everybody else, too, right? So this is just crazy. Don’t go there. And that was a very liberating commentary I learned from another executive friends of mine. I was kind of anxious over this whole, because the board was pushing me, “Oh you need to have a secession.” Okay. Good. Duh. Then you start thinking about it and then I was struggling with that and I started thinking, “We could do lots of different things.” And of course, the consultants want to push all kinds of baloney on you that you shouldn’t do.
And then somebody said to me, “It’s not your job. It’s the board’s job.” And it was a very liberating comment because I’m a board member and I could certainly offer opinions. But at the end, the board needs to own secession at my level. Certainly, within my team, I own that part. But that I also push down into the organization, too, because the other side learning in this whole thing is when you’re building trust and you’re building a team, promotion from within is such a powerful tool, because people understand the cultural expectations explicitly because they’ve lived it. And so it’s so much easier to do that than as we’ve discovered bringing people from the outside into an organization that has a team culture can be difficult.
Peter: It was very hard. There were a lot of missteps which would have been very, very hard to predict but because the culture at FEI was so collectively aligned as a leadership team of people who were fighting together for the team and for the best of FEI as opposed to their individual interests, it was my experience as we were working together, it was very difficult to find people who could step into the team and give up their egos in order to really be part of that team. Everyone talks about it but when it actually comes down to it, share your experience, but my experience was it was very hard to find that.
Don: It was, but having said that, right, if you think about it, it varied between, I think seven and eight, this senior management team over the years. Only two lasted from the very beginning. And then of that, I think about half and half. Half came from the outside and half came from the inside over time. And so we were successful at bringing people in but it was the failures. I learned how to fail fast and pivot.
Peter: That’s the point, right? Which is from the learning you made from the first time with that executive is it was, you were much faster at seeing when someone wasn’t going to be able to work out and making that call.
Don: And then I think the other comment to make, though, is what came with the teamwork culture was also the fairness and we jointly made a mistake of someone agreeing to come and we hired somebody. We were always very respectful in any kind of separation whether it was a longterm employee or a short term employee. But I don’t think we ever completely cracked the nut of how to identify cultural fit via the interview process.
I think that’s, people, especially again, executive level, are very polished. They understand the nuance. They’re able to present themselves in such a way, but that’s probably future work for someone who is employed.
Peter: Don, this is such a pleasure. We didn’t get to the values piece but maybe what we can do is do a follow-up. Let’s see the comments that we get from the podcast. But we can do a follow-up and have a conversation, if you’re willing, about values. Because I think it’s so critical and I think it’s the kind of thing that most organizations give lip service to and you really worked hard to make it a critical piece of the work that you were doing. And I think that’s a useful conversation. So maybe we could pick that up next time.
Don: I’d love to.
Peter: Don Kania is our guest today. Again, he was the CEO of FEI. He brought the stock price from 19 dollars and 38 cents to 107 dollars and 50 cents when it was sold. Revenue went from under 400 million to over a billion. A very successful leadership venture. And I’m so appreciative both of your friendship and of all of our work together and also of coming on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. So thank you for sharing your wisdom with our listeners.
Don: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Peter.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of business, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode and thank you for listening.
Can you give a speech that actually inspires action? According to expert communicator Sean D’Souza, that’s exactly what every speech should do. Sean teaches us how to use the 13 Box System for constructing informative, engaging presentations that get people to take specific actions. Discover the best way to organize your speech, how to grab (and keep) your audience’s attention, and what to say in your conclusion to really ensure follow-through.
- “You’re always creating drama.” @seandsouza on giving great speeches #publicspeaking
- When creating a speech, the one question to ask yourself – “How can I go deeper?” @seandsouza
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most. With us today is Sean D’Souza. Sean was introduced to me by my friend Howie Jacobson. Howie has introduced me to a few really interesting people. Sean is among them. And I don’t exactly know how to describe Sean. I will say that I learn a lot from him. He’s a tremendous communicator.
When I was just talking with him recently before the show, and we were sort of talking about how to describe him … He’s a dancer, he’s a chef, he’s a cartoonist, he’s a writer, and all of those things are true, and what I think we have to learn from him today on the podcast is is in his role as communicator because everything I’ve read from him I’ve really enjoyed, and I’ve learned from. And specifically years ago I read something that he wrote on the 13 boxes method of writing speeches, and I think he has a lot to say on the topic that could be useful to you as listeners.
So Sean, welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast.
Sean: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you say that on the podcast, but it’s a pleasure to be there. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Peter: I’m glad I say it with your name this time.
Sean: Well thank you.
Peter: So you and I both have a very very strong belief in communicating effectively and I want to start with the content in the 13 boxes method of organizing a speech because I think it’s really useful and I also know that you have some views on why create a speech in the first place. So why don’t we start there and we’ll go into some detail, and we’ll see where the conversation takes us?
Sean: Sure. So why do you create a speech in the first place? The reason why I think anyone should create a speech in the first place is to get one action. So you start off with the end of the speech. You go, “What is that end point?” And there’ll be many books on this topic about the end point, but so many speeches that I hear, I listen to, I know that the presenter hasn’t done their homework because they don’t have a specific end point. What they have are a bunch of slides. What they have is fancy graphics. But what am I going to do at the end of it? What is the audience going to do at the end of it? That should be absolutely clear. And that can only be clear if the presentation itself is very clear.
When I say the presentation is very clear, it means that technically speaking, the audience should be able to recall everything you said which means you can’t say a lot, and you’re going into a lot of depth into one, two, or three things that you’ve covered. So to put it down, now I just said two things. See how confusing it is already. So people see 25 things on a presentation and if you were to nail it down to one thing, it is what is the audience going to do when the presentation is done?
Peter: So in terms of a presentation to just share knowledge, or to be interesting, or to give someone a wider perspective, all of those things don’t necessarily demand action.
Peter: Some of them are perspective. But you’re saying that mostly when you’re giving a speech you want to drive some kind of action. And if that’s true, then the question is that you have to start with before even thinking about what you want to say is, what is the action that you’re trying to drive?
Sean: Yeah. You think of yourself as a parent. Right? Every time you give a lecture to your kids. It’s not like you want to give them a lecture. It’s not like you just want to give them information. You have to be back … You want to be very precise. You’re saying, “I want you to be back home by 10 PM,” right? And then all the preview to that is leading to 10 PM and all the dangers of not getting home by 10 PM, or whatever. Now you can give information. That’s not difficult. But if I give you information on clouds, say “These are cirrus clouds, and cumulonimbus clouds,” and all these clouds. And then, what do I want you to do at the end of it? I want to go out there and look at a cloud and go, “I know that cloud. I know what that cloud does.”
So essentially everything does lead to one action when you think about it. If you don’t think about it then you put a whole bunch of slides together. You put a whole bunch of information together. And by and large information causes confusion in people’s heads. That’s why their scribbling so many notes. If you have ten speakers you should have ten points. That’s the end of the story. But instead you get three, four, five pages of notes and then no one acts on them and that’s the whole point. You have to act on it.
Peter: So we could do a whole podcast on how to listen to speeches too because I think what … Because so few people give good speeches and so few people are that focused. There’s a whole conversation that says, “When you’re listening to someone’s circuitous, filled with complexity speech, how do you find that one nugget that you can pull out of it that would help you act in a way that would bring you closer to your objectives?”
Peter: So I think there’s a whole conversation in that and maybe even just saying it is useful, because maybe we’ll start listening to speeches slightly differently.
Sean: Well the short short version of that is very simple. I’m going to speak in Sweden in two days, but there’ll be other speakers as well. And I keep all my points down to a single page. If I have to go to the second page, I don’t need it. I mean, just one page. That’s it. All the points down to a single page.
Peter: And you’re making one main point. What’s your one main point that you’re making in Sweden?
Sean: You can increase your prices 15 minutes after you leave the room.
Peter: You can increase prices 15 minutes after you leave the room.
Sean: Yes, and not lose any customers.
Peter: Meaning when you’re selling to somebody.
Sean: When you’re selling to someone. So if you’re selling … Say you’re selling a product or service, you can leave the room. In 15 minutes … 15 minutes later, you can increase your prices on your website, on your documentation, and clients will pay the higher price and you don’t lose customers.
Peter: Okay. So you’ve intrigued us and maybe we’ll ask you … Maybe I’ll ask you a little bit at the end of the conversation how you do that. But let’s go to the 13 boxes method because it’s a method that puts some structure on what you’re saying. How do you give a speech that leads people to take an action at the end of the speech predictably?
Sean: So the first thing you’ve got to realize is that you can’t cover many points. You have to cover a maximum of three points. And the way I look at it is you have topics and you have subtopics. So say your topic is, I don’t know, photography. Right? Now that’s Now that’s too broad a topic. And so you go down to a subtopic. And we’re not going into the 13 boxes yet. We’re just on the topic level. How do you choose a topic? And you say, “Okay I’m going to talk about photography.” And then you go, “Okay I have all these nine points to cover in photography.” Now this becomes very hard for the audience to follow. This is why they start scribbling notes. But if you say, “Well we’re only going to talk about aperture, and then we’re going to cover these three points in aperture.” Now you have this clarity because at the end of it you want people to go, “Here’s my camera. I’m going to turn the aperture to, I don’t know, F2.6, or F16, or whatever, and this is the result I’m going to get.”
Peter: Now wouldn’t you want to take one step back from that and say, “The real topic of the speech is going to be how to make a subject pop in your photography, and in order to do that the one piece of the puzzle that I’m going to focus on is aperture.” Don’t you have to take that step back to say “What is the larger picture that we’re trying to achieve?”
Sean: Yes. You have to do that. But your end point is going to be, “Okay this is how …” When they step out of the room, what is that superpower that you’ve given them? What is that action plan that you’ve given them? And from there on you’re going to go, “Okay. Here are the three points that you have to cover.” So the 13 boxes really start off with an opening. And the opening is almost like a documentary. Sometimes when you’re driving home and you listen to the radio and they give you these points, when they’re doing documentaries, they go these very titillating points about what’s going to show up. And so what you’re starting out is with a story. I often start off with a story. And the reason why you start off with a story is because the audience is distracted.
They are always thinking about something else. They’re always checking their Facebook. They’re always doing something else, and you go on stage and say, “Did you know how Will Smith created blockbuster, after blockbuster, after blockbuster in a row? You would think that he was a great actor, but he science.” And immediately no one is looking at their phones because you’ve started to tell a story. So you’re first job is to tell a story or create a case study, or something that snaps the audience out. Because as long as they’re still locked in their world, they’re not in your world.
Peter: So you have to do something that grabs their attention. Can you do something other than tell a story? Are there other ways of grabbing attention?
Sean: You can do a lot of things. You can disagree with the point you just said. For instance you say, “How to make your audience faces stand out,” whatever, and then you go the opposite way. You go, “Here’s how you take a really rad photograph.” And that contrast creates drama. So essentially what you’re doing is you’re always creating drama. The story and the case study are easier ways than just … Say this pricing seminar I go, “Here’s what I’m going to talk to you about. I’m going to tell you to reduce your prices by 50%, and then I’m going to tell you to reduce it by another 25%. What’s going to happen to your business?” And immediately they go, “No no no. We don’t want to reduce our prices. We’re here to increase our prices.” So now they’re focused. And that’s the first box in that 13 box thing which is, you’re trying to get them to focus.
So you start off with the drama. You go on to the points that you’re going to cover. You go into a bit of an agenda. The audience actually needs to know, “Hi, I’m Sean D’Souza. I’m speaking to you today and I’m going to cover three topics. These topics are …” And how long is it going to take. Just very little stuff that gets them to know “I don’t have to sit for an hour and a half. He’s going to be 35 minutes.”
Peter: Right. So the first thing you do is you grab their attention in a way that says “I’m going to put down my phone, and I actually kind of want to listen to this guy, or this woman.”
Peter: And then the second thing is you give them a map of what you’re about to do so they know they’re not going to be stuck in their seats lost.
Sean: Correct. And this is all the first box. So you have to see this visually, and unfortunately we can’t see visually but visualize a box and all of this information goes in this box. And what you then need to do, is you’re now going into a phase where you’re introducing the topics. So you’re saying “What we’re going to do today is going to make these faces look really grand on your camera. What we’re going to do is cover point one, point two, and point three.” And it’s very important that you first announce the three things that you’re going to cover. “You have to come to Auckland. In Auckland you get wine, food, and sightseeing.” Now I know this is my map. This is my clarity. You’re not talking about wine, or food, or sightseeing, you’re just saying, “This is the overview.”
Peter: Are you at risk of losing people because you’re giving them a table of contents and they might look at it and say, “I don’t really need to know about food and drink in Auckland,” but really you’re … I mean that’s the focus of your speech, but you’re going to do it a more interesting way than the table of contents seems to convey.
Sean: Yes. And again what you’re doing is you’re always enticing. You’re going … So if you were to say, “What we’re going to cover is food. Where do you find the cheapest food,” or “Where do you find the most expensive food? Where do you find the most exotic food? The second thing we’re going to cover is,” say, “Drink. There are some wines in Auckland that you get nowhere else in the world.” Right? So, again what you’re doing is you’re creating this … Always the audiences, they want to be entertained and informed. They don’t just want to be informed.
Peter: Interesting. And so every move you make at the beginning of the speech opens a mystery.
Peter: So you’re going to say … You’re going to tantalize the audience in effect. You’re going to grab their attention, and you’re going to share the pieces that you’re about to share with them with a question. So it might be, if this was a corporate presentation and you’re talking about budgets … I’m trying to take something that listeners might find potentially a little boring.
Then you might say, you might frame it in terms of, “We’ve got a big challenge here in terms of closing the gap, in terms of being profitable.” Right? “Closing the gap between our …” Or, “Creating more of a gap between our income and expenses where a gap doesn’t necessarily exist.” This is a situation where you actually want a gap. You want much higher income than you have expenses. “And we’re going to see in the next 20 minutes of this conversation, we’re going to see why the money we’re spending on toilets might be the …” So you’re trying to pitch it in a way that you’re engaging their interest and you’re showing some gap of sorts, or some opening where they might want to know where you’re going with it. And you want do that in the very first box in the very beginning of the speech.
Sean: So the first box is about introducing what you’re going to say. But the next three boxes they’re your table of contents. How you make them interesting is totally up to you but you have to be careful that the audience doesn’t get lost in that chatter. So often you may sound really boring to just have a table of contents, but if you’ve done a really good opening your audience will give you that chance. Like you’ve entertained them with a story about Will Smith when you were going to talk about budgeting. You’ve entertained them with how Japan was closed for 200 years and now you’re going to talk about budgets. So when you start off with something that’s very interesting in a case study or a story, they will give you that extra time and you can just stick to the three … The next three boxes you can just go, “Okay what we’re going to talk about is one, two, three.” Right? “And let’s start off with the first one.”
You can go very quickly over those first three boxes. I’m sorry. The next … These boxes are crazy when you talk about them but you give the introduction. You go, “I’m going to cover one, two, three. Let’s start off with the first box.” You can go very quickly over to that next box. That’s when all the good stuff happens.
Peter: Why three?
Sean: Because I can’t remember more stuff. So you need to actually test your presentation if you have the chance to do so by getting the audience. So what I do is at the end of my speech I will get the audience to repeat what I just said. And I’ll go, “Okay, here’s the summary. And what did we cover the first thing?” And they go, “Yeah, this and then that.” And that’s when you know it’s not installed. It’s not installed in their books, it’s installed in their brain. And if you cover more than three, then … So even when you’re covering these three, you’re not really covering three topics. You’re covering three subtopics. “We’re going to talk about the budget, increasing the budget, lowering the budget, driving the budget crazy.”
Peter: And if you had only two, would that be okay? Or is there some magic to three?
Sean: Of course there is a magic to three. That imbalance is good. I mean we’ve always known there is this magic to three. It’s like “We’re going to fight them on the beaches. We’re going to fight them on the land. We’re going to fight them …” Whatever. There is this sort of imbalance about three that two seems to land with a thud. It’s like “I’m going to talk about this and this.”
Peter: And one is too simple so you really want three.
Sean: Yeah. One is your main topic anyway. The three subtopics. So three is –
Peter: Is there a rule of thumb in terms of how to choose the three subtopics?
Sean: What I tend to do is go deeper. So when I choose a topic I go, “Okay how can I go one level down? And then another level down?” So I’m not just trying to go … The broadest topic is, “Okay we’re going to talk about,” I don’t know, “Lamps,” or, “We’re going to talk about real estate,” or, “We’re going to talk over budgeting.” And that becomes very hard for the audience to go, “Oh this is a really interesting topic.” So you go down from budgeting to hard nosed budgeting. And then hard nosed budgeting in difficult times. And now you’ve got a focus.
Peter: So as you’re describing this I’m realizing for listeners it would probably be useful to have specific example that you’re talking through. Can you think of a speech that, either the speech that you’re giving or that you have to give, or that you had to give that fits this model so that they have a concrete example as you’re discussing it?
Sean: Yeah. So for instance this pricing thing, I will start off with the first section. And now I’m going to talk about the three topics. So what are the three topics? “What I’m going to talk about today is first of all why you need to increase your prices. Secondly, how to go about a systematic way to increase your prices. And the third is, pricing sequencing. How people tend to choose products and services based on a dinner sequence. Just how they go out to dinner. So let’s start off with why you have to increase your prices.” And that’s when I go into the next box. So now I’ve covered four boxes. I’m now into my fifth box where I’m talking about the first topic which is why you have to increase prices.
Peter: Or the first subtopic.
Peter: So you wake them up, you grab their attention, you tell them the main area that you’re talking about which is increasing prices, and now you’re going to go into three subtopics of that that you’ve told them to expect which is … The first one of which is why to do it. So now what? Now what we do in … So now we’re in that first subtopic.
Sean: Correct. So no you have to really make your point. And what I tend to do is I use three here as well. I’m going, “Why do you have to increase your prices?” And then I will cover three points there. It’s not very clear so I don’t announce those points, but I cover three points. So I will say, “First of all, why you should increase prices is one, it helps in your … You attract customers because higher prices actually attract better customers.” Then I will cover the second point, and the third point. In that first subtopic I will cover three specific points, but not make it over that “Okay I’m covering three points again here.” Because that will confuse the audience. It’s like, “Three at the top, three in the middle.” No. But I know in my own brain that this is what I’m covering. Three points.
Peter: It’s a way also for you as a speaker to have grounded authority in a way too because it’s very simple. I mean I’m not giving the speech, but I get the structure which is I’m going to grab their attention. I want to focus on raising prices, now I’ve got three pieces and I can go deep. It’s a way of organizing in my mind that allows me to not get lost in my own talk-
Peter: Which I will sees sometimes people do.
Sean: Yeah. And you get depth as well. So you’re not just making a point. But because you have to cover three points in that point, that subtopic … If we were to take it a subtopic A, B, C, now under A you have one, two, three. Under B you have one, two, three. Under C you have one, two, three.
Peter: And I imagine that in those subtopics, why you need to raise prices, you’re going to be telling stories, you’re going to give examples, you might give references, you might show times when it didn’t work and still paid off. You’re going to … That’s where you do a little bit of a dance-
Peter: In exploring and painting a picture of this particular topic. And then you tell them you’ve done that topic and you’re going to the next topic.
Sean: Correct. So what you’re doing now is now you’re a full blown entertainer. Right? It’s not just information. The examples, the stories in between, what they create is this entertainment factor. And people … Why you have to … You got to recognize why people’s attention goes down. Now we can talk for a while and if I switch over to a story, immediately your attention goes up again. I switch away from the story, it stabilizes again. Again the story comes up … So what I tend to do is I tend to put in examples and stories at intervals within those sections. The one, two, three.
So I’m going, “Okay this point is about blah blah blah,” and then I will have either a story a demonstration. Now in this pricing I have to show them that a T-shirt costs $150. And I go, ‘Who’s going to pay $150 for a T-shirt?” And I show them a T-shirt. Well that gets the attention up again.
Sean: And here, and so –
Peter: So you’re asking them questions, you’re showing them surprising evidence, you’re again kind of them giving them the unexpected in a way that supports the story you’re trying to tell them.
Sean: Yeah. I mean it’s unexpected but you can also have something that they already know. For instance, the basic objection of increasing prices is that clients will go away. And what I show them is a Coke bottle. I show them the big Coke bottle, and I show them the can. And I say, “You know the can costs more than the big bottle. How much sense does that make to you?”
Sean: Right? And they go, “Oh. Never thought of that before but I’ve seen it a million times.” I say, “You know, you’re saying that everything has a fixed price, should have a fixed price based on the marketplace. Well you bought a house, right? So the real estate person says that the house is worth 200,000. You want 250,000. The buyer wants to pay 180,00. The council says it’s 120,000. This is a documented historical perspective of the house, and you have four prices there.”
Peter: So you’re using examples that illustrate the point that you’re trying to make.
Sean: Right. But then as you’re going through you also have to make sure that you bring up … You have to consider their objections.
Peter: And you raise their objections for them.
Sean: Yes. You always do that. Yes. Because if you don’t raise the objections and kind of demolish them, then they’re stuck on that. You’ve gone to the next point and they’re still stuck on the old one.
Peter: Great. So now we’ve done the three … You’ve woken them up, you’ve given them the major topic, you’ve broken it into three subtopics, you’ve now gone into depth in each one of those three one at a time using story and entertainment and sort of surprising facts, now are we coming in for a landing?
Sean: Yes. You’re coming in for landing. Essentially you’re doing exactly. So every speaker that goes to any speaking place they tell them, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them what you are telling them. And them tell them you what you just told them.” And the summary is extremely crucial. It’s the opposite of the contents. So we started off with, “We’re going to cover three topics. One, two, three.” Then you cover those three topics in detail. And then you tell them, “What we just covered was this. Under A, we covered one, two, three points. Under B we covered, one, two, three points. Under C we covered one, two, three points.” And-
Peter: And any way to wrap it up beyond that?
Sean: Yeah. And then there’s the last box which is now what do you want them to do? How do you want them to do it? So it depends on what you’re presentation is. It depends on, “Okay, now here’s what you need to do. The next thing you need to do is break up into groups and find out the uniqueness of this company based on what I’ve just told you.” Right? Or, “You say, okay go to the ground floor and pick up a Coke can and look out it.” What do you want them to do so that they’re going to take a next step? If you’re in a … All presentations are not from the stage. Some presentations you’re in the room. You’re selling to investors, you’re selling to people. You want them to do something. You don’t want them clap here.
Peter: So be explicit. You’re saying be explicit about what it is exactly that you want them to do and tell them. Be upfront and straightforward about it.
Sean: Yeah. I tell the audience, “You know 95% of this audience is going to raise their prices within the next few minutes or within 24 hours.” And they go, “Why 95%?” I go, “Because 5% will listen to everything and do nothing.”
Peter: Right. And obviously that incites the 95% to want to be part of the 95%.
Peter: Or it incites the 100% to want to be part of the 95%.
Peter: Sean if we, on our site, could we create a link to a 13 boxes form something that people … Because they’ve heard us talk about it, now is there a template or something that they could use to think about this?
Sean: Yes we can do that. For sure.
Peter: Okay. That’d be great so that people will-
Sean: Now I just want to make sure that this is not my invention. Okay. This is the work of my friend Eugene Moreau, and he came up with the 13 box system. We were sitting at a café and I came up with the name for it but that’s my whole contribution to it other than other stuff that I’ve added to it along the way.
Peter: Right. And it’s … Thank you for that, and it’s a great framework. And it’s a framework that I use that, again Howie who introduced me to you sent me a book on it maybe … Probably around the time that I came out with 18 Minutes and I structured my 18 Minutes, my book 18 Minutes I structured the speech that I’d given that and it’s such a simple, clear approach to organizing my thoughts. It also takes an hour speech and it cuts the timing so I know what I’m doing in these first five minutes. And each section takes about ten minutes, and it makes something that otherwise might feel unmanageable into something very manageable.
So thank you for sharing with the guests, with our listeners today. And thank you for sharing it with me years and years ago. And I’m glad that it’s spreading, and thank you for being on the Bregman Leadership podcast.
Sean: It’s a pleasure. It’s always a pleasure speaking to you.
Peter: I’ve been speaking with Sean D’Souza who was kind enough to, he’s in Australia-
Sean: New Zealand.
Peter: New Zealand. Sorry. That’s a terrible mistake to make. He’s in New Zealand. When we’re recording this it’s 5 AM, so Sean I appreciate you waking up early in order to to do the podcast, and thank you always for how generous you are with everything that you create because a lot of it is out there for people to just read, and I appreciate it.
Sean: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership podcast. If you did it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness. A lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our Big Arrow process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.