Million Dollar Influence: Creating Powerful Decisions With Win-Win Outcomes With Alan Weiss – Episode 161


LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence


Influence is such an important word in business. Yet, it is often taken the wrong way. People think that influence has to be forceful or assert power. This is far from the truth, and if you influence the right way, you can get powerful outcomes that leave both parties winning. In this episode, Patrick Veroneau interviews consultant, speaker, and author, Alan Weiss. Sharing wisdom from his book, Million Dollar Influence, Alan tells us everything we need to drive powerful decisions through influence. He dives deep into the role of language, leverage, and leadership in the process as well as the power of improv and emotional intelligence. Plus, Alan talks about the importance of thinking of employees as your first customers and reading your audience.

Listen to the podcast here


Million Dollar Influence: Creating Powerful Decisions With Win-Win Outcomes With Alan Weiss

In this episode, we’re going to be talking about everything influence. We’re going to do it with Alan Weiss, who is known as the rock star in the consulting world. I would argue that he’s also a rock star in the area of helping people understand influence. We’re going to talk specifically about the book that he co-wrote with Gene Moran, which is called Million Dollar Influence: How to Drive Powerful Decisions through Language, Leverage, and Leadership.

LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence

Million Dollar Influence: How to Drive Powerful Decisions through Language, Leverage, and Leadership

I loved our conversation and also the content of this book because it draws on some areas and nuances around influence that can help anybody, whether you are a leader or selling a product or a service, a parent, or in a relationship. We all influence. His book does a great job of helping to understand how we do it most effectively. Let’s get into it.

Alan, I want to thank you for being on the show. I appreciate this. You’re not only the rock star of consulting, but you’re also the rock star of writing books. This is over 60 at this point. Do you know exactly what number?

It’s 60-something because there are multiple editions. They’re in fifteen languages. I tell people I write so many because I go for volume and not accuracy, so it’s easy.

We should have a good time here then. This book is Million Dollar Influence. It’s a topic that I love. It’s one of my favorite ones. It’s so nuanced, and there are so many different directions we can go and learn in this. The book that you’ve put together introduces some things that most don’t normally think about when we talk about influence but are so valuable to helping people as you talk about driving powerful decisions. I was wondering as we get started if you could talk about what your definition of influence is.

First of all, let me say that this book is co-authored with Gene Moran. Gene is one of my clients. He is a former Naval Captain. He is a star lobbyist, in the most positive sense, in Washington, whereby he’s won awards for ethical and effective bringing together of public and private interest. I want to get it on the record. My definition of influence is where people engage in discussions and negotiations where both feel they’ve won. It’s that simple, theoretically and conceptually. It’s certainly not that simple in practice, which is why we wrote the book.

Influence is where people engage in discussions and negotiations where both feel they've won. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting. I certainly like what you said there about the ethical part because when we often think of influence or sales even, it has a bad connotation to it. You talk about this in a way that is about not winning but a preferred outcome. That’s important if you could speak to that.

People look at negotiation as a win-lose proposition. It need not be that way, but you can’t have that mental set going in. For example, one of the things that I’m very strongly about is that we have musts and wants. When you’re negotiating, influencing, and persuading, you never want to give away a must, but you can negotiate away wants. In that way, both sides do that successfully. They can both feel that they’ve gained. I’ll give you a brief example. When we moved to California many years ago, we lived outside of San Francisco for a while, I said to the realtors, “I must have air conditioning.”

They said, “You don’t need it here.” I said, “Don’t give me that. I have allergies. I need air conditioning.” We go into the first house, and there’s no air conditioning. I said, “What did I tell you?” She says to me, “Look at the view.” In the next house, there’s no air conditioning. She says to me, “You’re close to schools.” She wanted me to consistently give up a must so she could move that house. That’s not the way you deal with people.

You talk about three different things around language, leverage, and leadership as part of this influence process. How important is the language piece?

Language is the most important. Let’s take sales and marketing, which I have some expertise in. I teach people that it’s all about language because language controls discussions control relationships and relationships control business, especially in professional services. It all starts with language. I have an electronic book called The Martial Arts of Language, and it’s about how the simple use and utilization of correct language can change the course of a conversation so that people feel it’s a win-win and people feel that no matter what they’re paying you, they’re getting tremendous value in return. It’s not about maneuvering or manipulation. It is about masterful kinds of influence and what we called million-dollar influence.

Before we started, I told you about another one of your books, Value-Based Fees. I used this in regard to the appendix there. There are questions in there in terms of how you ask the questions to create value. One of the things that you talk about in this book is trying to replace the word why with three other words, how, what, or who. Why do you think that is so important?

It raises the level of the decision. If you feel a decision takes on more and more strategic importance, you’re willing to invest more. When you get too much down into the weeds, you feel that’s a commodity, and a lot of people can do that. You want to raise that level of decision. One of the things about Value-Based Fees, and I’ve been doing this since the ’90s when I introduced it, I advocate against hourly or daily billing.

It’s unethical because the longer it takes you to help, the more money you get, but a client deserves a fast resolution. The language I use when somebody says, “What’s your value basis and fee basis”, I say, “I get equitable compensation in return for the dramatic return of investment that you earn and get.” When you talk like that, you’re partners. That’s how words and language can change the meaning of everything.

When you talk about influence here as well, you bring up the concept of improv. It’s one of those things that you don’t generally see in an influence book, but it’s so relevant to this topic.

We have to take a holistic view of our lives and our business. For example, my son has spent a part of his career in the theater as an actor and coach. In fact, we did this together at one point. We put on a workshop on improv. The reason that attracted me is that one of the principles of improv is you never deny it. You only accept. If somebody says, “It’s raining here,” the other partner doesn’t say, “It’s not raining in here.” You say, “Yes, but I expect it might only be the sprinkler system.” If you’re dealing with a client or a prospect, if you don’t reject or deny, and you simply accept what they say, but add to it, you have a much greater chance of converting them.

Instead of saying, “It’s not true that people leave organizations, they leave leaders and individuals,” you say, “You’re quite right. There’s a problem with people leaving organizations, but may I suggest to you that part of that problem probably comes from a very few of your leaders.” It’s just a softer way to include what they said but add to it.

I took a series of improv classes several years ago. I found it valuable in terms of flexibility and not getting caught up when things don’t go in the direction you want. It’s almost as if you just roll with it. You have an opportunity to be flexible as to what’s going on. I know you stress about that.

This is what we commonly call staying at the moment. When people come in scripted, they have a sales pitch. If one other person says elevator pitch to me, I’m going to ask if they’re still living in the 1950s. It’s absolutely ridiculous. You stay in the moment, and you take the conversation where it seems to be going, but you gently shift it to where you want to go. I call this keeping the boats in the channel. When I was a kid that went to the amusement park, you got in these little speed boats.

When people come in scripted, they have a sales pitch. Click To Tweet

What took you around the course was there was a stream, a steady torrent that took the boat in the desired direction, and the boat bounced off the sides. Your steering had nothing to do with it. The amusement part kept the boats in the channel. You couldn’t take it down the river. We have to keep the boats in the channel in our conversations.

It’s interesting. Along those lines, I don’t know if you ever utilized motivational interviewing, but in motivational learning, it talks about rolling with resistance. It’s very much the same thing. You see where it goes, and you become more flexible. That can be difficult in terms of understanding influence.

You have to have a wide vocabulary, and you have to be able to use metaphors and analogies as I just did with the boats. I practice behavioral interviewing, and I’m not doubting that other forms are great, but I’m saying to you that I want to put people in the actual situation and see how they respond rather than just get an intellectual response. I would say to them, “If you found out your boss unequivocally was cheating on expenses, what would you do?”

If the person says to me, “It depends on how much,” that tells me one thing. If they say to me, “I’d approach the boss and say, ‘Is this true? Some of us know about it,'” that’s another thing entirely. I find that the kind of discussion you have with people that puts them in a certain situation, which they have to respond to in an emotional sense, tells you a lot about them.

I’m going to roll in this direction when you talk about the intellectual component. That’s with a lot of things. With training that we create for individuals intellectually, a lot of this stuff can be easy. It’s the application of it that becomes difficult.

You couldn’t be more correct because logic makes us think, and emotion makes us act. It’s one thing to play chess and say, “King’s Rook to King’s Rook Three.” It’s another to play rugby. You’ve got to have some contact sport here. Otherwise, it’s too easy to agree intellectually and still not make a move. If you’re emotionally attached, for example, instead of saying, “How would you like to reduce your time on the job every week from the 60 hours you’re putting into 50 hours?” that’s one thing.

Anybody’s going to say, “That would be very useful.” If you were to say, “How would you like to spend more time with your family?” that’s an emotional connection. It’s a question of how you apply language, but as you can see, it makes all the difference. I’m suggesting the exact same thing and the exact same improvement, but one is intellectual, and one is emotional.

This book is in the 60s somewhere, in terms of the number that’s been published. Is there a reason why now? Is it different since COVID? Do you think influence is different from how we approach it now versus pre-COVID?

Let me say two things. The first is that we used tend not to realize how much remote work we were doing before COVID. Before Zoom, there was Skype, which practically no one talks about anymore. Skype started this, and then Zoom, then GoTo Meeting, and all this kind of thing. We did a lot of remote work, all of us because it was cheaper and easier. You didn’t have to go through TSA and prove that you were innocent, otherwise, you’re guilty. We were doing that all along. COVID just magnified our need for it. I’ll tell you something else now in terms of influence. If people keep talking about post-COVID and the new normal, they’re going to be seen as relics. We’re through with that. There will be a COVID surge, and people are mostly vaccinated, and it will be like getting the flu.

The fact is that there is no new normal. There is no return to normal. In fact, I’ve trademarked the phrase no normal. We have to get used to the fact there’s no normal anymore. Disruption and volatility, which ought to be the name of a law firm, are offensive weapons and not something to be afraid of. Those of us who are successful have been practicing disruption and volatility forever. That’s how you gain influence in the workplace and elsewhere because you’re seen as a positively disruptive force. When I introduced in the ’90s Value-Based Fees, as you pointed out for consulting many years ago, I have now continued the strongest solo consulting brand in the world. That’s the power of language and disruption and so forth.

LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence

Million Dollar Influence: Those of us who are successful have been practicing disruption and volatility forever. That’s how you gain influence in the workplace and elsewhere because you’re seen as a positively disruptive force.


As it relates to influence, you even talked about the Pareto Principle, this 80/20 rule in terms of how good you need to be or effective to influence people.

My feeling is that when you’re 80% ready, you move because the final 20% you put into a speech, the audience doesn’t appreciate it. The final 20% you put in a book, the audience doesn’t either even read. The final 20% you put into preparing for a business meeting, the other party doesn’t even know it’s there. We spend so much time pursuing perfection that we kill excellence. Consequently, when you’re 80% ready to move, and you make the rest of the corrections mid-course, I’ve never started a consulting project, negotiation, or coaching project with all the information I need. A lot of the information you’ve gathered is wrong anyway.

You talked about emotional intelligence as being important. We talked about improv earlier. EI or EQ is another one of those things that oftentimes gets overlooked and its importance to being able to influence. I was wondering if you could talk about that.

I wrote another book called The Modern Trusted Advisor with another one of my clients, Nancy MacKay, who runs a big coaching advisory business. What I found is that no matter what you call it, emotional intelligence, emotional IQ, whatever it is, I would rather think of sympathy and empathy. Empathy is understanding what the other person feels and putting yourself in their shoes. Sympathy is commiserating with them, feeling pity for them or regret. I believe in tough love because I do so much coaching at high levels. Tough love is empathy without sympathy.

In other words, I know where you are, and I can help you, but I’m not sitting here to help you feel sorry for yourself. Wielding influence is about helping people move forward, improve, and get positive things out of any kind of negotiation. It’s not about saying to them, “You’re at a disadvantage here. This hasn’t worked in the past.” It’s about a much more positive viewpoint.

Wielding influence is about helping people move forward, improve, and get positive things out of any kind of negotiation. Click To Tweet

Back in 2008 or 2009, when I first got into consulting, I had left the pharmaceutical industry. I had been there for fifteen years and was involved in sales and sales training. I went back to meet with a manager after going through a director of sales, a coaching program, and also licensing a program of emotional intelligence. When I first read about emotional intelligence, all this seemed to me was a sales model. It was following a sales model in terms of understanding the situation you’re in.

I will never forget this. When I went and had my meeting with this director of sales in New Jersey, he said, “I want to talk about any topics you want to talk about in terms of coming and doing training, except for that EIBS.” That was the only thing he didn’t want to talk to. I thought this was somebody that doesn’t understand how important this is.

Let me tell you something. I had major consulting assignments with about five pharma companies, and the biggest by far was Merck, with whom I worked for twelve years. During that period, in America, it was the most admired company five times in a row. Their sales force had all kinds of prizes and accolades. They used a lot of what we’re talking about, emotional intelligence, empathy, and so forth because they were dealing with doctors and medical professionals. When everything shifted in healthcare in the states, and suddenly you weren’t selling to doctors, you were selling to the acquisitions people down in the basement, none of that stuff mattered anymore.

Overnight, Merck had this tremendous investment. The sales force was no longer relevant because those people in the basement just wanted the best deals on paper. They didn’t care about relationships or anything else. They were paid to drive down prices. That’s how critical these things can be applied correctly or incorrectly.

Not to go down a different path here, that continues to happen if you look at the way healthcare is now and how restricted it is to allowing reps and people in. There’s even less relevance to it.

That’s true. Look at any profession. Look at car dealerships. In some dealerships, you walk in, and the salesperson says, “We have the sale only for the next two weeks on this model. You get returns and credits from the manufacturer.” Others walk up to you and say, “It’s very nice to meet you. What brings you to our place today? Tell me about your objectives. Do you have a family?” They’re trying to understand what this person’s looking for, and then talk about an emotional attachment.

They don’t tell you about the engine displacement and the wear and tear on the tires. They say, “Why don’t you take the car for a test drive?” You go out and have this emotional experience. You bring the car back and say, “I like this car.” The salesperson then says, “You look cool in that car.” “I look cool?” “Yes. In fact, there’s a car around the corner. It’s probably out of your price range, but you look even cooler.” The customer says, “It can’t hurt to test drive it.” That’s how you sell cars.

You seem to touch on the art versus the science. Clearly, there’s an important difference to understand between art and science.

You’re exactly right. The future of sales is evangelism. The future of sales is the peer-to-peer reference. If you think of it, that’s what occurs almost all the time now. We just don’t recognize it. In other words, if I want a good realtor, I respect you and say, “Who do you use for a realtor? Who do you use for a pediatrician? What’s a good vacation spot?” You helped me because we’re peers and colleagues. You asked me the same questions. That’s the future of sales. Advertising doesn’t do it anymore. In fact, I have had a lot of newspaper clients. They’re in tremendous jeopardy right now because they’re losing about 10,000 newspapers a day in the United States. If they order people to pull their ads, it’s not going to be tenable at all because they’re the major advertisers.

LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence

Million Dollar Influence: The future of sales is evangelism. The future of sales is peer-to-peer reference


The second thing is these influencers and endorsements like McConaughey. Does anyone believe McConaughey drives a Lincoln? Does anyone think he’s not doing this for $5 million? That stuff is just nonsense. You got to fire your ad firm right there. The key is the kind of influence that takes place among peers. What I tell my clients is if you want to boost your sales at virtually no cost, have your very best customers talk to your second-best customers because your second-best customers already love you. You just want to drive them up to that top level. It’s a huge margin increase. That’s the art of it now. The science of advertising, whether it’s tactical or strategic, doesn’t matter.

It’s interesting. Alan, as you talk about that, I think about this from a standpoint of employee engagement in how things have changed from a social media standpoint. Many years ago, if you were on the East Coast, you didn’t know what companies on the West Coast were doing, how employees were treated, and what was going on. Now, there’s so much openness in terms of experience and what’s going on. That drives some of this employee desire for it.

Let’s look at this as disruption because the best way and the cheapest way to get new employees now, which is good quality, new employees, because of staffing problems, is to use your greatest resource, which is your current employee. Your current employees are the best ambassadors for your company if they’re happy. Motivation nowadays in the workplace is about applying as many of your talents as you can and getting recognized for it. It’s not about money. If you give an unhappy employee more money, you have a wealthier, unhappy employee. If you can use your people as ambassadors, they’ll bring in people with no executive search cost, and so forth and so on. You’re right about that, but companies don’t do enough to encourage that.

It’s amazing to me, spending time in that space of thinking of the employees as your first customers. If you make them happy, they do the selling for you. Who doesn’t want to go and say, “I work for this company. You should come over here. You would love it here.”

You tell me an organization that has unhappy employees and happy customers. That doesn’t exist. Look at the difference in the US between JetBlue and American. In JetBlue, every flight is positive. Everybody’s happy. They love the company. In American, it’s a 50/50 chance you’re either going to be treated well or you’re going to be treated like crap. It depends upon how those people feel about the company that day. It’s important to understand that you need to use these natural resources that you have to your benefit. That’s a question of influence because these people who work for you are talking to their peers who could be working for you.

An organization that has unhappy employees and happy customers doesn't exist. Click To Tweet

This topic of influence is so relevant, just the leadership in and of itself, understanding how to influence those people around you.

The biggest source of new business in professional services is the referral business. You should be able to talk to your buyer who’s a peer of yours to get names of his or her peers who will become future peers for you. That is the cheapest, most effective way to get new business, but so many people don’t do it because they’re afraid of rejection and don’t see themselves as peers of the buyer. They see themselves as subordinates.

You often refer to them as business counterparts and not as a prospect. Even that language to me, as I read that, has a different feel to it. When it’s a counterpart, you’re showing up differently.

I don’t care if you walk into an office that’s 500 square feet and that person’s making $7 million a year, has a budget of $45 million, and has 200 people working for them. The point is that you are a peer because you’re an expert in your area. If they didn’t need your help, they wouldn’t be talking to you. One of the first questions I ask a prospect when I meet them is, “What prompted you to put time aside to meet with me today?” All of a sudden, I’ve set the agenda, and we’re peers.

On a more technical side, you talked about a couple of different levels of the process in terms of who you’re going to interact with. The gatekeeper, probably most are familiar with in a selling situation. You also talked about the decision influencer. I was wondering if you could talk about what that means. Who is a decision influencer?

In a small, closely held business, if there’s a partner or a spouse, it’s that person. If the owner of the business says to you, “My partner’s not involved,” I never believe that because over the dinner table or over a drink, they’re going to be talking about this strange person that the owner met. I tell the owner all the time, “We should interact with the three of us because you’re going to be asked questions you can’t answer.” Secondly, in a publicly held business or a larger business, let’s put aside the gatekeeper whose job they see is to protect the buyer. You have people the buyer respects because they’ve always given them good advice, or the buyer knows, unlike a lot of subordinates, this person isn’t afraid to just tell what’s on his or her mind.

You have to understand that you can get into a conversation with the buyer about who those folks are. For example, I need to talk to my R&D guy because I want to get his opinion. Here’s a surprise. A lot of times, it’s the assistant or the secretary. They’ll say, “Isn’t this the fourth person?” They’ll say yes, but this person’s different. It’s important to get a feel for the environment and who’s who. Especially if you have trouble reaching the buyer directly, you have to work through these other means. I’ll tell you about a bizarre incident like this. My very first book came out in ’88. I wrote that one with a partner. It’s called The Innovation Formula. It’s still on Amazon. It’s $10 now.

When this book first came out in hardcover, my partner arranged for a couple hundred of them to get a cover, a dust jacket that looked like a tuxedo. In the pocket of the tuxedo was a real rose. He had messengers go around Manhattan, and they delivered these to these secretaries. The note said, “The book is for your boss, and the rose is for you.” The secretaries were almost, universally, female. I said, “You can never get away with this.” Back then, you could do it. He got some appointments that way.

What about the enabler? Who is the enabler?

There are people who make things happen because they can drive things. My contention is that now more than ever, speed is as important as content. That’s my 80% Move Rule. If you find people who love to take the lead, love to get things done, love to have the limelight, and will make their boss look good, those become your allies. Most people are threatened by change. They’re threatened by the journey. The future always looks bright, but it’s how to get there that gives them angst and heartburn. They’re very conservative and cautious. They feel threatened. There are some of these people who say, “Let’s start yesterday. Let’s get there first.” Those people give you a lot of added velocity to get the buyer to say, “Maybe it’s time to go.”

Speed is as important as content. Click To Tweet

In the pharmaceutical, look at prescribing habits of physicians, and you would have what’s called early adopters. Those were the ones that they got out in front of things. They didn’t wait. They did their own legwork upfront, and they wanted to be out on the front lines of things.

You’re exactly right. Let’s just take the insurance business where I used to do a lot of work. Some insurance companies had both captive agents but also independent agents. Prudential did this at the time. I don’t know if they still do. The captive agents followed the company marches and sang the company fight song. The independent agents who could work with anybody, if they sniffed something that was high potential, they went after it like a jet. When they called the home office and said, “I need more help here. I need a faster response here,” they got it because these guys got major corporate insurance clients to move.

I want to take a step back when we were talking about the gatekeeper. Even though we glossed over it, there are some people that can’t say yes, but they can certainly say no. the gatekeeper is one of those. If they’re not respected and treated properly, they can certainly create a lot of problems.

You have to go beyond that even because no gatekeeper can say yes. They have no budget, so they can’t approve a thing. Giving a proposal to a gatekeeper is the equivalent of throwing it out the window. You might as well let it blow away. They can say no because they have the power not to introduce you to anybody else. There are three ways to deal with a gatekeeper. The first way is, and this is about influence, to give them the incentive to be part of the success and say, “You represent the culture of the organization. I represent some outside fresh air so you don’t breathe your own exhaust. Why don’t we approach your boss together and make this your credit as well?”

The second is a real art form, which is, ethically, I can’t give you any proposal or cite any fees without hearing the expectation from your buyer who has the fiduciary responsibility to invest from her or his lips. The third way is to blow up the gatekeeper because you’re not going to get anywhere anyway if they keep resisting. You say, “I know who the buyer is, so I’m going to approach them directly. Should I mention our conversation or not?”

Those are the three ways. You either enlist the aid of a gatekeeper or get through them. I advice people not to spend a lot of time with them because the more time you spend, the less chance you have. I’ve never waited a long time and had better news. Nobody ever said to me, “Alan, just wait a quarter and we’ll double your fee.” No one’s ever said that.

Along those lines, from the standpoint of respecting them, if you don’t, and it’s observed that you don’t give them proper respect, there’s a relationship they have with the buyer that the buyer looks and says this person is not a good person based on how they treat somebody that they think is subordinate to them.

That’s why the first step is to try to enlist them in their own self-interest, to join you in this. If that’s not successful, don’t waste a whole lot. We’re not talking about four meetings here. Another problem you have here is that if you spend a lot of time with the gatekeeper, even if the gatekeeper finally introduces you, you are recognized as someone at their level, not at the buyer’s level. It’s hard to be a partner to somebody who’s been dealing seven levels down. It’s another problem.

Along those lines, you talked about getting your house in order. Before you go and sell to the actual buyer, what does that process look like? That’s an important component. Especially if you’re enthusiastic, you think you have the solution here, and you shoot your bullets before you should.

You’re right. In other words, that’s why you can’t stick to a script. That’s why you have to stay in the moment. For example, when you arrive at a site, does the buyer come out and meet you personally and take you back to the office, or does the buyer send an assistant to come get you? Does the buyer offer you coffee and maybe go to the cafeteria with you, or does the buyer simply sit down and say, “What can I do for you?” Does the office look like a museum with photographs, memorabilia, and awards, or does the office look like the bridge of a battleship where everything is in arm’s reach and we’re ready to fire?

You don’t have to do a whole lot of advanced homework. If you’re good at simply absorbing the environment, you can tell very quickly what kind of personality you’re dealing with. You can also take a look at the recent results of the company, especially if it’s publicly held. You can also take a look now more than ever on Google and so forth as to how this CEO might have been interviewed, what they might have written themselves, and where they came from before this.

When I hear you talk about that stuff, too, back to emotional intelligence or social intelligence, it’s about understanding, reading your environment, or reading your audience, so the more effective you are at that and what’s around you, but it’s very relevant to reading who your audience is.

I agree completely with your description. My problem with emotional intelligence is that not a lot of people know what the heck it means. It’s just thrown around there like the Great Resignation and existential jailbreak. People talk about quietly quitting. What about quietly firing? You don’t want to just replace bodies. This is an opportunity to cleanse. That’s what I mean by volatility and disruption being positive. When anybody glosses over these important emotional traits you’re talking about by calling it EQ, it reduces it to an intellectual exercise and not an important emotional exercise.

That’s a great point. Maybe that’s part of the problem why so many resist it because they don’t appreciate what’s involved in it. It’s a strength and not this fluffy snowflake type of approach that you take.

Take the whole populous psychology movement over the last couple of years, and positive self-talk, which Martin Seligman popularized with learned optimism. I had him as a guest at one of my conventions. If you just talk about positive self-talk, it’s this vague principle. Stop starting your sentences with, “I’m struggling. I’m having a problem.” Start your sentences with, “I’ve got a challenge I’d like to.” When you can point out those specifics, it becomes much more emotional. When you give people this kind of help to understand how to improve themselves and their self-image, that’s useful. If you just say to people, “You have low self-esteem,” that’s not helpful.

When I hear you talk about that, too, I think of another thing that you talk about in the book, and I see it quite often, which is around confirmation bias. We answer the questions that we ask almost. If I think of a certain thing or, “Why am I not good at this? What do I do?” I generally think of all of the evidence that will back up why my thought on this is accurate.

The problem is that social media now is a cesspool of confirmation bias. People only read and listen to what they originally believed and agree with. They will not read opposing views. That’s why the country is so polarized right now. Everybody thinks we’re on some higher moral ground, and it’s easy to believe you’re on a higher moral ground and try to improve your position. It’s a tremendous difficulty. We need to be open to old points of view. On social media, in particular, the fact is you can have an opinion, but an opinion is not a fact. We need to separate that.

LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence

Million Dollar Influence: Social media now is a cesspool of confirmation bias. People only read and listen to what they originally believe and agree with.


When I hear you talk about that, I immediately go to listening. We’ve gone from not do we not listen to understand. It used to be in sales. You would’ve people that listen to respond. I’m just going to wait until you finish, and then I’m going to give you my point of view. We’ve devolved even more that we’ve gone to listening to undermine people, “You’re stupid. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” without taking a step back and listening from a standpoint of curiosity and an influence standpoint. To be able to listen with curiosity allows us to hear things that we wouldn’t necessarily do if we went in with just our own opinion.

“It’s insufficient for me to be right. You also have to be wrong.” That’s what we’ve come to. Strangely enough, you can mention one word that immediately divides people. It’s abortion, immigration, or climate. I can go on and on. As soon as one word is raised, people go in two different directions. There’s no discussion anymore.

It’s where we are now.

It’s reflected in the media and our universities. Of all places, this is where free speech is least respected now.

As it relates to your book, is there anything in particular that you’ve found is the most challenging aspect of this for somebody to be able to become more effective at?

Are you talking about wielding influence?


There are a couple of challenges. In no special order, one of them is that you have to establish a relationship. You have to establish some basic trust so that the other person isn’t coming from the position of, “I’ve dealt with people like this before, and they’re just going to try to cheat me.” You’ve got to develop some trust. That means that you also have to be sensitive to and emotionally committed to a joint win. You might not get everything you want, but you can both preserve your musts, as I mentioned earlier.

The final thing is this. You’re not always going to be successful. Don’t regard yourself as lousy at influence or lousy at conflict resolution or whatever, just because it didn’t work on this occasion. What I tell people is to isolate negatives and generalize positives. If I didn’t get very far with you now, I’m not going to say, “I’m just lousy trying to influence people.” I’m going to say, “Now, at this time, in this place with this person, I wasn’t successful.”

Isolate negatives, generalize positives. Click To Tweet

If I am successful and influence you, I’m not going to say, “I got lucky.” I’m going to say, “I’ve turned into quite a brilliant influencer.” That’s a matter of self-talk and personal self-esteem in terms of how you explain, with positive self-talk, how well you’re doing, but you accommodate the fact that you’re not going to bat 1,000. Nobody does.

You don’t try and force something. You say, “This is not a customer that is a good customer for me or a good partnership to have. It won’t go well.” There’s an insight to be able to understand.

LFL 161 | Million Dollar Influence

Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth

That’s true. I don’t operate on the basis that the other person is damaged. I always think the other person is as healthy as I am unless they show me differently. About 90% of the time, I’m right. The other person isn’t damaged, and we can have a discussion, but 10% of the time, you will find somebody who is damaged, biased, and irrational. In that case, you can never fight irrationality with rationality, and you’re better off getting out of there.

Alan, thank you so much for this conversation about influence. It’s one that as one we can always improve on. I appreciated your perspective. I have great respect for you as I have mentioned. I haven’t read 65 of your books, but I’ve enjoyed the ones that I’ve read. They’re extremely valuable.

I appreciate it deeply. I enjoyed this. I always like these discussions. It’s very kind of you to invite me.

Thanks so much. Wishing you all the best.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you found the guests and topics on my show and my perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you on how the models, the approaches, and the book that I’ve published, The Leadership Bridge: How to Engage Your Employees and Drive Organizational Excellence, can help you and your organization as well. If you’re interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you, your team, or your organization to rise above your best.


Important Links


About Alan Weiss

LFL 161 | Million Dollar InfluenceHis consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients such as Merck, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Mercedes-Benz, State Street Corporation, Times Mirror Group, The Federal Reserve, The New York Times Corporation, Toyota, and over 500 other leading organizations. He’s served on the boards of directors of the Trinity Repertory Company, a Tony-Award-winning New England regional theater, Festival Ballet, and chaired the Newport International Film Festival.

His speaking typically includes 20 keynotes a year at major conferences, and he has been a visiting faculty member at Case Western Reserve University, Boston College, Tufts, St. John’s, the University of Illinois, the Institute of Management Studies, and the University of Georgia Graduate School of Business. He has held an appointment as adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Rhode Island where he I taught courses on advanced management and consulting skills to MBA and PhD candidates. He once held the record for selling out the highest priced workshop (on entrepreneurialism) in the then-21-year history of New York City’s Learning Annex.

He is an inductee into the Professional Speaking Hall of Fame® and the concurrent recipient of the National Speakers Association Council of Peers Award of Excellence, representing the top 1% of professional speakers in the world. He has been named a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, one of only two people in history holding both designations.

His publishing includes over 500 articles and over 60 books, including his best-seller, Million Dollar Consulting now in its 25th year and fifth edition. My newest is Threescore and More: Applying the Assets of Maturity, Wisdom, and Experience for Personal and Professional Success. My books have been on the curricula at Villanova, Temple University, and the Wharton School of Business, and have been translated into 12 languages.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Fired Up!: Bringing Your Team From Burnout To Engagement With Mia Baytop Russell – Episode 160


LFL 160 | Fired Up


The work environment can be the biggest detractor in your company. Employees’ engagement is greatly affected by the work environment you create around them, as it leads to employee burnout. In this episode, Mia Baytop Russell, the co-author of Fired Up!, shares how you can transform your team from burnout to engagement. Trust is one of the foundational elements of relationships which upholds the working environment you create. When you create a safe working environment, you bring your team’s best selves to work. Fire up yourself and your team by tuning in to this episode!

Listen to the podcast here


Fired Up!: Bringing Your Team From Burnout To Engagement With Mia Baytop Russell

In this episode, we’re going to be talking about burnout. We’re going to do that with an expert in this space, Mia Baytop Russell. We’re going to be talking about the new book that she co-authored with Girvin Liggans called Fired Up!: A Guide to Transforming your Team from Burnout to Engagement. I enjoyed this conversation. It’s timely and we hear about it going on so much now. It provided through their research a better understanding of what burnout is, and also what approaches we can utilize to help us address it more effectively. We need to be able to do that. Let’s get into it.

Mia, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. The topic of your book, Fired Up! is so relevant. As I was reading through your book and as I got to the end, it talked about this wasn’t a book that you started because of the pandemic. It started before then, but it’s much more relevant going into the environment that we’re in now. I was wondering if we could start from there. As you had an opportunity to see this book in public, what’s been the reception to it?

I’ll take these two ways. I’ll talk to you about how we conceptualize the idea of Fired Up! but also what the reception has been. When Girvin and I started thinking about burnout in a meaningful way was probably in the mid-2010s. In 2017 was when we really started talking about burnout. What we realized was much of the research on burnout says that burnout is a social construct as much as it is an academic one. In many ways, we use stress and burnout as a badge of honor, “We’re so busy. We’re this and that.” That’s how we talk about life, but a lot of the research and mass media that’s been published about burnout seemed to say that burnout was an individual’s responsibility.

We thought that if burnout is something that begins at work or is fostered at work, how could it truly be the employee’s fault or how could it sit solely at their feet? We started to wonder about some of those organizational levers that leaders, organizations, and perhaps policies and practices could mitigate. That’s how we got here because that’s not what we saw a lot on the shelves or read about.

During the pandemic, things crystallized. We know that blurred lines help to increase burnout. We had a big block. It was hard to separate work and home when we were at home. Certainly, many people have said that this is the right time. It’s unfortunate it’s the right time, but we’re happy that we were given the opportunity. We had the opportunity to put it out during the pandemic.

You bring up a great point in regard to this blurring of work versus home. One of the things that I found interesting going through this period was one of the clients that I was working with said that it felt like Groundhog Day for them. They would show up at work, and this was a hospital, grind it out, and go home. They didn’t have any outlets because you couldn’t go meet people after work for a drink, go to a game, a play, or anything else to alleviate that level of stress as an outlet.

All you did was wake up in the morning and you started all over again. That struck me in terms of this idea of not having any normalcy to what we’re doing, and two things being in mind. On top of that, if I’m a parent, I’m now also potentially a substitute teacher, and all of these other things wrapped into, “I’ve got to do my job too from here.”

Yes and yes. If we think about the snowball effect, it became this massive monster. When we think about burnout, it’s progressive. It’s growing. I love this idea of Groundhog Day. I heard that a lot during the pandemic. I remember feeling like I had cabin fever. I got out one day and I was like, “I’m free.” I was walking down the street. I felt free.

You can’t make any more bread.

As we were talking about before we started recording, there were some good things that came out of it. Now, many of us are re-evaluating our relationship with work, how we want to work, with whom we want to work, and what types of things we want to work on and toward. In many ways, this is a healthy exercise.

One theme that I recognized throughout the book was around trust. I was wondering if you could talk about that in terms of the importance of that as we try and effectively address burnout.

We trust. There are tons of research that show that trust is a foundational element of relationships. I’d argue that work is full of relationships. This is a people business. We are having these relationships exchanges between organizations and people. To create what we are also seeing a lot about now, psychologically safe work environments where people can bring their best selves to work, it all starts with trust.

LFL 160 | Fired Up

Fired Up: Trust is a foundational element of relationships, and work is full of relationships.


Because of trust, leaders and employees or managers, and employees can have high-quality relationships. They can talk about things such as burnout or any other thing that’s on their mind. They can be vulnerable. They can have open and honest communication so that they can solve problems before we can take a more proactive approach. It all starts with trust. We then start to talk about things like a climate of respect, fairness, justice, and those types of things but trust is the foundation of the house.

I would agree. Even things around fairness, I believe there’s an umbrella of trust over those too. If there’s no trust, fairness will probably apply.

There’s an image we have in the book where we use this. It’s almost like a seesaw. I can’t think of the other word. Trust, respect, and fairness are important before we get to any of these other things. You can’t have a meaningful conversation about the types of work or the opportunities that people want to pursue if they don’t believe that they can talk to you about their desires and dreams. If a person wants to go down a different path, but they aren’t sure that they can have that kind of conversation with the leader, there are things that are missing. Before we talk about organizational support or job demands and job resources, and all the things that can either build an engaged team or a team experiencing burnout, those are the things that need to be in play.

I appreciate that about your book because the beginning of this book is all about building up the need or the understanding of why this is important. You then go into hopefully, you’ve bought into the importance of this. I say that hopefully because there are probably some toxic leaders that have a hard time with this like, “It’s not a real problem.”

You’re right, we spend a chunk of time on why it’s important, but the numbers are real. For example, $300 billion in lost productivity is the global cost of burnout. It tops $1 trillion when you start to add in the effects of depression and when we look at productivity. When you have 65% of your employees saying that they feel stressed and overwhelmed, and that they feel weighed down by chronic stressors, that’s a major issue.

We try to paint this picture that when employees feel this way, it can be contagious. In the same way that good feelings can spread, so can not-so-good feelings. Burnout is contagious. You have people that are feeling undervalued, and unappreciated. They may start to look to leave. When they leave, those that remain now have more work to do and are feeling the same way. We are trying to build the case to say, “This is why you should care.” It’s not just some touchy-feely thing that we want to talk about old people’s feelings matter. It has a bottom. It matters to your bottom line.

If burnout is contagious, you have people feeling undervalued and unappreciated. They start to look to leave when they leave. Those that remain now have more work to do and feel the same way. Click To Tweet

That is the difference. That’s why the data is so important to say that this is not just about snowflakes and everybody feeling good. This has a business impact on your organization. Even if you don’t like the fluffiness of it, I bet you like the business side of it, so you need to align this. What’s interesting is to think about this, or this is what I think about anyway. How many organizations say that their most valuable asset is their people? Yet what if we were told that 65% of your systems are under the stress of breaking down? You would address that. You would find a way to repair that. If it’s your people, you should be doing the same thing.

We try to talk about what burnout isn’t so that we can reframe things. It’s not just about being fatigued or some exhaustion or something a person can get over. Burnout starts with emotional exhaustion. We add cynicism. A cynic is not necessarily fun unless it’s on a comedy stage. It leads to these feelings of professional inefficacy or feeling as if they are not accomplished.

If we want to paint a picture, this looks like a person that is walking around, weighed down by tons of job pressure. They are stumbling through their workday and perhaps through life because we know that home and work are blurred. They are walking around with this cloud of self-doubt about whether or not their work matters or if what they’re doing matters. Do people care? Should they continue to do it? That is not a good way to feel. When we think about this means this person is not bringing their best self to work, you are not getting the performance and the productivity that you need for organizational success.

You then go on to talk about three different levels or a three-step process in terms of, “Now what do you do about this?” As I outlined, it assesses, acknowledges, and then acts. I was wondering if you could speak to that because you’ve got a couple of good assessments in here that help organizations and individuals figure out whether we are at risk here.

We do think of this three-step framework. The idea is to let us understand what it is. Let’s identify and assess factors in a work environment that are helping or hindering our team. This is the assessment we created. This Fired Up! is a book that is meant to be a guide to give you practical tips, strategies, solutions, and tools that you can use to improve your work team. We do start with several assessments and worksheets. Through this assessment, we’re looking for these major factors. We know that decades of research suggest autonomy has a purpose, meaning at work, and organizational support.

LFL 160 | Fired Up

Fired Up!: Your Guide to Transform Your Team from Burnout to Engagement

These types of things are helpful in an organization. We also have tons of research that say chronic stressors or not having adequate support, including equipment and materials to do your job is a negative thing. It hinders our performance at work. These are what the assessments try to do. Step two is acknowledging the realities. If we think about the pandemic, there are so many things that we have no control over, but let’s focus on those factors that might need fine-tuning. I like to think about the levers that you can pull and that you can adjust that do fall within your span of control.

While you may not and some things may be outside your span of control, it is also good to acknowledge where they fall because we never know how things change. That’s one thing that is constant. Things are changing. Have a new supporter in your office on your team that might be able to help push the ball down the field in another area.

Finally, we end with the act. This is about building an action plan. We offer strategies and some suggestions that are not panacea, but they can work. They’ve been proven to work in many types of organizations. Part of the benefit of this is that many of these suggestions and solutions or strategies are that burnout is ubiquitous. It is prevalent in every country, field, role, and discipline. It doesn’t matter. It might also mean that we can borrow strategies from other fields and countries that have worked to try them out here in your team.

This is how that framework comes together. We do this using what we would be drawing from a socio-ecological model. We know that it’s not just one layer of the organization or one layer of this. It’s a multi-layered effect. We need to look at the person and what’s happening. On a personal level, what’s happening with the job, but also organizationally what’s happening. That’s how we put this framework together to create that assess, acknowledge, and act framework.

I noticed that when you talk about that, there were five steps within the assessment. You talk about consider the organization, consider the job or role that somebody has, consider the person and the team. The last one I like is consider yourself. That’s part of that self-awareness, “Where do I fit in this?” That seems to me can be the most difficult thing for people in terms of self-awareness.

When we think about the assessment, self-awareness for the leader or the manager is important. Especially when you need to suspend judgment in some ways because you think you know what is happening, but you don’t know how other people are understanding and interpreting some of the factors in the work environment. We think it’s helpful to consider the things that are working well. We want to keep doing those things.

There are many things that organizations are doing well. We want to also identify the things that aren’t working so well, or what we call hindrances. If we take a proactive approach, we can avoid burnout. At least, perhaps we might be able to do some level of the pivot so that we can go take a different course of action. It’s also important to think about warning signs. It may not be an issue now. “Is there something brewing that I should keep my eye on?” This idea of being proactive is so much easier. I could use tons of analogies, but it’s so much easier to stop something or change course before we get to the end or to the finish line.

I have two thoughts. I want to come to that, especially a conversation that we had before we started the recording here around burnout risk management as being a thing going forward to be able to help address this. The other thing that I’ve been thinking about in regard to assessments is something that I often experience when I’m working with organizations that have done either a Press Ganey or a Gallup or around engagement. When we talk about psychological safety, how do you help navigate organizations where there isn’t a lot of trust? Are you getting accurate assessments of what’s going on? How do you read into that?

One of the best ways is to have a third party help you with that. If we can eliminate this fair retribution for being honest and transparent, that’s critical. Trust takes time, but we can start now. The good thing is just like leadership styles and leadership skills, trust can be built. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. You can start today to improve your relationships with everyone on your team. The first thing that comes to mind is trying to find a way to have these assessments administered by a third party so people can feel that it isn’t getting back to their manager.

LFL 160 | Fired Up

Fired Up: It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. You can start today to improve your relationships with everyone on your team.


“They know my IP address and they got to watch how I answer this,” which is a real concern for many people in all organizations. The last part of this book is interesting. Before we get to the risk management part, there are a lot of leaders or managers that they themselves are burnt out potentially.

We heard that a lot. “I’m trying to do the best I can, but it’s hard to try to inspire and encourage others when I feel the same way. We all are bringing our baggage to work, but I can’t bring mine.” This book, certainly in the same way that I started what spurred our work here, Girvin and I decided that we didn’t want to create another book that offered a bunch of self-care strategies. Those exist. We didn’t want to talk about prioritizing ourselves because that exists, but we felt like we would be being tone-deaf if we didn’t talk a little bit about it.

We offer lots of other resources because there are tons of good resources and books on the topic, TED Talks, and all kinds of resources. We offer self-care strategies. We talk about how to make self-care fun. Nobody likes a mandatory fun event. How can you take advantage of who’s your team’s strengths, who’s on your team, what they care about, and what they want to do? Foster that ideal, positive, and thriving environment. It all starts with each of us taking care of ourselves so we can show up to work as our best selves.

One of the things that got added at the end was this bingo game. We’ve had some fun with this, even doing it with various groups. What we do is ask people to share some of their own self-care strategies. In a big group with some team or department in an organization, we ask them, “We want you to think about the things that you do. Jot them down. Now we want you to go around and introduce yourself to other people in the room and listen to their ideas. I want you to fill in your bingo card and pick up some new ideas and try something different.” We often ask at the end, “In one word, what does it feel like when you get to think about or talk about self-care strategies?” The words are exhilarating, confident, and relieved.

The entire aspect of this session changes when they start to think about, “What it is like to prioritize myself.” We then ask them to make a commitment to themselves and find an accountability partner in the group. They’ll report back in a week, “Do one of these things and report back.” Back to your first question about the reception, we’re hearing that has been more helpful than we imagined, but we know that visualization, making a plan, and all of these things do improve our overall aspect and well-being. This has been a surprise to us. That’s been fun.

It makes sense. In a group, you start to hear what other people are doing to address this. All of a sudden, there’s synergy there. It’s not something that I thought about, but there are accountabilities that you talk about where you have somebody that supports you within the organization. That helps to elevate the level of trust that you start to have within an organization. I think that was a great exercise.

Also, some people think, “We need to talk about work, or we have all these things to do. It’s not safe to talk about what I want to do when I’m not here.” That has been a great exercise and hopefully in some ways, a team-building activity.

As we’re wrapping up here, the last thing that we talked about before was this idea that you mentioned about where this is going. You talked about this burnout risk management. I was wondering if you could talk about that and where you think that’s going or why you think that will be here for a while.

When we think about the real cost of burnout and its associated challenges when we add depression and anxiety, and we see that the loss of productivity tops $1 trillion globally, we know that we have to take a proactive approach. Every organization prioritizes risk management in one way, shape or form. As you mentioned, when we think that our employees, our team, and our human capital are our most important assets, how can we take a proactive approach to them?

We framed out this idea of being a burnout risk manager. What does it looks like if you harness your team’s motivation? What does it look like if you create a culture of self-care? What does it look like if you regularly assess workplace factors that have the propensity to hinder engagement or outcomes? How might this be something that you teach your team to do? What if everyone had this idea that they wanted to protect and take care of one another?

If they see something, say something, “We know this.” At work, it could be the same thing. We think that there is going to be an increase in the need to take a more proactive approach to care for employees. This is an approach that one could take. This is something that you could employ. It’s not a heavy lift to check in with people. It’s not a heavy lift to encourage people to take their time off.

There will be an increased need to take a more proactive approach to care for employees. It's not a heavy lift to check in with people and encourage people to take their time off. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting. As you were saying about the process, I think of it in some ways as what we’ve done with a virus in terms of mitigating the damage that it can cost, whether it’s through vaccines or safer habits that we have to make sure that we protect ourselves from getting it. This is a different type of virus in some regards, but we have the ability to do that.

It spreads like it. That’s perfect.

Mia, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your book. I appreciate this. There’s so much in here and so much research too that backs up why this is relevant and important. As we part, what’s the best way if people want to get ahold of you? How should they do that?

Our website is I’m on LinkedIn, Mia Baytop Russell, and I’d love to connect with your audience. I appreciate this opportunity, Patrick. You’re doing great work. I’m happy that you were able to feature our work here too.

Thank you. You’re doing great work as well. I’m looking forward to other people being able to tune in to this, take some of these skills, and apply them to their own organizations.

Thank you.

Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in to this episode. If you find the guests and topics on my show and my perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or to the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you on how the models, the approaches, and the book that I’ve published, The Leadership Bridge: How to Engage your Employees and Drive Organizational Excellence, can help you and your organization as well. If you’re interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you and your team or your organization to rise above your best.


Important Links


About Dr. Mia Baytop Russell

LFL 160 | Fired UpMia Baytop Russell, PhD has served in various roles across nonprofit, academic, and corporate sectors. Currently, as lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University, she teaches leadership and management courses. Drawing from personal interests and challenges with work-life integration and work-family conflict, Mia has spent decades exploring well-being in multiple contexts. Her research focuses on the sustainability of well-being, specifically family economic well-being and career/work-related well-being. As a contributor to the field of financial education and organizational behavior, Mia has published dozens of interdisciplinary articles, developed programs, and consulted with organizations.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Self-Aware Success Strategies: How Our Childhood Can Set Us Up For A Better Future With Dr. L. Carol Scott – Episode 159


LFL S4 E59 | Self-Aware Success Strategies


We carry with us certain parts of our childhood that often influence the choices we take in adulthood. Those formative years instill values and beliefs that tend to guide us in our day-to-day lives. That is why it is helpful to recognize how our early childhood has impacted us as an adult in order to set us up for a better future. In this episode, Child Development Psychologist Dr. L. Carol Scott joins Veroneau to share her wisdom and expertise on this subject. She talks about the model she developed called the Self-Aware Success Strategies (SASS) that will help us take a look at the first seven years of our lives to help us live better today and tomorrow. Follow along to this great conversation and gain important insights on how our childhood affects the way we view relationships and leadership as we negotiate and compromise in both our personal and professional lives.

Listen to the podcast here


Self-Aware Success Strategies: How Our Childhood Can Set Us Up For A Better Future With Dr. L. Carol Scott

On this episode, first, I want to start with a question. Have you ever wondered how your early childhood has impacted you as an adult? That’s the question that my guest, Dr. Carol Scott, who is a Child Developmental Psychologist, is going to answer for us. On top of being an expert in Child Developmental Psychology, she’s also an author, a speaker, a consultant, a former CEO, and a Director. She fully understands this space and has so much to offer.

Before you get nervous, there’s hope for all of us because she developed a model called the SAS, which is the Self-Aware Success model that’s going to help us take a look at the first seven years of our lives and when we understand that it’s going to help us to live better in the present and I believe we set ourselves up better for the future. Let’s get into it.

Carol, thank you so much for being on the show. When I was reading your bio and your expertise in this area, I thought this is so relevant and so important to the environment that we’re in right now. I wanted to try and get an idea of the model that you use. You created this unique model around building better relationships, which I think we can all benefit from, whether it’s personally or professionally.

Thank you, Patrick. I appreciate you having me on this show and I’m excited to talk about the Self-Aware Success Strategies, what I call your SASS. I believe your sassiness is your birthright starting right from the minute you’re born. This model is based on early childhood development from birth to seven, which is a little bit strange for a lot of people. They don’t think about their adult relationships as being about who they were from birth to seven. In my view, as a developmental psychologist, it’s entirely about that.

I will say some readers might get a little scared thinking what if their 1 to 7 wasn’t that great? What does that play out as adults?

Here’s the hopeful story. My 1 to 7 was awful. My birth to seven, life was pretty awful. In the world of early childhood, we talk about these things called aces, Adverse Childhood Experiences. Out of the list of 10, I had 7 in my childhood. It’s possible to recover. It’s possible to have positive childhood experiences that balance out the negative and give you enough resilience to survive the bad. What I also want people to know is it’s never too late to change that. It’s never too late to have the happy childhood you deserve.

It's never really too late to have the happy childhood you deserved. Click To Tweet

When we talk about relationships and before we started this episode, I was telling you all of my work is on the leadership side within organizations. I think this is all about relationships and how important that is. How do you help people in that regard?

I come from the perspective of leadership myself. I had a career in leadership positions, running programs in school districts and universities, and being the CEO of a nonprofit. I get leadership and I get that it’s not about the title on your business card or the level of your paycheck. It’s completely about how well you can enroll people in a vision and keep them moving forward. It’s completely about whether you can get your own needs met and move forward with people getting their needs met. It’s all about whether you can negotiate for what you want.

It’s about these seven attributes from early childhood. Let me list them. Trust, independence, and faith, which is a surprise for some people. I don’t mean religion by that. Negotiation, vision, compromise, and acceptance. Those are six key strategies that children use year by year from birth to seven years of age, starting with trust as an infant.

Think about an infant. They’re born as basically like a little limp noodle who can’t do anything for themselves. They need people to take care of them or they will die. Frankly, human beings are the most dependent of species as infants. We come into the world trusting that people will take care of us and we, in our first six, gather the understanding that either the world is there for us, it has our back, and people come when we need stuff or not.

The world doesn’t respond. We need stuff and nobody comes. Those adverse childhood experiences, like you have a parent who’s depressed or a parent who’s drug or alcohol addicted, for example, might mean that you don’t get your needs met as a young infant. You come out of that experience with the feeling that you pretty much have to take care of yourself.

That’s not something that’s going to work very well for a leader. We have to be able to rely upon other people to meet some of our needs, even in the workplace. They’re different kinds of needs than we rely on with our spouse or our best friends. We still have needs in the workplace. We need people to follow through on what they say they’ll do, for example. We need to be able to trust that we can get that need met or we wind up being a leader, a boss, or a supervisor who is micromanaging or who takes everything over and does it themselves and winds up with a plate so big that they can’t handle all the work.

We have to be able to rely upon other people to meet some of our needs, even in a workplace. Click To Tweet

To me, that one’s a fascinating thing. I was on a call and we were talking about the level of trust as it relates to burnout within organizations. It plays into that trust is this foundation I think of so much. I had never thought of it from that 1 to 7 standpoint of how important that is. I’m the youngest of ten. It’s interesting. There was a lot around me that I felt we were poor, but we were close and I felt very safe.

As the youngest, you probably got to have a lot of grownups taking care of you. There were older kids who were there to meet your needs as well as the two grownups if you had both of them.

One of my sisters, we joke, was a surrogate mother for me at the same time. She was my original mother. I totally get that one.

I want to add that a lot of us have come to adulthood without knowing what we need from people. It’s not something we think about. We don’t like feeling needy. We’re often told that being needy is something unattractive. The truth is, we’re all needy beings. All of us humans need things from each other and it’s time to suck it up and admit that we need it.

That’s interesting, though, because again, in the environment that I was in, there was very much a sense of independence for me in that I grew up a lot faster in the environment that I was in. We had a lot more responsibilities to take care of ourselves. Independence is a safety net.

This is the toddler’s success strategy. If you’ve ever met a toddler, that’s a good word. You understand why I chose it. Independence is about adding to what you need, knowing what you think, what you feel, and what you want. It’s the core of your personality. What do I think about? What am I thinking about? What are my ideas, my beliefs, and my opinions? What do I feel? What are my emotions? What do I want? What are the things I long for?

LFL S4 E59 | Self-Aware Success Strategies

Self-Aware Success Strategies: Independence is about knowing, adding to what you need, knowing what you think, what you feel and what you want. It’s the core of your personality.


For a toddler, it’s often something dirty on the ground. What is it that I want? We don’t yet know how to express that very well because we’re toddlers and we can’t talk very much yet. We don’t have a lot of words and we can’t put sentences together. We do a lot of expressing of ourselves in ways that appear wild and untamed to the untrained observer.

Lots of toddlers appear to be terrible. People label them as terrible. They think that they need to break their spirit. Unfortunately, there’s a long parenting tradition about breaking the spirit of toddlers. All they’re doing is saying, “Look at me. This is who I am. This is what I want. This is how I feel.” They’re all over the place with it. They will grow out of that if we can help them manage that independence, listen to them, and see them for who they are and we accept that.

A lot of toddlers learn, “It’s not okay to feel what I’m feeling. It’s too big of a feeling for the people around me. They don’t like it. They don’t want me to think what I’m thinking. They call me names and they don’t let me have what I want. My world is full of no.” If you grow up in that environment, then it’s very difficult for you as an adult to get what you want, express your feelings, and talk about your ideas without shearing yourself down into something smaller that you think might be acceptable to other people.

When I hear you talk about that toddler, I think of as adults in organizations that may be demonstrating disruptive behaviors. Is that around oftentimes people feeling as though they don’t feel either respected or heard?

We go 1 of 2 directions. Everything’s on a continuum. Either you become acting out and disruptive or you become very quiet and it’s hard to draw you out. Also, this is the age where we start to develop alternative strategies. Our natural strategy is to be ourselves. Be independent, express ourselves. If that doesn’t work out for us, then what we’re going to do is become codependent, for example. We’re going to always be trying to manage and control the environment instead of expressing ourselves. One of the things I want people to get is if you have developed what you recognize as unhelpful strategies for relationship, give yourself a break because they came out of a process and you can undo them.

When I think of that, I think we all probably have coping mechanisms that have served us for a long period of time and at some point, they don’t serve us anymore. Maybe in the organization that we moved to, what was acceptable before or what I was able to do in this new environment does not work.

That is exactly right. We’ll get to negotiation in a minute, but I had developed, as a four-year-old, a strategy of manipulating people rather than simply trying to get what I wanted. I would try to manipulate people into giving me what I wanted. When I finally was able to see it, it was a big blind spot. When I was a young adult, I was horrified by how manipulative I was. I’ve worked diligently to become someone who can simply say, straightforwardly, “This is what I want.”


If you’ve ever met a three-year-old, this is so perfect. Three-year-olds run at the world on their tiptoes with their arms wide, their mouths open, and their eyes like dinner plates going, “Look at all this.” They finally stopped looking at their own navel. The first two years are all about figuring out how the mechanics work. “How do I walk? How do I talk? How do I do this stuff? How do I manage this little body?” Now they’re looking around and realizing there’s all this other stuff. There’s this big world full of interesting people and things.

They have faith in the impossible. That’s why I called it faith, because religion is a form of faith, but you can believe in a lot of things other than a deity and a religious philosophy. You can believe that you can grow up to be anything. You can believe that you’re going to be the first ex-president or the first female president, first Black president. Three-year-olds believe they can grow up to be unicorns. Faith is all about imagination. It’s about play and it’s about being able to dream the big dreams that people tell you all are impossible. That’s a pretty big strategy for a leader, I think.

LFL S4 E59 | Self-Aware Success Strategies

Self-Aware Success Strategies: Faith is all about imagination. It’s about play and being able to dream the big dreams that people tell you are impossible.


I will go back to thinking about environments that kids may have been in, where they were constantly told they couldn’t do something, almost to the point of their dreams were silly. “Don’t even waste your time doing that.” We build this protective mechanism. We’re like, “I can’t do it.” There’s a self-efficacy to it.

One of our biggest missteps as adults with this age child is to think that all that is cute. We laugh at it and think it’s cute. We develop kids who put on plays for us to entertain us instead of telling us what they feel, what they want, and what they’re dreaming about because we’ve minimized it into something small. We’ve simply stepped on the dream and said, “You can’t do that. You’re too little. That’s not possible.”

Both my parents were very loving, but the environment that my mother grew up in was more of a don’t dream too big or there’s a space that we live in. It wasn’t negative from her standpoint or meant to shoot us down. It was almost just, “This is the world that we live in.”

It’s very practical, very reality-based grownups. I want to say that adults who do these things are not mean people. They’re not bad people. They’re not even abusive, necessarily. They’re doing what they do and living out the story that they have about life.

Next is negotiation.

Now we have the four-year-old. The 3-year-old goes from that running at the world with their arms out wide and embracing everything to this little 4-year-old who crosses their arms over their chest and says, “Prove it. Show me.” They are all about reality. They go from being a being who are entranced by magic to being someone who wants to know what the rules are. It’s all about getting what you want when you’re four.

Four-year-olds are great little negotiators. I think of them as labor negotiators, the Henry Kissingers. It dates me a little bit, but the political negotiators of the preschool world because they are good at getting what they want with a win-win. What they’re learning at four is that other people have things they want that are in conflict with what the kiddo wants.

“I want stuff and I can ask for it, but I might not get it because other people want other stuff that gets in my way.” If I can learn what it is the other people want, then I can ask for what I want in a way that shows them that they’re going to get what they want too.” Their masters at it if we let them and if we support them.

A classic example is a kid being offered something to eat for snack or for lunch. “Do you want this or that?” Very often, they will come up with a third alternative that blends elements from the two things offered and tosses in something novel. They do that with increasing skill tossing in that novel part in a way that stays inside the parameters of what they think the adult will allow.

Mom offering snack has rules around that. She’s not going to get in the car and drive to the store to get something she doesn’t have in the house. It’s got to fit into the nutritional plan for the day. It’s got to be what she calls healthy. The kid starts figuring out some of those. What is the set of limits in which the adult is operating? How can I get something that I want, make it mine, and still work with her or the other adult?

I am backtracking on this. If there’s no trust, if that hasn’t been developed, then what happens with negotiation? Is it more about very get what I need?

Very perceptive. These all build on each other, but that foundation of trust, independence, and faith is the heart of who we are. If we don’t get that stuff solidly put together, all the rest of this becomes challenging to develop as a strategy. We’re probably in an environment of adults who are not going to foster. If they haven’t fostered those first three, we are going to turn into people who are already manipulating and already using alternative strategies. That makes it more difficult to work with us.


From being the little labor negotiator of the preschool classroom, we go to the strategic planner. Five-year-olds are all about thinking about how things are going to go. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a group of five-year-olds together, what they do is they huddle up and they talk about how they’re going to play. They design. That’s like writing a script for them. They’re going to pick something out and they’re going to say, “We’re going to play Batman, Star Wars, or this.” They figure it out. They say, “You’re going to be this person and I’m going to be that person and this is going to happen first and then that’s going to happen and then we’re going to do this.”

They will literally huddle up for 30 to 45 minutes planning how to play and then dissolve and go about other things and never play that. The other thing that you see in five-year-olds a lot is a desire to take things apart and figure out how they work, which I think is related. What they’re doing is understanding how to get things done with other people. It’s not about me having my big dream and going off and becoming a unicorn. Now I need to enroll people in a vision, a specific goal, and work with them as my allies to get there. It’s crucial for leaders to be able to do that.

When I think of that what you said, I would guess there’s curiosity there. You need to be open to what’s going on.

This is a place where grownups inadvertently step on the idea by telling kids they’re too little to do it or they can’t be done. Three-year-olds will say, “I want to grow up to be a unicorn.” Five-year-olds will say, “Let’s build a rocket ship and launch it.” It’s a more specific short-term, doable goal in their minds than growing up to be a unicorn. It still is something that when you present it to an adult, they’re like, “I have no idea how to help this kid do that.”

What they do is say, “That can’t be done. We can’t do that. It’s too hard. You’re too little. It’s too dangerous.” Instead, we could say, “Cool idea. I’m not sure how to do that, but let’s see if we can figure it out.” We start the research. We do some reading. We do some learning and we do some experimenting. All through that trying, the child learns an enormous amount, gains an enormous amount of self-worth and feelings of competence, even if they never get the rocket built and launch it. There’s such value in pursuing the idea.

I think of how often people are told no. There’s no reason for it. It’s just no. Moving on.

Compromise. The way to think of this from the child’s perspective, is up until the age of about six, you have a relatively small world. At six-ish, you go out into this much larger world. A lot of kids do. They go from a home environment to a school environment, for example. They now have the ability to ride a bike, go farther distance from home. They have great communication skills now so they can have conversations with lots of people. Their world opens up and they start finding out that the win-win negotiation strategy of the four-year-old is not enough anymore.

It isn’t 1 person and 1 person each with 1 thing they want. It’s 29 people each with 35 things they want. Not everybody’s going to get all of those things. We start having to look at what’s most important to us and this is where values come in. This is where the teaching of and understanding of values, helping children start to see what is it that you value more here, this or that, allows them to choose, “Out of the 39 things I want, these are my top 5 because,” and to be able to articulate that. The ability to compromise is about understanding that the world revolves around what we value, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

LFL S4 E59 | Self-Aware Success Strategies

Self-Aware Success Strategies: The ability to compromise is about understanding that the world revolves around what we value, whether we’re conscious of it or not.


When I’m thinking about this, there’s a model that I use in, when I do some work around conflict. I think the researcher is Hiam, but it talks about the value of the relationship with the person on a scale of 0 to 5. How important is the relationship? The bottom is how important the outcome is. When I think about it in terms of organizations, the value of the relationship is generally should always be very high.

We need each other in the workplace, but I’m trying to figure out how this would fit with that. What it speaks to is relationships are important too. How much do you value those in terms of how willing are you willing to compromise with somebody? If you don’t value the relationship, you’re probably not that willing or open to wanting to make sure that they get what they need to.

I had not heard that framework before and I like it. It fits well here. I had been thinking more about things like, “Do you value the bottom line of how much we’re going to make more than you value the relationship with the community in which you operate, for example?” For a six-year-old, it can be a lot about, “How much do I value getting what it is I want over these relationships? Do I value maintaining relationships?” That’s a great piece to bring into it. I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective.

It’s how your approach is going to be on that. The last one, acceptance.

It’s a lot about values, but this is where we get to the point where we suddenly have logic now. Children get logical around age 6 to 7. There’s a big cognitive reorganization in which they start to understand cause and effect and consequences and how things lead from one to another. What they finally understand is that it doesn’t always work the way they think it does. Bad things happen even when you’re good. You follow all the rules, and you do your homework, you mind your mom and people get sick. Bad things happen. You lose your house. Being good doesn’t mean only good things happen to you. It isn’t a true one-to-one good-to-good.

Even worse, it’s harder for a seven-year-old to understand that good things happen to bad people. People who misbehave, people who behave all kinds of ways they shouldn’t behave, get rewarded, and get good stuff in their lives. It’s like this issue of fairness. From the little four-year-old who was concerned with the rules and making sure all the pieces of pie were the same size, you get this seven-year-old who’s like, “The pieces of the pie are never the same size.” Whether you get the biggest one has nothing to do with how well you behave.

What they’re learning is life is a rollercoaster, a wheel that turns, whatever your favorite metaphor is. There are ups and downs and we have to be able to go through all of those things. The ups and downs aren’t about us. We have to accept that sometimes, we’re going to be up high on the rollercoaster and looking at the sun and the wind in our face and everything’s good. Sometimes we’re going to be down at the bottom, screaming our lungs out. Both of those things will pass. How do you live with that? How do you accept that and keep getting up every time you fall down?

The ups and downs in life are not about us. We have to accept that sometimes we're going to be up high, and sometimes we're going to be down at the bottom screaming our lungs out. Click To Tweet

This is one that is interesting and again, here’s somebody in an environment. My youngest is a junior. Especially around sports and even at a younger age, I watched how parents coddled their kids and they advocated for them much more than they should have in terms of the natural ups and downs of winning and losing. You don’t get to play every position you want. The parents jumping in and saying, “My kid should be starting.” It’s almost like we’ve done a disservice to kids in terms of overprotecting them from life is not easy or fair.

Terrible things happen sometimes for children. Parents die, people get divorced, and parents leave. Children get sick and have to be in the hospital. In some kids’ lives, there are tragedies and traumas beyond what many of us have ever experienced. To act as if none of that could happen and that we’re the magical theory adults who can keep everything safe, you cannot wrap your child in plastic wrap. As an adult, what is that for you now?

If you were one of those kids wrapped in bubble wrap, how is that working for you now? As a leader, you got to ride that rollercoaster and sometimes terrible things happen in your organization, to your team, and to you. How are you going to keep going and keep leading and keep making sure that the hole is held together during those times?

If I were in a hiring position, I would almost want to look to some of the questions around, “Tell me about some of the struggles that you’ve had and how you deal with that?” The person to me that’s protected is set up to fail at some point because life is not that easy.

At some point, you’re going to be at the bottom of the rollercoaster. You’re going to be down on the ground with the wheel rolling over your back instead of up at the top with the wind in your face.

For me, I was older. Both of my parents passed away when I was a teenager, but I was 17 and 18. I know that has shaped how I’ve grown up since then. It has shaped how I’ve tried to raise my three kids in terms of the reality of life.

Before I started coping with my own adverse childhood experiences and went on a recovery journey, this was something that I learned as a young professional. I started out working in University Laboratory Preschools. Laboratory Preschool is a preschool for children, but it’s a place where they do child development research and it’s in a university setting. I was the Director of the preschool and worked with all the researchers and all that stuff. Being the director of the preschool and leading the teachers and teaching them how to be good teachers.

What I saw in myself was all the problems that the kids brought to me took my toy, hit me, and all the little problems that happened in the classroom were coming to me to solved. I was solving them. I was stepping in. I was being the person who took care of business. I realized very soon, that is a bad idea. First of all, it’s exhausting as an adult to be the person who’s supposed to solve all the problems. Also, it doesn’t help children develop the skills that they need to cope with their own problems to cope with, “When things start to go south, what do I do? What are the skills, and what are the tools? What are the strategies for getting along when things are tough? ”

It is hard. We certainly have had our moments where we have probably advocated too much for our kids. I especially think about teachers. “My teacher doesn’t like me.” You need to go to your teacher and find out what you can do. What’s going on? “I’m not playing enough on this team.” Go to your coach and ask them what you can do to develop better skills so that you can earn more time, not, “I want more time. “

If we were to step in, they lose the opportunity to figure out how do you navigate for themselves when they’re in a work setting. From here, in regards to relationships in the environment we’re in now, what do you think is most important or is there something, based on our environment, that is most important as you deal with organizations?

My take on what is going on for us right now as a culture in this country and worldwide is there’s a lot of tension. It’s like a rubber band pulled tight between the need for us to stay the way we’ve been to be comfortable to be in our status quo and the things that we know how to manage and this constant voice pulling on the other side for a change. We need to be more aware of people as unique individuals. We need to be more tolerant of differences. We need to include more diversity.

We need to be more aware of people as unique individuals. We need to be more tolerant of differences. We need to include more diversity. Click To Tweet

This is a place where all of the success strategies are helpful, frankly. In particular, the seven-year-old’s success strategy of acceptance, is a big one right now. To accept that this is where we are is important. To allow it to be there, to not try to fix, to look at what is happening and to assess what our values are. What is it that’s important to us as a culture?

What’s important to me is to maintain a status quo. What’s important to me is to pull for more diversity, but what’s important in terms of the outcome? Long-term, what do we want to be as a species, maybe? Certainly, as a culture, do we want to be a place where we optimize potential? For example, a lot of potential is lost when we limit ourselves to a small set of acceptable beings.

You’re only okay if you’re like this and if you’re like that, you’re not okay. What do we lose when we say, “You’re not okay and you can’t belong to the belonging club if you don’t be like us.” This is a time when innovation is desperately needed on all fronts. We have to open ourselves to asking the question, “What is it that we need as a culture?” Maybe that takes us back to trust as well. What is it that we need as a species and what can we do to accept the tension and move through it, holding the tension, not trying to fix it?

As you were saying that, I think both negotiation and compromise as well as being so important. If we’re going to get to change, it requires the 4-year-old and the 6-year-old to step up.

Let’s pull them out. Let’s get them from wherever they’re hiding inside of us and brush off the dust. That takes us back to what I said at the beginning too. It’s never too late. We can develop all of these strategies as adults, no matter why we don’t have them. The important first step is saying, “That’s not a strategy that I’m using successfully. Maybe I could negotiate more like a four-year-old.”

Are you familiar? There’s a model called SCARF, Dr. David Rock. He talks about five social needs and he identified the model back in 2009. SCARF talks about our social need for Status to feel, not about a title, but a sense of feeling worth from others and respect. The next one is around Certainty, about understanding what the rules of the road and what the expectations are. The A is around Autonomy, feeling as though you have some control over your destiny. Where are you going? The R is around Relatedness. It’s a need, for us to feel as though there’s a connection with others around us. Lastly, it’s around Fairness, that there’s some sense of justice that goes on here.

When I hear you talk about these seven characteristics or stages that we go through, I think of it the same way when I think of SCARF. By trying to understand what that model is about, the same with these. The more I am able to understand trust, why it’s important to develop and whether it is lacking right now. It’s almost like a checklist that I can go through to say, “What part of this is missing? Where’s the hangup here?”

In the coaching and the training that I do, that’s the process that we follow. I offer what I call Development Do-Overs. Each time, it begins with, “Let’s do a little self-assessment. How’s your trust right now? Do you know what you need? Do you know how to get what you need? Have you noticed that there are people who supply what you need and there are other people that don’t? Do you know the difference?”

“What does your independence look like? Do you know what you think, what you feel, and what you want? Here’s how you can tell. Are you leaking yourself out into the world or are you being present?” We can look at how these things are showing up for you as strategies in your adult life and then let’s do some adult processes that mirror and imitate what the child goes through to develop this so that you can start developing for yourself.

Obviously, that is all around building self-awareness in the individual. It’s valuable as well to build from an emotional intelligence standpoint, their ability to be aware of others to pick out these same things.

Exactly. I frame self-awareness as being a lot about awareness, not only of self but others. Both are important.

It would be very difficult to go this alone and say, “I’m going to read these things and I’ll figure it out.” You do need somebody, an expert like yourself, that can think almost hold somebody accountable, but in a way that challenges them productively on how to look at each of these areas.

Yes. I certainly hope people need me. There’s expertise around what development is. This is a natural trajectory. These are things that children do naturally. They are strategies that children come into the world program to use. If you did not get the support you needed as a child to fully flesh that out and make it yours, then you still need that help. I’m your coach, I’m your parent. I don’t want to be your parent. It’s the same role. It’s the person who says, “I see that in you and I’m going to foster it and here’s how we’re going to foster that.”

This has been so fascinating for me. I appreciate this. If people want to get ahold of you, what’s the best way to reach out to you and contact you?

I’m on all the socials, but start at my website and there’s all the links to the social, so If you want to send me an email, it’s at I’ve got a little book, 28 pages cover to cover, a little PDF called Become Your SASSy Self. It gives an overview of the seven strategies, a list of questions that are a self-assessment of how you are doing with this stuff now. I’d be glad to send that back to you.

I’m going to get that myself to be my sassy self. Carol, thank you so much for this. I appreciate this. I think there’s so much value in what you’ve presented here and I hope somebody will be able to take this and take it to the next level.

Thank you, Patrick, for having me. I’m grateful.

Take care.

You too.


Important Links


About Dr. L. Carol Scott

LFL S4 E59 | Self-Aware Success StrategiesDr. L. Carol Scott believes that relationships are at the heart of all our success. As a TEDx speaker, International best selling author, coach, trainer, and keynoter, Dr. Scott’s unique model helps to revolutionize success through self-aware emotional and social intelligence—from your business network, to your family, and even to your love life. Dr. Scott’s clients are people with growth goals who are looking for unexpected strategies to achieve success.
The surprise in Carol’s Self-Aware Success Strategies is their origin in her first career of early care and education. With a BA in Child Development, a BA in Anthropology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and a PhD in Developmental Psychology, Carol appears to be an unlikely success coach, especially in a corporate world.
Today, as interpersonal and cultural divides seem to grow ever deeper, Dr. Scott offers a bridge back to sanity.
Carol’s first book, Just Be Your S.E.L.F.–Your Guide to Improving Any Relationship, provides the basic framework and specific tools. Powerful Development Do-Overs empower clients to clearly see and then release interpersonal struggles that limit success. Finally attaining their birthright of seven capacities meant to develop in our first seven years of life, Carol’s clients embrace greater success through stronger, more self-aware relationships.
Carol has mixed hundreds of years of child development theory with 21st Century brain imaging research, decades of her own experience with hundreds of developing humans of all ages, and her own lived experience of recovery from childhood trauma and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Evolution: A Unique Approach To Coaching Effective Leaders With Matt Auron – Episode 157

LFL 157 | Coaching Leaders


Want to become a great leader that inspires people and drives success? In this episode, Patrick Veroneau is joined by his special guest, Evolution managing director Matt Auron. Matt shares the many challenges in the industry they’ve encountered and how that helped their company become even more effective in coaching leaders to become inspiring and successful! Tune in and learn Evolution’s journey, how they’ve continually crafted great, inspiring, and resilient leaders, and how you can be one too!

Listen to the podcast here


Evolution: A Unique Approach To Coaching Effective Leaders With Matt Auron

On this episode, I’m speaking with Matt Auron who’s the Managing Director and Cofounder of a company called Evolution. This company supports senior leaders in fast-growing companies and helps them to scale their potential with long-term sustainable success. What is interesting in the conversation that you’re going to read that Matt and I had is that not only they’re a coaching company, but they’re also a venture capital firm. It’s a great combination in many ways where especially if you are the investor, you get to help the company deal with some of the most challenging things. That’s how you coach leaders to inspire others in themselves to become successful. That’s what this episode is all about. Let’s get into it.

Matt, thanks for being on the show. I appreciate this. I had a chance to go on your website and there is a different feel to it in terms of what you’re trying to do as it relates to leadership/ I was wondering if you could talk about that first in regards to your company and what its own evolution is.

Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. Evolution’s been around for many years. We started in 2013 with the world’s then fastest-growing company, which was somewhat prophetic because we’ve worked with one fast-growing company after another. It was founded with a humble origin in the sense that it was a lifestyle business. When I was working at a place called DaVita, my cofounder said, “Matt, why don’t you jump? I’ve got a client that’s got a lot of need here.”

I had a global job and was burning out so made the jump and went to a lot less work. That was also much more leveraged in terms of the influence that we had. The early days were exploration and building a platform that supported organizations with coaching, 360s, leadership development, management training, and culture.

For a year and a half, we were able to experiment essentially with this one client and build our platform which still is pretty much the same as it is now, and develop the whole organization via leadership development and coaching. They got acquired and we had a real decision to make about what we want to do here. Is this lifestyle business could persist as it is? We got a bunch of clients in the door in early 2015 that forced us to answer the question of whether or not we wanted to build a firm.

We did. We said, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it differently and we’re going to make it a dual-sided platform, so our clients are on one side. On the other side, it’s a place where coaches could come and have a full-time home as partners and but in an unusual way and designing it in a way that there still could maintain autonomy and independence.”

That has created this incredibly fertile ecosystem where it’s a pretty flat organization. It self-manages relatively well, but it’s grown like a weed or maybe like there’s a more positive framing for that, but as an ecosystem, it’s allowed people to build their own books of business and experiment and follow passion projects, all working with a consistent set of values, which we have.

Now, Evolution’s got 150 clients and partners all over the world. We are a fully functioning executive coaching firm, including operations staff with about 60 people. Our biggest clients currently are clients like Slack, Glassdoor, Radiology Partners, and Twitter. We are working in mostly growth-stage companies. In the venture world, B and C run companies, but we also work with very early-stage companies and have our own investment arm venture capital as well as late-stage companies that I mentioned previously.

We love our work. We partner with people long term and our model falls into integral theory, which says if you’re going to develop a human or an organization, you have to look at three dimensions. This is our logo, the “I,” the “We,” and the “It.” It is protective in being personal. It’s the product, the system, the process. The we is the relational, which is the relationship, the trust, the team dynamic, and the culture. The I, of course, is the individual’s EQ, their self-awareness. Also, objective things like how they use their time and their priorities and any issue you can cut from those three levels.

That holistic approach is what is it a differentiator is at the center of evolution and how we think about constructing our work with our clients whom we love and again, partner with long-term. We tend to optimize the long-term, not the short-term, and be long-term strategic partners. Many of our clients have building badges and are very close to being almost employees. It’s how we believe and the nature of the work that we’re very passionate about it and tends to be all of our life’s work. Watching a leader develop or an organization achieve its potential is an incredibly fulfilling thing. For most of us wearing our hearts on our sleeves, we think that business is the leverage point for change in the world. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Business is the leverage point for change in the world. Click To Tweet

You mentioned values. We hear a lot about that. You say that your business has been driven by its values. What are those?

Our values, which were chosen by the people in the organization, we had a bunch of focus groups and we talked about them and hemmed and hawed and then boiled them down are very special to us. We give value awards on them once a year. People represent the best of our values and they are wonder, equity, authenticity, community growth, and wisdom. Those represent different aspects of who we are as a tribe.

Wonder, that one stands out to me.

That one’s my favorite. If you look at the first slide on our culture guide, we built one like people do, the quote that is unattributable, but they say maybe Socrates is, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” In our values, wonder is the first one and wisdom is the last one. The sense of wonder is that life is an adventure. We seek moments of awe. Spirituality is a part of who we are and we wear that on our sleeve.

We orient ourselves with nature’s pace. Sometimes we’re slow, sometimes we’re fast. Seeking to find a sense of flow is a guide for our experience. We cultivate these things like simplicity, humility, gratitude, and a sense of openness. Evolution has been built out of wonder. It’s like, “What if we did that? What if we designed a retreat in Maui that helped people do the deepest work of their lives?”

“What if we designed a firm but broke apart all the normal constraints of a business, including what the nature of the organizational structure is?” That kind of adventure and exploration is phenomenological. It’s not like here’s the deductive goal that we want to hit and like draw a line to it. We’re like, “Let’s go surf that wave, or let’s go climb that mountain.” Here we are years later with a pretty sizable business that has been driven by exploration and adventure.

I call it BC, Before COVID, and now After COVID. Your thoughts in terms of the work that you do around people wanting to find themselves and this wonder, has it picked up for you?

It has. It was surprising. Everybody in our line of work was scared and the books all closed that first couple of months of COVID, but then everybody I’m talking to had the biggest year of their lives in 2021. It was massive. Some of it, I joke cynically, people were stuck in their house, in their office, their house office, their closet, or their garage. It’s like what else are you going to do other than reflect and do a little personal growth? At the very least, it’s a distraction.

There’s that and also because it’s like, “What did we have?” It’s like here we are, people are highly dysregulated, stressed out, and anxious. Those are the times we need to double down on personal development. You use it as a big collective reflection. Now we did, but what that is going to net out is a whole other conversation that I’m somewhat cynical about. I do think it was a time of global reflection for all the reasons. Also, because the economy was doing well, people invested a lot in it.

LFL 157 | Coaching Leaders

Coaching Leaders: People are highly dysregulated, stressed out, and anxious. Those are the times we need to double down on personal development. Use it as a big collective reflection.


I think if you track the macro trend of people doing personal development. I joke about Eckhart Tolle on Oprah’s pod show in the mid-2000s like the wave is breaking around personal development in the culture. People are meditating now. Years ago, yoga was a fringe activity. It’s not. The pandemic accelerated that even further where it’s a part of people’s lives. Now is a little bit more of a challenging time. What was there? I definitely think our line of work is optimized four times of liminality and stress and it’s when you need to invest.

I was going through your website and noticed one of the words or phrases that you used was life presence. Work with individuals on life presence. What is that?

Presence is the total quality of how you show up. It’s like how present you are, the ability to be in the moment. It’s your body language, it’s your affect, it’s the energy that you exude, a sense of calmness, centeredness, and power. Helping people find that sense of calmness, centeredness, and power is not an outside-in journey. You can certainly have people stand up and put their shoulders back.

What happens is when you exude that are a couple of things. We call life presence because the life work line evaporates. If you develop presence, you’re going to develop it all over. It’s ontological. Your way of being follows you wherever you go. You’re going to show up as a parent, a leader, a coach, or a friend. When we don’t make any bones or any excuses, it’s like, “We’re going to develop your presence.”

The context we’re in is you as a leader, but this stuff is human skills because organizations are a bunch of humans. We optimize the human system in the same way. We don’t care about that line. The way we do it is by the inside-out approach, not outside-in. It’s important to figure out what you’re projecting and shift yourself and your body and how you speak and everything. Once people find out who they are and answer those big questions, “Who am I? Where am I going and with whom? What are the parts of me that lie in shadow and what needs integration and what do I need to heal? What are the blind spots that I have?”

As people go on that journey, they become more whole and integrated as a person. When we pattern like, “That person is powerful,” it’s because they’ve found themselves. They’ve found their wholeness. They’ve found their integration. They’ve gone on their hero’s journey and the result of that is presence. They’ve got that gravitas and that power that comes out of their cells and you can’t fake it or white knuckle. Adversity breeds it.

The last piece with that is you go through your hero’s journey and you go through adversity. A core part of the hero’s journey is the sage who helps the person going through the journey not completely combust. You need somebody there, holding up the mirror, helping you integrate as you go through these trials. If you do that, you end up more whole. You’ve got to get support, which is, of course, the thesis for coaching, therapy, or whatever. As you do that, you find out who you are in a powerful way. The greatest leaders that people vibrate and follow to the end are the people that have the deepest presence in our belief.

A core part of a hero's journey is the sage. You actually need somebody there holding up the mirror, helping you integrate as you go through these trials. Click To Tweet

You mentioned the mirror. The most important leadership tool we have a lot of the time is to be able to look at that. It’s the simplest but the most powerful to be able to reflect on who we are.

It is. Life is not about the way we want it to be. It’s the way it is. What we choose is what makes the difference. I’m bastardizing the Virginia Satir quote. It’s like looking at yourself with absolute sobriety and scrubbing the lens, all of the parts, including the ones that are less nice to look at, and being open sometimes to the fact that you need to be mirrored back to you can’t do it yourself. Feedback and coaching are what create it.

Leadership is such a social psychology. It’s a human element. What we’re talking about is how you bring people along with you toward a common end. If leadership is perception, it doesn’t matter. Perception is reality and leadership. If you can’t see yourself and you can’t see the perceptions of yourself regardless, it doesn’t matter whom you think you are, leadership is in the eyes of the led. If you don’t have some mirroring function and we can talk about what those are, I think you’re falling down.

The challenge, though, for leaders is that there are limited people that can hold the mirror up to them in their own company. That’s where coaching or outside individuals the sage is important because leading at the top can be a lonely place to be for individuals to get real feedback.

This is why when we engage with someone and we do coaching, 90% of the time we do a 360. I assume this is probably a bit on your show where you interview, basically. There are different styles including a test version and a survey version, which we have as well. We’ll interview twelve people. People that report to them, people that are their peers, people that are their boss, or if they don’t have a boss, the CEO, the board.

We also include their spouse by the way sometimes or people from their life. You get a holistic picture of this person’s strengths and opportunities and almost always, there’s an input that highlights some aspect of their blind spot. That is a way where it’s hard to gain leverage and people aren’t motivated to change unless they have their blind spots highlighted.

Especially if you’re a very senior leader or a CEO, there aren’t many people that tell you the truth. I like helping teams create a culture where everybody’s telling each other the truth as much as possible, compassionately but honestly. You got to have those people, including a coach, but also people inside the organization and out who can give it to you straight. That is valuable. I have a cluster of people around me that I also count on for major life decisions or what’s happening and it’s invaluable.

That leads to a term that we hear more often now around psychological safety within organizations. I find it interesting because the research on psychological safety has been around since the ‘60s and ‘70s. It has become more popularized now.

I’ll take a bit of an iconoclastic view on that. I certainly believe in psychological safety and think I agree with the research. People perform best when they feel psychologically safe to take risks, to be themselves, to speak up, to put out ideas, and to have safe levels of conflict that create dynamic tension in decision-making. Stress also creates performance. Low levels of stress are good.

Part of what’s happened is we’ve over-optimized in psychological safety and it’s all about, “Let’s be nice and worship the altar of feelings and safe. Meanwhile, let’s talk about how you can be safe but also on your edge, and leaning into something that maybe is an experience pushes you to the boundaries of what your comfort zone is and what your safety is.

I don’t know that there’s a completely scientific way to do that. There’s an artful tension between that. I take the view that psychological safety is important to curate and you can’t push people without it. Your goal as a leader is to create an impact. This is different between leadership and personal development. You’re driving towards something. Sometimes that means things are going to have to be a little uncomfortable and you’re probably going to not optimize for psychological safety.

LFL 157 | Coaching Leaders

Coaching Leaders: Your goal as a leader is to create an impact. This is the difference between leadership and just personal development; your goal is driving towards something.


My thought on that is that stress is certainly that positive stress that you’re talking about it. If we’ve developed a set of behaviors with a team, we’ve earned the right and an obligation to challenge each other in a way that is safe. It might not be comfortable, but it’s safe.

I’m a big fan of the emotional bank account. If I know somebody cares about me and they spent time getting to know me and all the positive deposits, then yeah, they can say stuff to me that’s pretty direct that would be “unsafe” if we didn’t have that depth of relationship. The other thing to contradict myself which I love doing is finding that flow state where the challenge meets the level of ability where the team starts to like hum together. It’s fun. There’s a lot of laughter. You don’t have to insert artificial angst or conflict because they’re rocking and we’ve all been on those teams before. It’s a little dangerous also to say like, “I’m going to be a challenger here.”

A leader should be trying to find the flow state for their team, not trying to agitate them towards action. When you see some of these people like Elon Musk or Jobs, I think their gifts to society are going to be substantial. I would say they’re still not great leaders and you can beat Elon Musk and not a great leader and he’s in the 1% of 1% of 1%. Everybody else needs to focus on creating a flow state for the team. It’s like Ted Lasso. You watch what Ted Lasso did to that team and then it’s fun and energetic and of course, it’s safe and you don’t have to be a jerk. You can lean into each other. It’s like the rough and tumble of being on a sports team. It’s not a scary conflict.

It is funny when you hear people talk about that, “Look at Jobs,” or somebody like that, you don’t have the iPhone. You’re the rest of us. You better figure out how to get people to want to go where you’re asking them to go.

There are always those people, Henry Ford, and stuff. It isn’t a model to build towards. If you’re a genius and you’re developing a product that’s going to change the world, that’s your gift. A lot of times, behind a lot of those people, are operations folks and whatnot that are ostensibly leading the people. Meanwhile, you’ve got a product-focused CEO that’s out there designing the thing. That’s cool too, but you can’t assume that there aren’t any leaders in those organizations because there are.

When you talk about scaling without losing your soul, I think of purpose and where we’re meant to go. I’m wondering along the same lines as before COVID now, do you see more individuals saying, “What am I meant to do?” How do you help people get there?

Let me address that first and then I’ll talk about the origins of that term because it is about an organization as it scales can lose its soul. Scale is the enemy in some ways, which is again, somewhat counter-cultural. The culture broke over the last few years. Everything that we knew broke. I remember when they were canceling the baseball season and I was like, “What?”

All of these things that you assume are our mutable pillars, all of a sudden, it’s gone. It rocked the foundations of who we are as a culture. With that, you see things like the Great Resignation and the quiet quitting and, “I want to work a quarter time.” People are starting to relate to work to purpose and they’re starting to ask each other the bigger questions about who they are and what they want to do.

The way we were working was so unconscious and it was like we were all on autopilot. I still don’t know how much better it’s gotten. I feel we’re still in the middle of that transition so we won’t know what we have for another few years. The way we were living needed to fundamentally break. For all those people and even you, the early pandemic was the worst thing in the world.

You remember at the end of it, everybody was like, “I don’t want to get back to it. I like spending time with the people in my house and I don’t want to go have awkward conversations with people. I like my place. I’m a little bit more of an introvert than I thought I was. I didn’t even realize how much burned out I was with all that dumb travel, the two-hour meeting in Dallas that everybody flies to.” There was an awakening around what life was and what’s important to a lot of people. They’re asking questions about what work is. “What work do I want to do and what kind of job? How do I want to design my work life in ways that nobody did before the pandemic?”

Almost to the point where organizations said, “You can’t work remotely,” and then all of a sudden, they were forced into it. It’s like, “I guess we can do that,” so now people are saying, “Okay.”

Do you remember when Marissa Mayer did that in 2013? She was like, “Here we are, major tech company,” who, by the way back then, everybody was still doing that in ways people could work from home and stuff. She said people could work from home and it was an absolute disaster leadership in that way. There’s no way we’re going to ever go back to those worlds. People start self-selecting what organization they want, fully remote, not hybrid, which is cool. Anyway, it’s a fascinating conversation in itself that everybody’s having in real-time.

Our belief in terms of scaling without losing your soul is that when you start a business, it’s almost like they have a soul, and identity is born. Larry Ackerman read a book called Identity Is Destiny. He talks about this from a branding angle. We think of the term essence as the core, the soul of the business. Internally it’s felt like culture. Externally, it felt like a brand. They’re two sides of the same hole. It’s pure when early on. It’s like Evolution’s values.

LFL 157 | Coaching Leaders

Identity Is Destiny: Leadership and the Roots of Value Creation By Laurence Ackerman

When we went through this last thing, I say this without any judgment, but they were the same values and we didn’t influence it. My cofounder and I thought of it years ago. That is a positive trait because it proves that the social construction of an organization has a life. What happens is you go through scale is you bring in HR people who go on autopilot and pull stuff off the shelf.

You hire people for technical ability. You don’t have a hiring rubric that filters whether they are a good culture fit. You don’t have any mechanisms like management training. Not just management training, but culturally relevant management training of what does management look like here? Jeff Bezos is one of the first people that talked about that. Those mechanisms reinforce the essence of the organization as it grows. The most iconic companies that end up as alumni farms, I worked at one.

You look at DaVita’s, arguably one of the top healthcare alumni farms that exist out there, and Baxter or Google. They spent an inordinate amount of time and obsession with internal communications, culture building, and personal leadership development. The last thing I did at DaVita was designing a meditation retreat with Teja Bell, the Qigong guy. Ex-Bain people and Harvard MBAs were going through a four-day thing.

What kind of public healthcare company invests in that stuff? It was part of their belief connecting to the value of fulfillment around DaVita being a place where people grow as humans, a pillar of their culture. They built all these mechanisms that reinforce that as they scale. We love going on that journey with our clients and saying, “You can do it, but it takes a lot of investment and intentionality. If you want to be an iconic company that’s an alumni farm that leaves a dent beyond the thing that you do, you’ve got to care about retaining your essence as you go through these.

I love that you mentioned that in terms of the intentionality part of it. I always ask, “What are your values? What’s your mission?” It’s a compass for us that we can ask ourselves, “Is the decision we’re making right now in alignment with what we say we stand for as an organization?” How are we treating people? Are our behaviors in alignment with what we say we stand for as an organization? We missed an opportunity there.

We have a slide that shows all the ways of reinforcing culture. It’s like a bloom and it’s internal comms, meetings, office space, manager behaviors, education, and training. You can design a product roadmap and a culture roadmap based on that. Long-term, keep ticking stuff off gradually and you’ve got this beautiful then system of culture reinforcers. The top one and it’s at the top intentionally is leader behaviors. All that stuff is moot if leaders don’t show up in a way that’s in alignment. It’s always a red flag when we get brought in to do some leadership development thing and it’s everybody’s doing it but the C-suite. They need to go first, role model it, and reinforce it.

“Good for you. We’re all set. We don’t need it, but you all need it.” Good luck with that.

I always love it, especially with the basics of some feedback training. They’re like, “We’re good at that,” then we’re hearing all the stories. It’s humbling in the sense that Ken of DaVita was a lifelong student and tracked his 360 feedback over ten years. I remember him doing town halls and he was like, “I used to leave these intense voicemail messages and I started to muscle build to I would hit delete and I’d leave it again and I’d hit delete.

I just got better and better. Over the course of ten years, I saw myself gradually get better.” That’s the kind of intentionality that it takes. He tracks. He’s a huge metric person. He tracks every single metric about everything to get better. To assume even though you’re a senior leader, that you’re good at that stuff, it’s a miss. It’s perennial human stuff.

To me, this is going to the gym. If you stop going to the gym, don’t be surprised when you lose muscle. Leadership is no different. We’re always trying to grow.

It’s a human skill. If you want to get better at leadership, you have to learn about humans, most importantly yourself. Know yourself first. You can spend all your time in the P and L, looking at OKRs and management processes and getting into market analyses and all these things. At the end of the day, especially if you’re leading leaders who lead leaders, you’re thinking of multiple levels beneath you, at that point, it is the human element, 100%. Due to all our defense mechanisms, people don’t tend to actively spend a lot of time there unless they’re highly unusual. They need somebody nudging them into that conversation.

If you want to get better at leadership, you have to learn about humans, most importantly, yourself first. Click To Tweet

People don’t give a crap about how smart you are if you don’t care about them. One thing that I was thinking about as you were talking about people not wanting to go back to the old environment, I was in Denver doing a workshop. This was the first time this group got back together in over two years. One of the individuals said, “I didn’t know how much I disliked the commute in here until I did it. I don’t want to do that again.”

There’s a part of it that stole our humanity away. Now, we have the opportunity. I don’t know if you tracked this too. The other thing that happened was early on, it was like, “I can’t be on another Zoom. It sucks my soul.” Now it’s the opposite. I’m like, “I have to go in for a live meeting. Why can’t we do a Zoom? I don’t mind it at all.” My men’s group had to be live and then it transitioned to Zoom over the pandemic. Now we meet over Zoom and it’s fine. You stay in your house. There’s a level of humanity. It’s awesome. By the way, DaVita’s in Denver. Do you live in Colorado?

No, I’m in Maine. What do you think is the biggest challenge for leaders in this environment going forward? We’re looking at potentially a shift in our economy. How does that play into this?

There are two questions there. The second one is its own question, which is given the economic conditions that everybody’s feeling, how do you lead in that? It’s the first time. What has it been, a ten-year bull run? Especially in the venture world. This is the first time any of them have felt a downturn in this way.  Why don’t I hit that one first because it’s more maybe tactical? The other one’s a little bit more complex, but I think an important question for people to wrestle with.

One of the biggest mistakes I’m seeing are people that want to cut 20% because they’re freaked out and they want to extend their runway or their board’s pressuring them or whatever. They’re doing it in a thoughtless way. Sometimes it’s like, “Here’s where we’re going.” If you are on a growth path, you raise the big round, and you’ve got money in the bank, if you’re not in any existential danger of the doors shutting, then stay the course.

Invest and keep people positive. One of the best things a CEO can do is you’ve got to take the long view because everybody else is thinking short-term. In the long view, all will be well. If you can orient people to that, they calm down and they can see this as a white-water part of the journey, and then we’re going to be in smooth waters.

When people get into fear, their prefrontal cortex shuts down. There are fewer options. It’s not a great place to make Judi judicious decision making. This sounds self-serving, but don’t cut coaching, don’t cut the development program. It keeps people alive. I realize that social media person you might not want, but it’s great to have them engaging in the world that way.

The pressure from the CFO or the board or whatever to ruthlessly cut costs is a fear-based response. Economics is still a behavioral science. How can you not make fear-based decisions knowing that we have to be sober and that in economic conditions, there’s a contraction happening? We’re not going to be frivolous, but so many people are making knee-jerk fear-based decisions that are harming themselves long-term because of that.

I often think of the smoke detector in our houses. When we burn food on the stove and that goes off, we don’t run into the street calling 911 because we know it’s not a real emergency, but our amygdala does the exact same thing in our brains right now. It signals us, “Emergency. Get out,” when it’s not a real emergency.

It’s like being a parent. You might have a tough month, but you still don’t tell your kids, “We’re right on edge. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to put food on the table.” That doesn’t do any good to the kids. It’s not their responsibility. It’s yours as the leader. Get your coach, process your fear, make sense of a decision, and make the most integrity-based, enterprise-based, long-term human-based decision you can, knowing that it’s not the gold rush years if you’re incumbent upon you to make the best decision and not the one that everybody’s getting.

As an aside, this is a funny thing. One of our clients was in Slack with a bunch of other venture-backed companies. The AAA Sandhill Road venture people all got the same almost form letter in late May saying, “Cut 20%.” It’s the pressure you get from a board and I might lose some venture capital friends. At that time, it was this broad stroke thing, cut and prepare yourself, and batten down the hatches.

Some of that is okay, but every business is different. If you’re in healthcare, that’s a perennial. You have to understand your market, people, short-term trajectory, and long-term trajectory. Be like King Solomon and have a real sense of discretion around your decision-making, not just do the knee-jerk thing. Especially responding in a few base ways to pressure from the board or stuff you’re hearing in the market. That is all noise anyway. We all don’t know what’s going to happen exactly. Keep your wits about you, keep breathing, do your yoga, and talk to your coach.

The bigger question is around, “What does a leader need to do now?” which includes what I said. I’m interested in your perspective, but leadership now is so much more complex than it was however many years ago. We’re living in a VUCA environment. It’s volatile and rapidly changing. It’s chaotic. The culture wars exist in businesses now where you have to do that. There’s a budding belief that businesses need to have a relationship with their stakeholders, including the planet, communities, and people of color.

There’s a recognition that businesses can do harm if they’re ruthlessly capitalists and don’t include any other things. There’s also a massive change in social mores, how people digest, and how you reach people from a marketing standpoint. There’s a massive change in the nature of technology and how it’s impacting businesses, not to mention a generation that’s been weaned on emotional intelligence and personal growth, and the ability for people to lead interesting lives. Not having a job for 50 years, but having many jobs or three jobs at a time. I could keep going on.

What are you supposed to do as a leader, including all that? It’s so complex and you need to have quiet space to be able to sort yourself out. You need to be a learner and you need to take input. Knowing that this isn’t General Mills in 1958, where it was like pulling a lever, an assembly line and the thing moved. There’s a complexity in a chaotic environment that requires. The thesis is personal development, mindfulness, and groundedness that allow you to have the discretion to knife through the noise.

LFL 157 | Coaching Leaders

Coaching Leaders: There’s a complexity in a chaotic environment that really requires personal development, mindfulness, and groundedness that allows you to have the discretion to knife through the noise.


Along those lines, I certainly would agree that it’s become much more complex, but I also believe that we have overcomplicated leadership in that there are timeless behaviors. If we fall back and use those as a foundation, a lot of these other things that are going on are almost self-correcting. What I love about this conversation and where your work is that you’re focusing so much on the internal person.

That’s the part that has been missing for so long in terms of this is not about delegation or looking at reports as much it is who am I and what am I about. From a human standpoint, how do I connect with those people around me in a way that they feel I care about them? I care about them, not just that they’re a means to an end for where I need to go.

There’s this principle in chaos theory. You think about physics. The universe is governed by some very simple principles. It’s a lot of chaos and simple principles and people being people. Purposefulness, kindness, integrity, clarity, empathy, it’s perennial. You’re right. The thing to do is to find that quiet space inside of you where you find out who you are, what you believe in, the core tenets of humanity, and your humanity.

That allows in what you said, which I agree with, the noise just to be the noise and it knifes through it. I also think simple things sometimes are the most difficult. It’s so easy to get thrown by all that stuff. We can lose track of the simple truth that’s set in front of us from moment to moment. It’s well said and I wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks for this conversation. I have appreciated this, Matt. If people want to get a hold of you to find out more about how they can get involved and maybe they want to go to Maui, I certainly would love to go out to Hawaii right now, how do they do that? is our website. We’ve got a newsletter called Essentials, where we curate specific content. That goes out once a month, sometimes twice a month. We have a podcast you can find on Spotify, also on our website. I’m @MattAuron at Twitter. You can find me there and on LinkedIn or any other place. I’m happy to talk to folks. I appreciate the conversation and all the work you’re doing as well, Patrick. These conversations are timely given what’s happening as we spoke about in the world.

Thanks again and wishing you all the best.

All right, you too.

Take care.


Important Links


About Matt Auron

LFL 157 | Coaching LeadersMatt Auron is a Managing Director and Co-Founder of Evolution who supports senior leaders in fast-growing companies scale into their potential with long term, sustainable success. Matt’s combination of deep intuition, organizational experience and behavioral science expertise allow him to design powerful and customized development solutions for their clients. He has worked with clients such as Slack, Snapchat,, Coursera, Tile, Eero, Collective Health, Dropbox and Radiology Partners.

Matt is also a founding partner at Evolution Ventures, an early stage venture fund that combines coaching with investment for seed- and other early-stage companies. Thus far, the team has invested in Slack, Density, Relativity Space, Agentology, Seed, Radiology Partners, and Wade&Wendy.

Matt formerly worked with DaVita HealthCare Partners, a highly progressive and culture-focused Fortune 500 healthcare company as Senior Director and Global Lead on their Wisdom Team. There, Matt served as the steward for the culture globally, developing leaders, and facilitating change through coaching, facilitation, and training. Matt’s team was awarded Training magazine’s “Top 125” award for the five years he helped lead it. Prior to DaVita, Matt worked as an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant at the ground-breaking Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), building an organization that coached early childhood education professionals with developmental curriculum.

Matt has been trained and mentored by luminaries in the field of organization development such as Peter Block, Chris Worley and Edie and Charles Seashore and continually learns and integrates current thinking into his coaching practice such as neuro-leadership and mindfulness.

As an author, Matt has published articles in both academic, peer-reviewed journals as well as trade magazines such as Training and Development. He has been a regular presenter at the Organization Development Network annual conference. Matt holds a Master’s degree in Organization Development (MSOD) from Pepperdine University where his thesis research was focused on building trust in groups.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author Jim Huling And The 4 Disciplines Of Execution – Episode 156

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of Execution


Organizations spend more than $30 billion annually on strategy creation, and more than 80% of those strategies fail. Here’s a solution to that! In this episode, Jim Huling, the Co-Author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, shares the proven practices tested and refined by hundreds of organizations and thousands of teams over many years. This model allows you to zero in on how to be the most effective with the resources available to meet your goals. Creating our goal requires involvement, but who needs to be involved? Turn the volume up, and don’t miss this opportunity today!

Listen to the podcast here


Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author Jim Huling And The 4 Disciplines Of Execution

In this episode, we’re not talking about goal setting. We are talking about goal execution, and we’re going to do that with Jim Huling, who’s one of the authors of the number one Wall Street Journal bestseller, The 4 Disciplines of Execution. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in regards to not just goal setting but, more important, goal achievement or goal execution. What I love about this is that it’s a simple but powerful model in terms of helping us to get to where we want to go. As we enter into 2023, this is a great time to explore this, so let’s get into it.

Jim, thank you so much for being on the show. This book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, is one of my favorite books, especially this time of year as we’re coming into January 1, 2023, because there are so many people out there, businesses individuals included, that are anxious to say, “What do I want to be or who do I want to be in 2023?” This book nails it. Thank you for being on the show.

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of Execution

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

Thank you. I’m very honored to be invited. I’m painfully conscious that I’m following some real celebrities. Your show is one that everybody wants to be on. I’m especially grateful to get a chance to do it and talk to you a little bit about this powerful book and these four simple ideas.

The book was first published in 2012 but revised in 2021. We’re dealing with a pandemic. First, we could talk about the four disciplines. As for the second part of that, do you think there’s been any difference in how these are utilized as a result of the pandemic?

Discipline Of Focus

I’m glad you got started with this question. It’s a great one. Let’s get the first one out of the way. We’ll be very efficient because anybody can google this and learn everything about the four disciplines. That’s the easy part. To say them very simply, the first one is the discipline of focus. As painful as it is for high-achieving people to accept, all of our study, research, and 300,000 teams that we’ve worked with all over the world prove once again that human beings can only do one thing at a time with tremendous excellence. In other words, if it’s a wildly important outcome you’re seeking, you’ve got to give that a significant portion of your focus.

Even as you’re doing that, you also have a life, a job, and a family. Maybe you have other things in your life. You have what we would call your whirlwind. If you’re running a team, you have 1,000 things that come up every single day. In other words, those things all, taken together, take somewhere between 80% and 90% of your capacity to sustain the life or the team operation that you’ve got going. If you’re being pragmatic, you’ve only got a little bit of available capacity to do something different. If that’s something different, it matters a whole lot. You’ve now found the power of this first discipline, which is one thing above the whirlwind is all you can do with real excellence. That’s why we call it the discipline of focus.

Discipline Of Leverage

Discipline two is probably the most radical discipline of all four disciplines because it is the discipline of leverage. We chose that word carefully because it implies that you put in a certain amount of energy, but you get out a larger portion of the results. It’s like a stock on the way up. You’re making a good investment. For discipline two, you find the 1 or 2 most effective, most predictive, and influenceable actions that are the true drivers of the goal you’re trying to achieve.

Patrick, the thing that’s so painful to everybody about this is, “Jim, I know 23 things that would help me achieve the goal. I want to do all of those so I can be sure to achieve the goal.” The truth is, 1) You won’t do 23 things. You’ll get exhausted somewhere along the way, and you’ll wish you’d never read this book. 2) You’ll say, “What if these two things give me the greatest return on my investment? What if I double down on these 1 or 2 key behaviors or actions that will drive the outcome I want?” Discipline two is the discipline of leverage.

The lead indicator is what you’re talking about. You talk about simplicity and that we focus on the lag indicator and the other part of that. I would agree. This second discipline is radical but in such a powerful way.

It truly is, and I’m so glad you said that honestly because when I meet a new executive, the first hurdle I have to get over is you can only do one thing above your day-to-day with real excellence. Second, you’ll never do it unless you get smart about what drives that outcome, even in a setting like a healthcare setting, for example. One of the most common outcomes everybody wants is a patient experience. Every hospital in the world wants to have a great patient experience. Mostly because no patient in the world is qualified to clinically judge the level of care they receive, so they judge based on the experience that they have. It drives a lot of things in the right direction in a hospital, then, “How are we going to do that, boss?” There are 73 ways.

You can only do one thing above your day-to-day with real excellence, and you'll never do it unless you get really smart about what drives that outcome. Click To Tweet

No, we’ll never do 73 things. We have to ask an intelligent question. If I’m leading a nursing team, what are the 1 or 2 things if we do them well, we’ll have a disproportionate effect on the outcome we want, which is patient experience? It’s a quick example. That’s a discipline too. If you’re doing shorthand, you could say discipline one is like, “What are we doing?” Discipline two is like, “How are we going to do it?”

Discipline Of Engagement

That brings us to discipline three. I don’t mind saying this, although there are people who wish I wouldn’t. Discipline three is my favorite discipline. It’s like having four kids and saying, “This is the special one.” I’ve always loved discipline three. Discipline three is the discipline of engagement. In other words, if you know what you want to do and how you’re going to do it, the only thing you’ve got left is the thing that gets you up every day to go and do it, the wanting to do it.

That’s what I love about discipline three. It engages people to feel that they’re doing something meaningful and winning at what they’re doing. In a shorthand way, all I can say about all the work I do with leaders everywhere who are all excellent and working hard is that these two things usually go neglected in almost every organization or almost every person who’s trying to do something personally. “Do I have a strong sense of why I’m doing it? Do I have any feeling at all that I’m winning at what I’m doing?” Discipline three is the discipline of engagement. We teach a lot of ways to drive that connection to meaning and engagement.

It’s so powerful. The scoreboard, as it gets called sometimes, the simplicity of it is keeping it simple. That’s counterintuitive for people at times. It’s simple, and it’s good.

You and I don’t want the reader of this show to see the scoreboards you and I designed many years ago. We don’t want anybody to see those because I know my inclination when I designed a scoreboard is I want everything in the world on it. I want it right there where I can see it. It ends up looking like the console of a 747. It’s impressive, but you can’t fly it. What happens is on a powerful scoreboard, the first characteristic is simplicity. Without that, nobody reads it anyway, much less being motivated by it.

If you’ll allow me to squeeze it in here, here’s one thing I like to always say to people who might be reading this for the first time. Remember that the scoreboard is simply a vehicle for getting the team or yourself to take ownership of the outcome. In other words, if the scoreboard is compelling enough, you get excited and start wanting to win the game, like if you’re watching football. On these days, we watch on Saturday and Sunday, this time of the year.

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of Execution

Disciplines Of Execution: The scoreboard is simply a vehicle for getting the team or yourself to take ownership of the outcome.


Discipline Of Accountability

What if they took the scoreboard down and they said, “Enjoy the game just for the sake of the game?” We would all get a hotdog. We wouldn’t care. The scoreboard is critical, but the scoreboard is simply a vehicle for enabling you or a team you’re leading to have a sense of ownership and winning about the thing you’re trying to do. The last of all is accountability. I got a feeling you’re going to have something great to say about this, too, because I’m already mightily impressed with your knowledge of 4DX. It’s important for people reading this to know discipline four, discipline of accountability, is the most important discipline. No question.

At the end of the day, 1, 2, and 3 are brilliant games, but discipline four is the game. It’s getting on the field, running, throwing, and catching. Discipline four is this way of mechanizing, doing what you said you would do. I don’t want it to go a long time on this, but here’s a quick visual. If you’re leading a team of people, imagine I’m sitting around a table. You and everybody on your team are simply saying every single week, “Here are the two most important things I’m going to do in the coming week to help us achieve our goal.” You said it out loud. You said it to everybody, and the next person said theirs, and the next person said theirs.

Seven days later, you all came back together. You all sat around the same table. If you’re like most humans, you sat in the same seat you were in last week, but you had to say, “Last week, I committed to doing this and this,” then you have to say out loud, “I did it,” or, “I didn’t.” Either way, you have strengthened the muscle of accountability. In other words, if you have a team, you’ve made yourself not just accountable to your boss, but you’ve made yourselves accountable to each other. Every time you follow through, you prove something to everybody who works with you about how you can be dependent. Those four things, focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability, are the powerful but simple ideas around which these two fine books have been written.

I love that last one because, to me, that accountability is about ownership. Everybody owns what the commitments are. I would agree. The first three are the intellectual components of this. The fourth one is like you set your workout that we were talking about before this call, the 68. Intellectually, if you read the 68 every day but never went to the gym and performed them. Intellectually, you know how to do the 68, but I don’t think any of us would be surprised if two months from now, we got back together and you weren’t any stronger or any better shape. Intellectually, you knew them, but you didn’t do them. That’s what the fourth discipline here provides. The opportunity of going to the gym. This is not intellectual anymore. This is doing the work.

That’s brilliantly said. I’ll finish that thought by quoting. An old mentor of mine used to say, “There’s only so much you can know about swimming until you get wet.” It’s the same idea. The 1, 2, and 3, you can understand intellectually. You can build a beautiful scoreboard. You can have powerful lead measures that drive your outcome. Until you get in the business of doing it and following through with real credibility, you’re not swimming. You just know some things about swimming.

Along those lines, I once heard somebody say, “That person has a lot of potentials.” What they meant by it was they hadn’t done anything yet. I don’t want to be told I’ve got a lot of potentials.

I don’t, either. I may have been called that at times. I don’t think I want that anymore.

Before we started this call, both of us spoke about the experience that we’ve had in healthcare. You’ve been in it intimately because your family was in the healthcare field. This is an area that could benefit so much from this model in so many different ways. I was wondering if we could explore that component.

There’s a special place in my heart. My mom was a hospital COO. As a teenager, all the conversations around the dinner table were about what happened in the hospital. If you experience that, you end up knowing things you wish you didn’t sometimes know when you have to go to. What you come away with is an understanding that these are people who are deeply committed to their work.

In so many organizations, the single greatest challenge my coaching clients talk to me about is apathy and disengagement. It’s hard to have people who care. You don’t find that much in healthcare. First of all, nobody goes into healthcare for money. Nobody goes into healthcare for the short hours or the easy workload. Every single day, they meet people at their most vulnerable and hopefully provide healing not only physically but maybe emotionally and mentally as well. I could talk all day about my respect for people in that field. You wouldn’t think an organization in the healthcare arena needs the four disciplines. You probably would, but many people might not. I’ll say this. Imagine your day in a hospital. Do you think anybody has a whirlwind like healthcare people do?

Nobody goes into healthcare for the money, and nobody goes into healthcare for the short hours or the easy workload. Click To Tweet

If you and I miss an assignment, are late on a report, or fail to close a deal, we say, “Shocks,” and we go on to the next one. People in the healthcare field are very often dealing with life and death or well-being versus the absence of well-being. The stakes are high. The four disciplines, as a way of getting something done or going to a new level while you are incredibly challenged by your day-to-day whirlwind, is a tool that may be more valuable in the hands of healthcare people than in any other industry. I don’t know, but the argument could certainly be made.

Along these lines, especially in an industry that is experiencing such a labor shortage, the demands aren’t being reduced. The demands are increasing. To me, a model like this provides an opportunity to zero in on how we’re going to be most effective with the resources we have available to us to meet our goals.

That’s right. If you’d like to talk about it for a moment, the healthcare environment, The 4DX starts the same way it does in any other organization by asking this profoundly simple question, “What is the single most important outcome we could achieve this year that we won’t achieve without a new level of discipline and focus? What would that be?”

Sometimes in a healthcare organization, it’s about growth or expansion or the financial health of the organization. Most of the time, you’d be pleased to know of all the hospitals I’ve worked with, which is quite a large number now, they most often choose the experience of the patient because they know that they can probably get the clinical side right. They have lots of ways of doing that and lots of checks and balances. The human side of helping a person get well is something that requires more art, and it’s often overlooked. That’s the place where most hospitals start with 4DX. “What is our wildly important goal?” Most often, they choose patient experience.

Jim, along those lines, I’d be curious about your thoughts. There’s a lot of research out there in regard to the impact that employee engagement or staff engagement has on patient safety and patient outcomes. How have you experienced that in terms of rolling that into this model?

You remind me for a moment of another of my biggest clients, which was the Marriott Corporation, where the message lives out every day, “We take great care of our people, and our people take great care of our guests.” That rolls right into the healthcare world. Fundamentally, in a hospital, the better care you take of your team, particularly your nursing team, who’s often one of the most challenged, the better care they feel empowered and inspired to offer to the patients they serve.

I would want to be quick to say every nurse I’ve ever known gives the greatest care they’re capable of no matter what their boss does but still, it’s a factor that comes in. Let’s say this plainly. They live in a world where everything is urgent, and everything is pulling them in 1,000 different directions every day. They have forms to fill out, metrics to track, and call buttons to respond to.

When you try to execute something in a world like that where life and death could be at play, you can hardly imagine a more pressurized situation, yet 4DX has been unbelievably successful in healthcare for the very reasons I’ve said. In other words, the argument can be reversed to say, in an environment like that, where would you need to focus more? Where would you need the clarity of a single goal designated as more important than all the other goals?

If you’re not sure what to do in the next moment, it’s like a lighthouse on a hill. We will always know what’s most important. How powerful would that be in an environment as challenging and frenetic sometimes as a hospital? Here’s the second thing, if you don’t mind me adding real quickly. Imagine you have that goal, and you’re a nurse. You’re sitting there saying, “When am I ever going to have time to do this? How do I have time to do this? Do you want me to do something new? I’m already doing the best that I can.”

If you could say, “We’re not necessarily going to ask for any extra time or energy. We simply want you to concentrate some energy on a couple of things that will give you more of the result you want than if you did twenty other things. We’re going to teach you to find your leverage by getting smart about the actions that drive the outcome that you want.” I hope I’ve made a good argument that 4DX in healthcare were born for each other.

You make a great point there in terms of the nurse that says, “I can’t add one more thing to my plate. I barely have the bandwidth to do what I’m doing now as a nurse manager.” What do you think are some of the challenges or things to be aware of as a hospital or medical practice tries to identify a wildly important goal?

Challenge number one is simply the same challenge everybody has, Patrick. When I first come into an organization, it’s not unusual for a hospital CEO to say to me, “Jim, we’re so glad to have you here. We’re interested in 4DX. I want to tell you before we start we may not need this. We are great at executing. We’re great at it.” I’m not being a cynic. There’s some humor in this, but the moment that said to me, “I know what I’m about to see,” I’ll say, “Great. Maybe I should get the first plane back home because you’re not going to need me. Before I go, could I see your goals? Could you tell me what your goals are for this year? What are the things you’re driving?” With real pride, a person will say, “I’d love to show them to you. We have seventeen of them, and here they are.”

I know I’m the right person in the right place. I was supposed to be here because I can help you, but they don’t know they need my help yet. Even if I say, “That’s impressive. If you had to say, which one would you say is the most important of those seventeen?” there is this cemetery-like silence. “I don’t know which one we would say was the most important.” There is where my work usually can begin, to make the case.

We can do all seventeen of them, and I’m not saying you can’t. I am saying if you’re going to do them well, you better do them one at a time. You better focus on one thing with real excellence, like an air traffic controller landing a plane, that kind of intensity. Focus on one of those at a time, and by the end of the year, you may have hit all seventeen of them. You can do about anything, but you’ll never get any of them done if you try to approach them all at once as though they were all priority one. We all know if everything’s priority one, what’s priority one? Nothing, but we forget that in our desire to accomplish a lot.

What I also appreciate when we talk about the idea of creating this wildly important goal is involvement. Who needs to be involved in identifying what this is?

You’ve touched on something maybe we’ll get to before our time is up a little bit of why we feel we needed a second edition of The Four Disciplines. Your question goes to the heart of that. A lot of organizations now are still run top-down in a post-World War II military model, which served all the countries in the world quite well for many decades.

I’m not here to throw stones at that, but I doubt there’s a single leader reading this conversation which doesn’t feel that the time of that model has surely passed. The Great Resignation and all those things have highlighted that people don’t want to work in that way. I have a little bit of pride. I hope it’s all right to say. We’ve been for the last several years preaching a different idea. We’ve been saying, “If you want to do something spectacular or significant in your organization, you start with top-down direction.”

You can’t take a vote and say, “What does everybody feel like doing this week?” The leaders have to step in and say, “We’ve assessed the situation, and here are maybe the three things that we think are most critical.” You have to stop and create a top-down direction combined with bottom-up engagement. That place where those two forces meet is the most powerful fusion of anything I’ve ever seen in many years of leadership in my life.

That place where the top-down direction and bottom-up engagement meet is the most powerful fusion of anything in leadership. Click To Tweet

Still, we don’t all have that message yet. I meet leaders every day who are simply saying, “What we need is more clarity on what people are supposed to do and stronger consequences when they don’t do it.” I want to say, “Folks, did you just come out of a cave? That model doesn’t serve you.” You’re missing the incredible contribution 100 people at the frontline could tell you. By the way, nurses know a lot more about patient care than doctors do because they do a lot more of it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no criticism in that, but why wouldn’t you build a model where you put the best of those two forces together? Anything we agree on in that model has got to be something that’ll make a real difference.

I know we’re focused on healthcare now, but that same thing applies to any frontline individual who generally knows more than the people at the top two about what needs to happen there. What you said, Jim, strikes me this model that I’ve used since 2009. It was created by Dr. David Rock, the SCARF model. Some probably get tired of me talking about the work that I do, but this model since COVID has taken on to me even more and more importance. I hear you talking about this bottom-up or where the two meet.

Each one of those behaviors or those social needs or status when people don’t feel as though their worth has been appreciated in the environment if certainty, autonomy, relatedness, connection to the organization, and fairness are not, all of those things touch on goal setting when they’re not involved. We can probably make a case for how each one of those things could create an environment where people didn’t feel that social need was satisfied if they weren’t involved in the process.

There are many things that follow that step, but you and I are in solid agreement that if you start, in essence, saying to the people around you, “You don’t need to think. We’ll tell you what to do. Do what we tell you.” You’re almost irrecoverable. Dr. Covey had a wonderful quote when he said, “Four things you need to remember, no involvement, no commitment.” It’s a powerful shorthand for a lot of things you and I are talking about. The more we do it that way, the less commitment we get.

Now we’re seeing a lot of things that are side effects of simply the absence. If I can squeeze this in, this is something I have a lot of passion for. You said it in your own words, which I now wish I could have written down. Maybe I’ll get you to tell me after this episode. My own personal belief as a leader is every single person I’ve ever encountered in any organization or led myself is seeking the answer to two fundamental questions, “Am I doing something that matters? Does anybody care?”

That’s not in the book. That’s Jim’s shorthand way of talking about things that are in the book, but that’s what you’re talking about as well, isn’t it? Is this a task, or does this matter? Second, if I do it well or I do it poorly, does anybody care? It’s those two questions. You got to care about getting people answers to those two questions if you want a group to come together and do something.

Part of that, and you speak to it, is, “Who cares about me? Aside from the work that’s been done, who cares about me? Am I just a cog in the wheel here where I am used to getting stuff done? Do you care about me as an individual?” In your book, you talk about don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this model. The same thing can be said for leadership as a whole. We’ve overcomplicated this thing. There are very simple things and behaviors that, if we demonstrate consistently, we execute as leaders.

When you do what you said, first of all, you become a very rare leader in the world. What you will find as you do it over time is that your ability to attract talent has expanded exponentially because there’s a literal army of people in the world now searching for leaders who lead like that, who value the performance but who value the performer in an equal level, that you’re not just a cog who filled a slot. If you’re gone, there’s plenty more of you out there.

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of Execution

Disciplines Of Execution: Your ability to attract talent has exponentially expanded because there’s an army of people today searching for leaders who value performance and the performer equally.


One of my bosses said to me one time, “You do matter to this organization, and your performance matters as well.” There’s no dichotomy. There are two things that are fused together, but if you have one and not the other, then it’s a transactional relationship you have. We’re all very surprised when people treat it like a transactional relationship and say, “I can get $5 an hour more across the street. I’ll see you later.” Why are we surprised by that? We’ve set that up to be the case.

As we work through this from a healthcare perspective, what’s been your experience when it relates to that discipline three? What have you seen in your work that’s been effective in terms of keeping people?

This is an interesting thing. You used the word overcomplicate a moment ago, and I almost heard a bell ring when you said that because it’s such a great truth. Nowhere do we overcomplicate things more than in healthcare, partly because we’re so afraid of missing something. We’re trying to catch everything. It’s perhaps an innocent thing. If you could see, and you saw them in the book, perhaps, some of the pictures of scoreboards that a healthcare team will design when they are left alone to design it themselves.

There’s no corporate design person saying, “Yes, I’ve created all the scoreboards. They all look alike, but here’s yours, and here’s yours.” This is where a leader will say to the team, “There are only three things about the scoreboard that matter. As long as it’s appropriate, you can build one to have anything you want on it.” These teams come back with something that makes the blood leave the face of every leader.

When they see them, they’re like, “I didn’t expect this.” What happens is that people say, “This is the board that we built. This is our board.” It may have quirky humor in it. We may have decided to call ourselves the healthcare eagles. I don’t know, but I say to every executive, why do you care? As long as it’s not inappropriate if this lights them up, why would you not say, “Here’s another $150, build some other stuff?” In other words, the scoreboard gives people probably the first chance, some of them in their entire career, to say, “This is how I would do it.” When it’s finished, they say, “Boss, you’re part of our team, but this belongs to us. This is our board.”

For anybody reading, here’s the thing I wish you’d take away. When human beings say, “This is our scoreboard,” they are also saying, “This is our score.” This idea of ownership that you’ve been talking about, where you’ve been to all the seminars and read all the books about how to get people to take ownership, I lovingly say, put all that to the side for a moment. It’s pretty simple. When people feel like the score is theirs, they will act like people who own the score. It’s not complicated. It’s not easy. It takes work. I’m not saying that, but it’s not complicated. It’s not over-architected. It’s a simple dynamic that, when you do it, produces amazing results.

Which then leads us right into that fourth discipline. One of the things you talk about in the book is cadence. That’s an important thing from a healthcare perspective, where people are saying, “We don’t have enough time. We can’t have another meeting.” How do we implement cadence so that this thing doesn’t become like, “We got off to a great start, but there was no follow-up with it?”

Before the show, we said we’re both passionate fans of Patrick Lencioni, which I am. One of my favorite books of his is called Death by Meeting. The title alone, I would buy the book just for the title. I’m glad to know there is a book called Death by Meeting because I have almost died in a lot of meetings or wished I had died. The idea here is not necessarily to think about the meeting but to think about the experience of being in the meeting. For example, in our system, we limit weekly meetings to fifteen minutes. We don’t talk about anything but the wildly important goal and what we’re doing to achieve it. We don’t talk about the day-to-day. We don’t talk about parking, the snow in Maine, or what they’re serving in the lunchroom.

We don’t talk about any of those things. We go there. We’re in there fast and get our stuff done. What every person does is have that moment of accountability that I described, which is quite powerful. If I was going to try to put a ribbon around that quickly, there can’t be anybody reading this who doesn’t agree that trust and respect are two of the most missing elements in a lot of teams around the world. It’s two things that lots of leaders are trying to drive. Franklin Covey has an unbelievable book and product from Stephen M. R. Covey, who preceded me as one of your guests.

There’s no better book in the world than that, but I’m still saying the problem exists. In a discipline four meeting, every single person every week says, “I said I would do this, and I did it.” If you’re looking for a simple but effective process, what could be better than 52 times a year and see everybody on your team say they will do something and do it? Will your respect for that person go up if, 52 weeks in a row, they say they’ll do something hard or easy, then they get it done? Will your respect for them go up? Will your trust in them go up? Will you reach a point where you might say, “If Patrick said he’d do it, I’m going to tell you you don’t even need to follow up. This guy doesn’t miss. If he said he’ll do it, he would do it?”

What happens to a team when you grow, trust and respect from the inside out? Not outside in books and seminars and courses and things. Those are all great, but from the inside out, “Fifty-two times in the last year, I saw Patrick say he would get something done by next week, and 52 times he stood up and said, ‘I did it.’ What do you mean you don’t trust this guy?” You build that characteristic from the inside out, and that’s the most powerful way to do it.

What I love about that is it talks about it from the ownership perspective of, “Maybe Patrick didn’t deliver this week, but he says, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do for next week. I’m going to own when I didn’t do it.'”

You’re always going to say why you didn’t do it, and you’re going to say what you are going to do to catch up because now you’re a step behind where you said you would be. There’s a beautiful accountability built into that.

We’re touching on some things that we don’t have time to go into here, but around psychological safety, you have in that discipline four. When you have that, it’s the things that you can accomplish when people are willing to say, “I did it. I didn’t but here’s what’s going to happen going forward,” and people support you.

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of Execution

Find Your Fire: Stories and Strategies to Inspire the Changemaker Inside You

One thing I love about our new friendship is we have the same vocabulary for a lot of powerful things. If I tried to close that, I would say I don’t think either of us would say leadership is easy, but we would say it’s possible for leadership to be simple. It is still incredibly hard. It still takes all the talent you have, and you’re giving all you’ve got every single day. You hope and pray that everything comes out the way you want, but it’s not complicated.

That is probably a great place for us to end this part of this conversation, Jim. I don’t know what else to say other than that. As a teaser coming up, you do have a book that you’re hoping to launch in 2023. Share it if you’re comfortable saying what that book is probably going to be and the invites you have to discuss that as well.

First of all, you’ve publicly obligated yourself to have me back in front of all your readers. I’ll take that to the bank. I’m working on a book now with a co-author partner called Find Your Fire. It’s about what is the greatest missing thing in the world nowadays. I love the world I’ve lived in 4DX, which is about principles, techniques, and practices. Those have been life-changing for a lot of people. You can have all the principles and practices in the world, but if you don’t have this fire inside you to want to do them, get better at them, and mean something, it will always lack. I’m trying to fill a need that adds to the work I’ve done for the last many years in The 4 Disciplines but isn’t a replacement or a substitute for it. It’s simply additive, but it goes to the heart rather than the mind, Find Your Fire: Seven Steps to Regain The Inner Fire and Drive You May Have Lost.

I love it. I am looking forward to reading that and having you back here for that.

Thank you. What an honor it’s been to be here. Thank you again for the good work you’re doing to bring messages like this out to many people.

Thank you for being on and sharing your great message in the book that you’ve created.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you found the guests and topics on my show and my perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you on how the models, the approaches and the book that I’ve published, the leadership bridge, how to engage your employees and drive organizational excellence can help you and your organization as well. If you’re interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you, your team, or your organization rise above your best.


 Important Links


About Jim Huling

LFL 156 | Disciplines Of ExecutionAuthor of the #1 Global Bestseller “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” now translated into 16 languages and a bestseller around the world.
I’m an Executive Coach to leaders at all levels and the creator of the program Find Your Fire that enables individuals and teams to discover their true driving purpose in work and life.
My career spans four decades of corporate leadership ranging from FORTUNE 500 organizations to privately-held companies, including more than a decade as CEO of an award-winning company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work for in America.”
In 2005, I was honored to be personally selected for the Turknett Leadership Character Award recognizing CEO’s who demonstrate the highest standards of ethics and integrity.
I hold degrees in Computer Science from the University of Alabama and a degree in Music from Birmingham-Southern College. I serve on the Boards of two local companies, as well as the Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics, and Character.
I’m most proud of my wonderful marriage of over 40 years to my sweetheart, Donna, being Dad to two phenomenal adults, Scott and Sarah, and “Papa” to three grandkids.
I’m a certified white-water rafting guide, and hold a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, as well as training in CrossFit. I’m also the author of Choose Your Life! – a powerful, proven method for creating the life you want now available on Amazon


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

So You Want To Start A Podcast With Jonathan Rivera – Episode 155

LFL 155 | Starting A Podcast


If you want to start a podcast, you have to start it right. So many podcasts don’t even make it past their 10th episode because they don’t know what they’re doing. You need to know your “why” and your values so that you can find your audience. Build that foundation first instead of rushing out into the game. Join Patrick Veroneau as he talks to the founder of The Podcast Factory®, Jonathan Rivera. Learn how to create a successful podcast that can be a part of your business model so you can find more clients and earn more money. Start your podcasting career today!

Listen to the podcast here

So You Want To Start A Podcast With Jonathan Rivera

In this episode, we are taking a different spin. We are going to talk about podcasting. For those of you that might be thinking about it and wondering how you share your messages, my guest, Jonathan Rivera, is going to talk about his company and how he helps individuals that want to get on this platform to be able to share their message. He certainly has a lot of experience. He has been in this since 2008. He’s seen a lot, and he’s also, to me, a great person. Let’s get into it.

Jonathan, thank you so much for being on the show. We are going to take a little different spin on it because we are going to talk podcast but I do think that it’s relevant to leadership because there are many people out there that have a lot of knowledge that they want to be able to share with people. To me, this is a great platform to do that. You are the podcast OG. In 2008 you are starting a podcast. I would love for you to talk about your experience with that and help people that are out there that might be thinking of this. What does that look like?

This is how we are going to do it. You are going to call me an old man, and then we are going to go from there. “You are the old man with the cane in podcasting.” I love it. I want to put it on the air. I want it documented that I’m incredibly grateful that you invited me on your show, and not only that but then you want to talk about what’s in my wheelhouse. You, my friend, are a gracious host, and I will do anything for you.

It has been an interesting journey. I’ve learned a lot, especially what not to do, and maybe I can save our readers some heartaches but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Podcasting is the reason you and I are talking now. Podcasting, in my mind, is the reason I have the life I have now, which is a good life where I get to do the things I want to do, be with my family, and give to charities and the church. All of it comes from this simple concept that I want to start off with the right words from the right person at the right time can change your life.

I know you are a TEDx speaker. You go up on that stage. You tell a story and see that moment when somebody gets something. They may have heard it from 5, 10, or 100 other people. It doesn’t matter. “When Patrick delivered that message, it hit me,” and I bet you get that when you do your talks. I know you get it from your show, and we help all the experts that we work with give those breakthroughs to thousands and thousands of listeners.

It’s so interesting you say that, Jonathan, because I’m going to tell you. It’s something that I do when I go and give talks every time. This started when I started doing talks for high school kids, and there was one in particular that I do call Your Past is Your Power. Every time on my way to give a talk, I say a prayer. I ask just for guidance and the ability to be able to deliver a message that I know somebody in the audience needs to hear. It never fails that somebody comes up to me afterward and says, “This was something I needed to hear. This was made for me,” and it’s nothing special that I did. I believe it was that you were in the right place at the right time. It’s exactly what you are talking about.

I figured it out, and it’s my bigger mission. It’s what gets me out of bed each day, knowing the people I’m helping are helping other folks have those breakthroughs, and maybe you don’t have the right connections. Maybe you didn’t grow up the best or you didn’t go to the best school. You are not connected that way but we have the ability to help people no matter where they are, and it is a blessing.

How did you start?

Pure and simple laziness. The cat’s out of the bag. I’m old. We know I got online in ’08, and around that time, you would have people talking about being a thought leader. At that time, thought leadership was basically blogging, and I was not a writer. I barely made it out of high school. I am a straight-D student. I failed all my classes, almost, so writing was not going to be my thing. I got my first Mac computer around that time and found this little program called Garage Band. I was like, “It can record audio, so I can just talk. I don’t have to write,” and that was it.

I started talking to build my presence online and didn’t realize that I was so far ahead of everybody because then all of my friends, everybody I knew was like, “How are you doing this? How are you getting your words up there? Can you help me?” Over years of hearing that, I turned it into a business and into my mission. Here we are now. We are helping people every day, and for me, that’s what it’s about.

I’m not kidding. It’s going to sound lame but I feel like this is what God put me on this Earth for. This happened during COVID when we were locked down. I had this realization. What can I do? I can’t help anybody. I can’t do anything. We are all locked away. We are stuck here inside, sheltered, and I would do walks around the lake outside in the morning, thinking and meditating.

I remember thinking about helping the Knights of Columbus and what they were doing. I can give them money. I can’t give them time because we can’t connect, and I was thinking, “What can I do? What do I have to give?” I realized that my gift, my ministry, was my podcast and my ability to help my hosts connect with more people, especially around that time.

If you remember, when we were all locked down, people were depressed. People were drinking. People were sad, and the news was pounding you with horrible messages of, “Stay away from your neighbor. Don’t look at them or you are going to die,” kind of stuff. I thought, “This is scary, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It hit me during morning prayer and meditation, and walking around the lake. I was like, “This is what you do. You bring the LIGHT, Leadership In Good and Hard Times. It’s an acronym, and I do that by connecting with guys like you and with the people, the experts that we help, and by getting good, positive people and putting good positive messages out there to help people break free from whatever is holding them back.

Talking about the pandemic, I would imagine not even seeing the numbers on this but the podcast market would’ve increased during that in terms of the number of people that started a podcast. What is the average in terms of episodes?

It has been a while since I looked at the stats but I remember back in the day, they used to have this term podfade. In general, podcasts don’t make it past their tenth episode because they are not prepared. They are not getting ahead or maybe they are getting in their head and thinking too much about it rather than delivering because I saw you did a post on LinkedIn somewhere where it’s like, “Even if you don’t have time, maybe do a quick teaser episode. Just talk your mind. Get it out there but get into the rhythm. Get your reps in and keep doing it.”

LFL 155 | Starting A Podcast

Starting A Podcast: In general, podcasts don’t make it past their 10th episode because they’re just not prepared. They’re not getting ahead or maybe they’re getting too much into their head.


People will quit before they get into that level of comfort, and that’s one of the good things if you are not doing it on your own, having some accountability, a coach, a mentor or someone that can tell you, “Here’s what it looks like. Here are the rough spots you are going to hit. Here’s what you need to work through. Don’t worry about that because many of us, even me, started Daddy’s Working, which is a pet project that I do sometimes now, but when I started that podcast, I had already recorded almost 1,200 shows between my own shows and being co-host.

I got on the mic for the first solo show, so I can imagine somebody that’s doing it for the first time. The pressure is way greater, and that resistance is greater. It’s good to have somebody in your corner, a friend, a mentor or whatever it is to help push you past that, and also, the reason you are doing it is a big deal. The reason, the why, as we all know, will pull you through those ups and downs.

That is so true. I started my show in September 2018. I remember that because I had purchased all of the equipment to start my show a year and a half before that. It literally sat in a box in my office that I could see for eighteen months, and I didn’t touch it. I was scared too. I didn’t feel as though I would be able to pull this off. I remember I took an online course on podcasting and sat there with my iPad and my computer. I would pause it and would do the setup on iTunes and all of that.

It took a lot but I finally got to that point. My why was strong enough at that point. I said, “I’m not putting this off any longer. My first episode is going to run the week of Labor Day weekend,” and that was it. I will say that there have been times when I’ve missed episodes, and again, it’s hard. Once you stop, it’s hard to start pedaling again at times. A week goes by, two weeks go by. For me, I would say stick with it. Once you go, don’t let up because that momentum will keep you going.

One of the things that we do when we are working with an expert is we have this thing called the content vault. It’s an evergreen vault of content. The episodes that you record, you can use in 1, 2 years or 3 years from now because they are evergreen topics that you can build on them, which by the way, I saw in your post as well. I should be interviewing you about these things but one of the things that we do with our hosts is Content Vault. What are the first eight episodes? We are trying to launch with 6 to 8 episodes in the can of the weekly show so that you have a two-month runway. You have no excuse.

You talk about something else, though. Direct response podcasting framework. What is that?

It’s my life’s work. It’s a snazzy name for an old thing. It depends on your perspective, but we have a mythology to building a podcast because a lot of people get into the podcast game and have that excitement, and it seems pretty cool, unlike you. You buy cool equipment. You want to try it out and use it, even if it sits on the shelf for a year and a half before you use it. You still have it there. You want to try it out. All that novelty wears off pretty quickly. We have a system and a framework that we built to help our clients go through the podcasting process.

If anybody has studied direct response marketing, they would know. If you haven’t, you are going to know now that direct response marketing is essentially getting the person who is receiving the marketing message to take a step. It’s not about the sale. It’s about, first, getting their attention, then getting them to click, then getting them to listen, and then getting them to take action. There’s a method to the madness that we have. We start with something we call the client cloner. This is another mistake that new people make if they don’t plan the foundation of their show.

Some podcasters do not last because they do not plan the foundation and why of their show. Click To Tweet

They have that excitement. They want to try out the equipment and want to get it up there but they don’t have a plan. If you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a why, you might not last, and that’s cool. We are going to help you. The first thing we look at is the client cloner. Who are we talking to? Who is the person that we want to receive our message? I will give you a little cheat code here. A lot of times, that person is like us. If you can’t think of it, think of the people that have the same values, the same goals, and the same drive. That’s probably a good starting point.

We think about the client cloner. Who are you talking to? We think about the content vault. Who are they? What are we saying to them? The only way to know what we are saying to them and who they are, and how that fits together is the client matrix, which is, what do we want them to do? Where do we want them to go? What do we want their journey to look like from listener to fan to client?

Our podcasting’s focused on business development, generating clients, and getting referrals. All those pieces fit together. You almost don’t have to think about it. Once you have those three pieces together, you can start mapping out episodes that are for this person to get them to do that. It’s quite simply a formula to get your listener moving and results from the work that you put into your podcast.

When you talk about that, I think of my own journey through this, and I remember all of the, “You are going to monetize and get all these sponsors,” and that never was my interest. I was looking to do two shows a week when I started, and I realized how ambitious that was now. I wanted to do one show where I interviewed somebody, and then I wanted to do another show where I took a piece of research around leadership, influence or sales training and talk about that. Dissect that piece of information.

That was based on my background when I was in the biotech industry. I was in sales and sales training and was involved there. I always felt like there’s research around why people make the decisions that they do, and if people could understand that, if it could be broken down, it would help them to act on that stuff. I loved the topic. It wasn’t about how much money I was going to make trying to do this. With that said, the podcast has certainly generated revenue for me because of people reading the episodes and then reaching out to me after because they like what they hear. What I talk about resonates with either their company or themselves as leaders. That’s what you are talking about.

That’s why I get offended when somebody calls me a podcaster. I’m ready to throw down some fisticuffs. Don’t call me a podcaster. I am a businessman who uses a podcast as part of my model, and that’s the difference. You said it. People are running around thinking they are going to get big, giant audiences. Sponsors are going to make it rain handist to sponsor their show. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work, and that’s not real.

What I’m saying is I don’t know anything about that. What I know is how to make an impact with a much smaller audience, and a perfect example of that, and you can take this or not but the only reason I’m here speaking with you guys, speaking with Patrick, and I know him, is because he came through the model of, “My audience is the person across the mic from me.” That’s the only audience I care about.

LFL 155 | Starting A Podcast

Starting A Podcast: Your audience is the person that’s sitting across from you. That is the only audience that you should care about. Focus 100% on them.


I don’t care who listens on the outside. What I care about is when I’m with you, being 100% focused on you. Let me tell you something. For coaches, consultants, and service providers, that’s a hell of a way to get in front of a person to have 30 minutes with them on a show, talking to them, learning about them, and building rapport. For me, I have always been quality over quantity, and I’m more focused on the smaller audience and the opportunities.

This opportunity, I could hire a company, and they could reach out to a bunch of people and get me on your show. Maybe, if you are open to that, that’s valuable but instead, you and I met. We had a good time, and you invited me to your show. That is an ROI, in my perspective, and the same way that you experience it, where they listen to the show. The show is evergreen. The show is on topic. The show is about leadership, and now they are contacting you to engage you in work. That’s the way I see “monetizing.” That’s the way you “monetize a podcast.”

When you are talking about, “You get on there and talk to people,” I guess you are thinking it’s like yourself or have the same interest. I have found the same thing as that in terms of my episodes, although they all fall around leadership on some level, they are of interest to me. I put them out there to hopefully help other people to gain some knowledge like this one. We started talking before this. It was that I want to do a show based on what you do because I believe that there are a number of people out there.

We hear about the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. How many people are out there saying, “I’m miserable with what I’m doing, but I don’t know what else to do.” Maybe this is, again, not the monetizing component to it but maybe this is an interest that they’ve had that they have things that they want to share, and this becomes a vehicle for them to be able to do that. It was for me.

One of my favorite things about the work that I get to do every day is the people I get to help. I remember that when we brought on Dr. Rick Rigsby, we did his show, How Ya Livin’? He wanted to be an inspirational person. He wanted to uplift his listeners and give them good positive messages, which is what we are all about. When we were going through our process, he broke the process. We are thinking in terms of salespeople and who’s our market and who we are trying to talk to. He was like, “I don’t need to sell to these people. I want to inspire them. Who’s going to hire me is the people they work for. This is for the people out there.”

I couldn’t get my mind around it until we came up with this concept of values match. These people have the same values as me, the same work ethic and beliefs, and that changed our perspective on everything, where we realized that if we led with our values, the right people would gravitate towards us. As you and I are talking here, we did research on you before you came on the show. We looked at your content. We made sure that we had some similarities and some of the same things were important to us before we spoke, and that way, when we get on, it’s like, “I could be friends with you. I like you.”

If you lead with your values, the right people will gravitate toward you. Click To Tweet

That’s where it comes from sharing those values outward and being open with them, and that attracts more people with the same values. In your example, somebody who’s maybe struggling with the idea of leaving where they are or starting something new, this tool could quite simply be a tool to have conversations. As any business person can tell you, conversations equal opportunities. The more conversations you have, the more opportunities you have. Whether it’s through an interview or whether it’s through the dialogue that you share on the show, sharing your values, what you believe in, and what’s interesting to you, these conversations create opportunities for you.

You don’t even have to do it during office hours. This is something you could do at night. You could do it on the weekends. You don’t have to leave where you are now to start this but also the investment component to it. I’m sure people are wondering, “How much does this cost to be able to do a podcast?” For somebody to start, aside from using a service to get the equipment, what’s somebody going to look at?

Here’s what I’m going to do. We have an equipment guide that we share with our clients and the most basic of the basic setup. You can get started for about $100. Nothing is stopping you. I recommend a mic. You got to have a mic. I heard you on my show, and I’m like, “That’s a pro.” It’s because you can hear the people who are dialing in on the phone. It sounds different. Invest in a mic but an ATR2100 is one of the ones that we recommend, and another one that’s similar is a Samsung or something like that. They are both under $100. That’s a great mic.

That was what I had first. It was like $79 or something like that. It wasn’t expensive.

It was affordable. There’s nothing stopping you. That’s how I got started. I had a $100 mic plugged into my computer and started recording. Now, it’s easier than ever to get your podcast on iTunes to get it connected to all the other places but that’s the least expensive way I think that anyone can start other than maybe recording right on your phone, which is another option. The price doesn’t have to be a barrier there if you have a message and you have a mission.

In my first episode, I went out and interviewed this person at their office, so I had a professional recording. I still have it. I can’t remember the name of it but it costs me $400, and then I had to download it onto Audacity to get it to set up. You can tell a quality difference now. This is so much better. What other challenges do you think people should be aware of in terms of getting into this?

The main thing is that I would rather see people using it as a business tool. I need to work with financial advisors because I offer some kind of insurance. I would be looking at how can I talk to more financial advisors and looking at it as a tool for networking. This is networking for the digital age, and that’s the way I use the podcast now, Results Leader, where we met is a business development and networking tool. Think of your business idea and use the podcast as a way to support that business idea. Whatever it is you are trying to sell, who do you need to sell it to and set it up so that you can have conversations with those people?

Podcasting is a networking tool for the digital age. Click To Tweet

Again, I think back to when I did my show. If you think about it in terms of those people that might be interested in what I do for a business in terms of working with organizations or individuals from a leadership or a team building or sales perspective. If you don’t resonate with the things that I’m talking about on this show, we’ve both saved ourselves some time because it’s not going to be a fit.

I do think there’s a lot of value in that. It’s almost like a screening tool but also a business card that you leave behind where they can pick it up and listen to it at any point, and all of a sudden, they are like, “What he/she said made sense. I like that. I’m going to reach out to them or they are way off. I disagree completely.” We saved ourselves some time.

Good and good either way. That’s one of the things that I’ve always liked about podcasting, and you would call it longer form content because it’s not like it’s two minutes. You are going to do a 15 to 20-minute episode at least. It is the fact that when you plan correctly, and you know what you want it to do, you know who you are talking to. You know what you want them to do, and you build those evergreen pieces of content. You can use them over and over.

I did a case study with my man, Billy Gwaltney from Cover Your Assets, an insurance guy who works with physicians, and one of the advantages that he said of having a podcast that he never ever dreamed of was that the physicians he works with are in the ER. They are working crazy hours. They are working three days in a row, all day, all night. He’s like, “They are listening to me at 3:00 in the morning. I would never ever be on a call with them,” but he’s like, “Time is no longer a barrier for my business.” He’s eliminated the time barrier.

Not only that, but by picking the right content, the evergreen content, we helped him create his content vault. They are going back and listening to old episodes that he recorded a long time ago. Those old episodes are knocking out objections, and they are building rapport for him. They are doing it. There’s no time continuum here. It’s the most amazing thing to think about. That something that you recorded two years ago to still working for you now.

Along with that, I have two last questions. One is around the length of time for a podcast. Any thoughts on that? You have some that go four hours like Rogan or Tim Ferriss. In reality, is there any date out there? Is there anything to that, or is it just that you know your show’s gone long enough when you don’t have any more content or anything interesting to say?

I’m going to do my thing here. I like them short. I have this concept of the way that the podcast works for your business. Remember, I think of this in a bigger picture of your business and how it fits in to help you achieve the goal you want to achieve, which is most likely going to be more sales, clients, and impact, and in terms of where people listen. You can check out Edison’s Share of Ear report, where people listen. They listen when they are traveling to and from work. They listen when they are exercising. They listen when they are cleaning the house.

They listen when they are doing other things, and they usually set their schedule on how they listen. “I’m listening to this guy Monday, this guy Tuesday, this girl Wednesday or whatever,” because it’s part of their schedule. I have this concept that we call Keep them Wanting More, KTWM. Inside of that, we like single-serving episodes. What is a single-serving episode?

LFL 155 | Starting A Podcast

Starting A Podcast: When you’re podcasting, you always want to keep them wanting more. You also want to have single-serving episodes so that you can keep your listener’s momentum.


I go down to the gym. I know I’m going to work out for 30 minutes. I can listen to Patrick for 30 minutes. That’s my 30-minute jam on Tuesday. Keep them wanting more, and the single serving episode was to keep your listener’s momentum because we talked about what we want that listener to do. Me, I want them to book a call with me.

For you, it might be something different but I keep them wanting more by keeping the episodes short enough, single-serving episodes. It finishes the time that they are doing their thing, and they have the decision to make. “Do I listen to another one and another one, so I start my Netflix binge, or do I like this guy? Do I just book a call?” Keep them wanting more so they keep their momentum going, whether it’s diving into your content or getting onto your calendar.

I love that because it is about building trust too. I might have to listen to a number of episodes, and I finally am like, “Maybe I’ve folded that last towel. I am going to reach out to him this time.” This is the difference. The other question that I would have and your thoughts on this is the person that’s thinking, “It’s too many. The podcast train has left the station, and it’s too late for me to do this.”

You are right. Don’t do it. Leave all the listeners for me and Patrick. This goes back to my idea of I’m going to show you how ignorant I am. I don’t know anything about building a Tim Ferriss rabid following or Joe Rogan. There’s nobody in the world that’s going to listen to me for four hours. That’s the way it is. I talk, and nothing is happening but you are right. It is saturated but when you use it the way that we do it, all that matters is the person that you are talking to like Billy Gwaltney’s example that I gave. He doesn’t go out and build a big audience for that. He’s out there marketing his business.

People come in. They are leads. They are not ready to buy yet. Disability insurance is a big buy. When they hit his database, he gives them episodes. It’s not like you are out there trying to get listeners for your podcasts. The listeners are either the people you invite onto the show, the people inside your database or the people close to you that are closest to doing business with you.

That’s what makes a difference. How are you going to get an ROI where you are hoping to get a million fans listening to your show so that one of them buys your product? I would rather have one person sitting next to me that wants to buy it now. That’s my thoughts on it. No, it’s not too late if you are using it as a business strategy to keep the ball moving until you get the deal.

I love your approaches. You knew I liked you.

Apparently, you invited me to your show.

How does somebody get ahold of you? If they are thinking of this and want to take it to the next level? What’s the best way to get in touch with you?

There are a couple of different ways. One of the ways that we give experts a sample of our service is to invite them to ResultsLeader.FM, which is where you and I met. If you go to the website, you can listen to episodes or apply to be on the show. That’s one way. To learn about our company and what our company does and who we’ve helped, and case studies and services, is where you would find that. The best place since you are a podcast listener is ResultsLeader.FM. Listen to my interview with Patrick. I call him the $100,000 kid landing his first $100,000 deal and not knowing what to do. I’m like, “What a problem to have?”

I was scared.

I bet. That would’ve crushed me. If that happened to me. I would’ve hidden under a rock.

They call that Imposter syndrome. This has been great, Jonathan. I appreciate your time and the ability for us to connect like this again. It feels like we’ve known each other for a lot longer than a few months. Thank you so much.

I’m going to give it a name. Podcasts give you speed influence. That time you spend together speeds influence so that you feel like you’ve known each other longer. It has been a pleasure. I’m so glad that we got to talk. Thank you for your generosity and thank you for letting me talk about podcasting. I don’t feel like I get to talk about it enough.

Thanks. Enjoy. Peace.

Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in. If you found the guests, topics, and my perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you. It’s on how the models, the approaches, and the book that I’ve published, The Leadership Bridge: How to engage your employees and drive organizational excellence, can help you and your organization as well. If you are interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you, your team, or your organization rise above your best.


Important Links


About Jonathan Rivera

LFL 155 | Starting A PodcastIf you’re reading these words then you want to know who I am, what I’m about, and how I can help you. There’s no time to dilly-dally, let’s get down to business.

My name is Jonathan Rivera, but my friends call me J.R. I’m the founder of The Podcast Factory®. To save us both time you should know I only work with people who have integrity. My core values are Faith, Family, Fitness, and Finances. God gave us talents, and we must use them to make the world a better place. And that’s exactly why I built The Podcast Factory®.

There are people out there who need your help right now. It’s our job to connect you with them. We do this using our Direct Response Podcasting Framework. Most podcast agencies make a big fuss about downloads and subscribers. If that’s what you’re looking for, we won’t be a fit.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

The Powerful Coaching Model That Develops Leaders With Dr. Andrew Rahaman – Episode 154


LFL 154 | Powerful Coaching Model


People want professional development, but not many companies provide them with that. In today’s episode, Dr. Andrew Rahaman, the Co-founder of bluSPARC, takes a deep dive into the powerful coaching model that will help you develop your leaders and people. Right after COVID, businesses had to shift to a new working environment where employees had to work remotely. This shift allows leaders to adjust, and Andrew shares the struggles these leaders had with the remote setting and how culture is created in a hybrid environment. He discusses how onboarding has a part to play in the great resignation. There’s a lot of value to unpack in this episode, so don’t miss this opportunity to learn more!

Listen to the podcast here


The Powerful Coaching Model That Develops Leaders With Dr. Andrew Rahaman

On this episode, my guest is Andrew Rahaman. He is the Cofounder of a company called bluSPARC. Their approach to organizational development and coaching is so valuable. It bases all of its focus around science and research but also applies it in the real world in terms of the assessments, approach, and type of coaching they do both individual and group, and how that impacts the results and the outcomes they are able to provide for their clients. There is a lot of value in this episode. Let’s get into it.

Andrew, I want to thank you for being on the show. This is all about leadership. You are an expert in this area and a cofounder of the company, bluSPARC, and has a unique approach to how you develop your leaders in regard to your program. I want to go down that road but out of curiosity, I love to hear a little bit of background on how you came up with the name bluSPARC.

Thank you very much for having me on your show. I appreciate it and I appreciate all the great episodes that you put out there for other leaders that are learning so much from you. Thank you very much for hosting me on it. Our understanding of what got people into organizations and where they are now, be it director, senior director or VP level, is that they are probably pretty successful. They have been successful to get where they are. Like a flame, the hottest part of that flame burns blue. For it to burn blue, sometimes even successful people need an additional spark to ignite that view that they already have. bluSPARC represents that spark that brings out the best in people.

What we say about bluSPARC is we deliver evidence-based organizational performance. How we do that is through evidence-based coaching, collaborative learning, and assessments. That is how we came up with the name bluSPARC. In a nutshell, that is how we think about what we do in organizations. It’s the rising tide that lifts all those.

I will tell you the whole idea behind the evidence-based component of this. My background prior to going into leadership development and consulting was in the biotech industry. Everything that we did was around research. If you were meeting with thought leaders or other practitioners, you had to go with evidence with a study or something that would demonstrate why they should follow what you are asking them to do. Leadership is very much the same way. We don’t spend enough time in that space. There is so much research out there in regard to how people make decisions and what effective leadership look like. If we tap into that, to me, it is evidence-based leadership.

Even thinking about the complexities of our work environment over the last few years during COVID. Let’s put that into a general framework. When asked to take a metaphor that represents an organization, most people go with something that looks like the gears on a wheel or on a watch. That machine model has given away evidence that organizations are open to systems. They are more like organisms.

As a result of that, we have to bring that evidence-based adult learning theory, assessments, and coaching that help the organization adapt to its environment and help the person grow and learn new skills. That’s what we may have learned in principle maybe back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘70s, or whatever era one is from. Certainly, the last couple of years has proven to us that there are leadership skills that are much more nuanced now based on the social constructs that are happening that require us to come to the table with evidence.

Along those lines, is there any observation that you have seen over the last few years? There is BC now, which is Before COVID and After COVID.

Some of the observations that I have seen over the last couple of years is that people were often promoted into leadership or management positions. Let’s even say that. They relied upon, “I see this person. They are here with us.” COVID changed the way we work, the way we think about work, and the way we should be leading at work. It has forced us to consider what our assumptions are about leadership and ourselves, and how we interact with other people.

LFL 154 | Powerful Coaching Model

Powerful Coaching Model: COVID changed the way we work, the way we think about work, and the way we should be leading at work.


What I mean by that is there is a whole new world of intentionality about bringing leadership to other people. When we think about leadership, it’s influencing people towards a common goal in its simplest way. In a remote environment, bringing that sense of influence requires connecting with people at a personal level, creating belonging in an organization, and being much more thoughtful about how you have conversations about performance.

That was one of the things that I had mentioned to you before this. One of the things that I continue to hear is the struggle that leaders have in a remote setting, how to lead in a remote environment. How do you address that?

Remote work has a lot of great environments that have a diversity of people you can hire from all over the country, if not internationally, certainly increasing employee morale and saving commuting time. It also brings with this those in management and leadership positions thinking about, “How do I still get performance from them?”

Some time ago, Warren Bennis, who we would often think of as the Father of Leadership, made this statement. He wrote this article, Crisis that Shapes the Leader. In my mind, what he meant by that was that experiences create meaning by causing us to self-reflect on our own assumptions about how we lead.

When we think about these leaders now in remote environments, hybrid environments, and virtual environments, there are a couple of common issues that come up. One is around, how do I communicate effectively? It’s not just, “What do I say?” It’s, “How do I communicate? How do I create team synergy when people aren’t there?” We create interactions with people who get meaning from those.

The third one is, how do I create a sense of cohesion? As we know from the constructs, cohesion leads to motivation. Motivation oftentimes leads to discretionary performance. How do I build resilience? Finally, how do I get performance? How do I have those conversations about goal setting, objectives, and feedback? Those are five, and there is a sixth one, if not a lot more around culture. How do I create the culture? Those are the top five communications.

The one that I hear the most right now is about culture. If we have gone to a hybrid environment, how do we create a culture? What is that going to look like? My guess is there are probably some individuals that went remote that are happy that they don’t have to be in that culture anymore.

When we think about, what is culture? Isn’t it that embedded normalized behavior over time that leads us to thrive or simply survive in an organization? The things that create culture are words and our actions. At the end of the day, it is normalized behavior. What are those words that we are using? What are those actions? One of the important things, as leaders and managers have transitioned, is communication ranks up. I have asked hundreds of people, “What are the leadership skills needed now and into the future?”

The things that create culture are our words and actions. At the end of the day, it's normalized behavior. Click To Tweet

The word communication comes up quite often. We start to pull on that thread of communication. What are they talking about? They are not talking about those hallway conversations. They are not talking about popping into someone’s office. They are also talking about creating organizational or corporate conversations where more people are engaged in it. It’s not just one-way communication from a remote environment. When we first started, organizations were sending out, “This is what’s happening.” Where was the two-way conversation?

What would your thoughts be about spontaneity in terms of a brick-and-mortar environment? The water cooler has much more value to it in that spontaneity where you are not having to schedule every call because we are in different locations. You just bumped into somebody.

Walking down the hall and popping your head into somebody else’s office. Now it seems like we got to schedule everything. Part of that scheduling is almost like what we saw at the office. If my door is slightly closed and I only have it 6 inches, that means I’m working. Please don’t come in unless you knock first. Part of that exists for us on Zoom. Leaders that I know and I’m working with would have open office or open Zoom moments. They may have their Zoom open like the way we have ours right now as you and I are talking, but they are working on their own things. People can drop in with them at that time.

I do see the loss of that. I also see ways that people are mitigating that. One was in the hybrid organization where people are going back to the office a couple of days a week. Think very intentionally about what days people are going back and why they are going back. If they are going back to sit in their office to work by themselves, that defeats the purpose of that open conversation and collaboration.

That conversation is impromptu. Now it has to be a little bit more intentional. That communication is turning into a conversation where there is consideration of how people relate to one another. Conducting that meaningful conversation requires that attitudinal distances shorten. It can’t just be boss to direct report versus, “I’m engaging you because I’m interested in what you have to say.” It is also around multidirectional. It is got to be lateral. As much as it does need to be top-down, bottom-up. That becomes important.

Creating a sense of affiliation between people in those conversations where those conversations are around we are co-creating something together. Allowing and providing the structure and the process for the conversation to start from the bottom and rise up becomes important. That starts to help people become more able to cope with changes because they get feedback. They are able to tap into collective intelligence results and certainly, problem-solving and creative action.

Those clarifying conversations about what our vision is, what the company goals are, and how I fit into these goals are all part of the conversation. When we went to COVID or during that period of time and as we have come out of it, it was this sense that we need all these people working in our organization, and how they all help us meet our stated vision and our goals for the company. Those were important conversations with companies that we at bluSPARC work with.

When I hear you talking about the different levels of communication and directionally how we do that, I think of a model by David Rock’s SCARF, which talks about status. People’s feelings of worth and importance, and where they fit. You talk about what is this going to look like, and then autonomy in that in terms of people having a say and what this is going to look like going forward. The R in that is around relatedness. We talk about belongingness. I would guess we could even put fairness in that SCARF model too in terms of people probably wondering, “How is this going to look? How will I be treated?”

They say that trust is the foundation of all relationships. Psychological safety in communication and conversation has got to be the more.

Trust is the foundation of all relationships, and psychological safety in communication has to be the mortar. Click To Tweet

We hear so much about psychological safety. If you hear it for the first time, you might think, “This is some type of snowflake and kumbaya.” It is the opposite. It is vitally important for an organization to have that ability where people look at it as without violating other people, you get to be yourself.

You’re right there about being yourself. Your analogy is something that is the flavor of the month. Think about any relationship, whether work-related or personal relationships. Your belief leads to a feeling, and your feelings lead to beliefs. If you don’t feel or believe that you have a place to speak up and not be in jeopardy around your self-esteem or certainty, are you even going to speak up?

Let’s put ourselves in a hybrid environment or a remote environment. We may feel further and further away. That is the number one thing about remote workers. It’s the sense of loneliness. How do I engage my boss and peers if I don’t feel like I’m part of a conversation? That’s David Rock’s model SCARF and others around psychological safety. Amy Edmondson talks a lot about it too. That is a pivotal part of building trust. My colleague said, “Words create worlds.” How they are spoken starts to set the stage.

Some of those models like SCARF or psychological safety were first identified or researched back in the ‘60s in terms of that concept, or maybe the ‘70s. Here we are and we certainly hear much more of it now, but it is vitally important in terms of where we go and how we lead.

One of the questions you would ask is what you are hearing in terms of what is changed with remote working. The nuance of being able to have those conversations that have psychological safety embedded in them as a leader, a manager or a peer showing up in a way that people feel this way then helps them to develop that sense of cohesion.

LFL 154 | Powerful Coaching Model

Powerful Coaching Model: As a leader, manager, or peer, showing up in a way that people feel a certain way helps them to develop that sense of cohesion.


Something that is important in the hybrid remote work environment is humans, by nature, are social-emotional creatures. We thrive on this sense of positive relationship. We are wired to move towards something that we feel safe and good about. We move away from those things that we might have threats from. It’s the amygdala hijack, duck, cover, run or fight. In that sense of using psychological safety, it is communication, but it is also around how we help bring people together to create this sense of cohesion.

When we do it in on-site environments, they are rich with opportunities to pass, to get in, to get out, and to connect with people. All of a sudden, this accelerated speed at which everyone went to remote work left this cohesion and this sense of, “How do I connect with my peers and my bosses? Now I’m in virtual, how do I still connect with them besides this pre-programmed Monday morning, 9:00 once-a-week staff meeting?” Building cohesion in one way is building trust.

One of the things that many remote workers feel is this sense of loneliness, and loneliness is a sense of connection. We can think of loneliness as an emotional response to a lack of connection. Can we start to create structures that allow people the opportunities and the process to be in contact with them to have these conversations and get to know them? That challenge becomes creating a workplace that has a structure that creates social interaction and processes. We leave our Zoom on. If people want to drop in to see us, they just drop in while we are working or put in “I’m busy” or “I’m available” at certain times.

You mentioned something that I thought a lot about around us being like pack animals. We need that sense of connection. We were all displaced in some regard. Even if you are an introvert, I do believe that you choose to be an introvert. This was forced on you into introversion. That has impacted a lot of individuals where isolation is not good for us. We do not do well with isolation. We are seeing some of the behaviors as a result of that isolation.

In terms of how we treat each other, there is a one-dimensional level for me right now when we are on Zoom, whereas when we are in person, there is texture to you. You might say something online that now becomes who you are. If we are in person, I see other aspects of you. You are not a one-dimensional person for me.

It is body language and context. When you have fifteen people on Zoom, and one person is talking, you are focused on that one person. You don’t see anybody else. There are some who will say, “Why do I have to put a camera on?” They were like, “You are at work. You wouldn’t hold up a piece of paper and not let people see you. We can read your body language, smile, frown, or quizzical look. Mind you, some people were like, “Please don’t read my body language.” Others, for the main part, that is an important view to be like, “I’m noticing something. Let’s explore that.”

You mentioned in regards to onboarding, and I thought about that when I saw your comments on that. I have a son who is 24 years old. His job out of college was onboarded through his apartment. He never got to go into the organization. He was onboarded, and it was terrible for him. Talk about loneliness. He is a social individual. He spent a year and a half working from his apartment for this organization. You talked about the importance right now of doubling down on onboarding as part of this Great Resignation. I love to hear your thoughts on that.

It is a topic that I feel candidly very passionate about. I make the distinction between onboarding, which we often refer to as an HR function. You are coming to the organization, “Congratulations, you are here. We have a ream of paper for you to fill out, but we like you. Here is your computer. Your office is by your kitchen table.” Tongue in cheek, onboarding is often thought about as the functional part of HR in bringing in somebody and getting them settled on the floor.

When bluSPARC refers to onboarding, we are speaking about acculturation. We are speaking about reducing the time it takes to bring someone we hired to effectiveness. You think, “I have given them their computer. They know how to plug in.” It’s the effectiveness of getting them connected to people inside the organization.

Gallup is a great organization. They do a lot of research and create articles that are research-based. They said that for the 12% of employees,t the company does a good job of onboarding. That leaves another 88% out there that don’t do such a good job. What is the cost of replacing someone that leaves? Most people will make that decision in the first six months if not less.

The higher you go up into the organization, what is the cost of replacing an executive with 2 or 3 times their salary, perhaps the search fee, not to mention the lack or the inability to capitalize on that person’s skillsets around strategy development and implementation? When I think of onboarding, I think about it in the sense of creating meaningful connections at the workplace, where what’s important to that person’s role is creating role clarity.

A new executive joins. He asked ten people, “What is this person’s true role?” I’m now speaking from experience. You would be surprised by the different answers one gets based on the perspective of where that person answering is coming from. Marketing may answer it one way. The supply chain may answer it another. The CFO may answer it another way. The board of directors may answer it one way.

The onboarding process is creating meaningful connections and role clarity. It’s developing a deep understanding or understanding of the culture of the organization, the dos and don’ts, and the culture that is needed now to go further. Certainly, we know it increases employee engagement because now you have involved others in this person’s onboarding. They have become willing participants to make sure that person is successful. The benefits are huge with the right boss alone.

I jokingly did a short LinkedIn live on this. I called it employer catfishing. I remember not that long ago. There was a dating app. The woman shows up and looks at the guy and his profile. He is about twenty years older sitting at the table than he is in the profile. That is how many people probably feel in organizations when they are unhappy with this, “Now that I’m here, this is nothing like what you said it was going to be when you hired me. There is a lack of alignment between expectations and reality.

You get that alignment by getting the perspectives of the people that work in the organization. Something we have done successfully to onboard CEOs or C-Suite is we have conducted interviews with people in the organization around issues on role clarity. Who should the person know? What is the culture? Describe the culture and think things like, “When this person comes on board, what do you think some of the goals are for this person right away?” There is a huge win.

All of a sudden, this person is presented with this information from these interviews that we have themed, and then we create this forum where this person meets their peers and some of their direct reports. In this forum, these were the results. They have an opportunity to talk about it. All of a sudden, we have people deeply invested in this person’s success.

You talk about enterprise learning, and you mentioned that you see it as a cultural imperative right now in the marketplace.

Enterprise learning is very important. When you think about the quiet quitting, the Great Resignation, low unemployment, and the scrambling of organizations to look for people, learning is an impetus to change. When we learn, we change. We think about how many people think about change and what they want in an organization. It is very clear. People want professional development.

Continuous learning around professional development becomes important to them. It is around intact team coaching. Bringing teams together that the peer at one function coaching them together, doing leadership development, enterprise-wide leadership input, and taking peers or colleagues at the same level from different functions around the organization. That generates collaborative inquiry, creative problem-solving, solutions to problems from different perspectives, and buy-in. I believe in enterprise learning as I do in one-to-one coaching.

When I hear you talk about that, I love that concept. I would imagine it also impacts silos where you have the breakdown of silos. I work a lot in healthcare, and resources can be difficult. If you are working with teams that are in different departments and areas of the hospital, there seems to be a lot more effectiveness of now you know who that person is in purchasing, on the recovery floor, or wherever else they are. When something is requested of somebody else, it is much easier to reach out to them to make an ask when you know who that person is.

You are doing so much with this enterprise learning. I think about it in terms of the benefits of concurrent leadership. It is not one person solving a problem. The process of organizational collaborative learning produces hierarchy. It creates networks and conditions for people to share information, share questions, and reframe problems or issues into solutions that have buy-in. It creates solutions that look like there is not one way, but there are multiple ways.

What do people want when it comes to, “Why didn’t you ask me? I had the answer. Let’s get everybody out there.” It creates a sense of empathy, peer-to-peer collaborative learning, and enterprise-wide learning, and it builds partnerships. People start to feel safe to discuss goals where they may be stumbling perspective on what somebody is going through and their issues. It is certainly creating collective intelligence. We are now adding to that pool of knowledge where everyone now is like, “I hadn’t thought about it like that before. Let me ask some questions from my perspective. Let’s see how others react to that in the group.” That is one way to do it.

In connection with the team coaching, you also do one-on-one coaching as part of this process with them, which is a great combination. What is the benefit that you see?

We started off our conversation around evidence-based coaching. I used the phrase evidence-based assessments and collaborative learning. This is an example of continuous learning and certainly, one-on-one coaching. We often start our coaching in service to the organization. We think about it in the sense of what the organization is trying to achieve. They have goals. Those goals then start to come down and cascade down to that individual.

In a one-on-one coaching session, we start with an assessment of what competencies are important in your role, and how you think you’re doing in them. As we have the coaching session, we explore the person’s attitudes, interpersonal skillsets, and functional competencies through the lens of these organizational competencies that are important to achieve goals. Those goals can also be not just dollars and cents. Those goals can be, “We need to increase the ability of our managers to have larger networks. We need to increase the ability of our senior directors to have strategic alignment.” That is how we explore it to get the benefit. That’s how we see evidence-based at the end of our coaching engagements.

I hate to use the word end of our coaching engagement, but throughout the process, we take these pulse checks not only with the leader we are coaching but also with their manager. Do you see any movement in this competence? We create structure in our coaching so that the leader and the manager have a way to talk about, “What is important in my role right now in terms of competencies to meet my goals?”

LFL 154 | Powerful Coaching Model

Powerful Coaching Model: We create structure in our coaching so that the leader and the manager have a way to talk about what’s important in my role right now in terms of competencies to meet my goals.


As part of this evidence-based approach, from a duration standpoint, how long before you start to see results in ones that are durable?

If you ask specifically about one-on-one coaching, oftentimes, we combine our coaching with assessments. We then also combine it with peer-to-peer coaching. We use one-on-one coaching as a way to help that person develop individual competencies, personal skills or functional skills in some way. We use that collaborative learning, peer-to-peer, or group coaching as a way to bring everybody into shared accountability.

We know people learn best when they can apply what they are learning to their current situation and their work when they learn in the context of the culture when they learn and get support from people that they work with. Most of our coaching engagements go for six months or so. We have many coaching engagements for less than that when we use the collaborative learning process in conjunction. We do assessments after most of our coaching engagements, asking that person and their management, whatever level we are talking about and in C-Suite too. Have you noticed changes? We collect that evidence. We do see that over time. It depends on how we structure the coaching engagement with peer-to-peer learning or involvement in collaborative or action learning.

People learn best when they can apply their learning to their current situation and work, when they learn in the context of the culture, and when they learn and get support from the people they work with. Click To Tweet

We’ve seen that approach. When you talk about six months or the combination, I immediately think of neuroplasticity. How are we building these circuits where this becomes not just a great short-term project that we did where everybody feels good for a while, and then they lose those muscles that they have built? This is about building long-term connections. I appreciate that.

That is important now in our hybrid or remote working as a way of helping people stay on top of getting to the next level. My personal phrase about coaching is we are opening the aperture for development. This is not about fixing what is wrong. This is getting you to the next level. You have a trajectory. Let’s get you there. Let’s create the structure that starts to help you or the team or your behavior act in ways to get you and the organization to success.

As I mentioned to you before this, I have been looking at your site in terms of the process that you go through. There is a great flow to it of the individual choosing, who they want to have as a coach, through profiles and things like that. The assessments, the group, and the follow-up support hit on many vital things that set people up for success.

Patrick, are you are referring to on how our approach works?


We keep coming back to this around evidence-based coaching, evidence-based assessment, the science of leadership, and an era now of the need for adaptive change. We let the leaders that we are working with pick a coach. They have to be able to establish that trust so that they come willing and able. We start off with an assessment of many organizational competencies that we know are important for organizational effectiveness.

Throughout the process and the engagement, we bring these leaders together in cohorts or in collaborative learning circles where they get to talk about an issue at work that they are all familiar with in a way. They are all familiar with the context of both organizational goals. We bring them together, and something that we particularly do that is important to us is we circle back to the CHRO, CFO, or the COO, whoever hired us throughout the engagement process and talked about it with data. These are the competencies that people are talking about. This is the learning content that we are giving your leaders in between the coaching session that we round it out with being able to look at an assessment. What was the movement like over the coaching engagement and the collaboration?

It is research overlapping with the real world so that the two work well together.

We use coaching and leadership development, but those are our tools to get to something else, which is helping that person who is spending 8 to 10 hours of their day, most likely ten, trying to achieve organizational performance. What we do is around organizational performance, successful pipeline, and helping that person get to the next level, and the tools we are rooted in that science of evidence-based learning.

Andrew, thank you so much. This conversation has been so valuable. I always appreciate hearing different perspectives on how other organizations and experts are dealing with a lot of the challenges of leaders or what is facing them. If somebody wants to get a hold of you, what is the best way to do that?

Go on to There is a Contact Us. You can certainly reach us through that. We have a bluSPARC LinkedIn page. Send us a message that way, and somebody will reach right back out to you. Thank you very much for inviting me to your show. Thank you for the great work that you are doing, for having this show, contributing to the pool of leaders and speaking to other leaders. It is very much appreciated.

Thanks. I wish you the best.

Thank you very much, Patrick.

Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in to the show. If you found the guests, topics, and perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or to the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you on how the models, the approaches, and the book that I have published, The Leadership Bridge: How To Engage Your Employees and Drive Organizational Excellence, can help you and your organization. If you are interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you and your team or your organization to rise above your best.


Important Links


About Dr. Andrew Rahaman

LFL 154 | Powerful Coaching ModelExpert coach, learning and development scholar and American University Professor in the Key Leadership Program for Senior Managers. Former Adjunct Faculty at Center for Creative Leadership with a Doctorate in Education from The George Washington University.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Why Everyone Can Benefit From A Master Mentor With Scott Jeffrey Miller – Episode 153

LFL 153 | Master Mentor


No leader is self-made. Every leader has a mentor and this is what Scott Jeffrey Miller talks about in his book Master Mentor. In this book, Scott passes the spotlight to 30 of the greatest minds and mentors out there. They share insights and experiences so that you can become a better leader. Join Patrick Veroneau as he talks to Scott Jeffrey Miller about why everyone needs a master mentor in their lives. Learn more about Scott’s book series Master Mentor and some of the key people he talked to. Discover how you can be a leader that everybody can trust.

Listen to the podcast here


Why Everyone Can Benefit From A Master Mentor With Scott Jeffrey Miller

Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights from Our Greatest Minds, I had the opportunity to read this book. We talked about a number of different themes in it from how to listen to how to build better self-awareness, and how to deal with anxiety. Before we get into that, here is a little background in terms of who Scott Jeffrey Miller is. He serves as Franklin Covey’s Senior Advisor on Thought Leadership as well as leading the strategy and development of the firm’s speaker bureau.

LFL 153 | Master Mentor

Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights from Our Greatest Minds

On top of that, he hosts On Leadership, which is a podcast. It’s the world’s largest and fastest-growing leadership podcast. It reaches more than 6 million people weekly. On top of that, he also authors a leadership column for He’s a best-selling author himself of the series, Mess to Success. This was one of my favorite interviews, so let’s get into it.

Scott, thanks so much for being on the show. I appreciate this. You run a wildly successful podcast on leadership, but you also have a series of books that have been extremely successful. For this, I wanted to talk about Master Mentors Volume 2. I wanted to start this off with an observation that I had as I was reading it. To me, it helps eliminate the term self-made from what I would call the personal success vocabulary.

Thank you for the platform and the spotlight. When you say the term self-made, that doesn’t even compute in my formula of success. I’ve heard of the term. I know people probably think that to be true, but I could name for you extemporaneously, with no preparation, the 15 to 20 people that were the key contributors to my success, starting with Jane, Deborah, Larry, and then moving on to Charles. There’s also Don, Chuck, Charles again, Colleen, Todd, David, and Stefan.

I can name the names of the people that were instrumental and transformative in my life. They’re people that live next door to me and gave me their farmer’s market stand to run while they went off to college. That may also be early bosses, or Frank, one of my PR professors at Rollins College that launched my career. It doesn’t even compute to me this concept of self-made.

I’m the same way. We do such a disservice when we title people as self-made. I look at it and say, “Unless you have birthed yourself, made your own clothes, built your own house, and everything, you need other people.” That’s what I loved about this book. It’s on two fronts. One, you talk about your own story and The Bruce Williams Show. I’d love to talk about that because to me, that’s part of your narrative of going against not being self-made. He was a mentor for you. The title of the book itself, Master Mentors, also is suggestive of we don’t do this alone. We need other people around us. We can’t be self-made, but we’re self-motivated to be successful. 

That is beautifully said. The book is Master Mentors. There are 10 books in this 10-year volume series. There is one per year every year where I, like you, have the privilege of interviewing people of accomplishment on the podcast that I host, which is On Leadership with Scott Miller. Every year, I write a book about it. It’s like Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s not Jim Collins or Adam Grant kind of stuff. They’re light, easy-breezy books where I highlight 30 people. In many ways, I’m redefining, along with other people’s support like yours, what we think of as a mentor.

A lot of us think a mentor is someone we’re matched with within our organization. They’re on the 7th floor and we’re on the 1st floor, or whatever it is. We meet with them for one hour every month for six months and it’s over. That works and that is valuable. Take advantage of that in your organization if they have a mentoring program, but like you, most of the biggest mentors in my life, I never met. They don’t even know I exist, whether they’re books that I read, conferences that I go to, or podcasts that I listen to. This man named Bruce Williams was a radio host in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He hosted an evening radio talk show back when there wasn’t talk radio. His program was called Talknet and it turned into The Bruce Williams Show.

Most of your biggest mentors are people you've never met in your life. Click To Tweet

He was a small-town Bayer, entrepreneur, and businessman. He made lots of mistakes in life. He held a three-hour open line program where you could call in and talk about, “I inherited some money. What do I do? I want to buy a house. Do I need an attorney? What is life insurance term versus whole life?” It was cantankerous and a little bit of a curmudgeon, but genius. For a decade, when most of the cool kids were listening to XS and U2, I was listening to Bruce Williams. It had a massive transformation on my business acumen, my literacy, and my desire to learn more. He was the biggest mentor of my life. Bruce Williams died never knowing I even existed.

I love that story in the book. I said before we started that I was listening to ACDC at that point. I was not watching or listening to The Bruce Williams Show, which I probably wish I should have been, but I wasn’t. It is such a great story and lead-in to what this book is about. I don’t know if you’re familiar with works by Napoleon Hill. Do you remember Napoleon Hill talking about his trusted circle and that we’re all imaginary people? It would be Abraham Lincoln or somebody else. It’s very much the same thing with these books. It provides an opportunity to think, “What were they doing? How would they approach this?” It’s that same approach.

To your point, I don’t know about your entire career journey, but mine has been very blessed. I’ve worked super hard and earned a lot of my success through the guidance and coaching of other people. In the first half of my career, I intentionally had the spotlight focused on me. I turned the spotlight onto me. As I mature, I’m trying to discover my strengths. I’m an aggregator and a pollinator. I’m not sure I’ve ever had an original idea in my entire life. Most of us haven’t.

The contribution I’m making through this book series and a show like yours is allowing people access. They’re like, “I didn’t know about this person or that person. What is this book you referenced?” I’m trying to not write a book that is a compendium of other books. I’m trying to write a book that is a spotlight on other people’s content so that you learn about people perhaps you didn’t know about. You go buy their book and make them part of your circle or board of directors, so to speak. That’s the purpose of the Master Mentor series.

LFL 153 | Master Mentor

Master Mentor: The purpose of the Master Mentor series is to put a spotlight on other people’s work so that you can learn about people you don’t know about.


With not having an original thought, very few of us do. I would argue probably none of us. Napoleon Hill, when he wrote The Law of Success, he says that right at the beginning of the book, “In terms of what you are going to read here, there’s nothing novel in terms of what I’ve come up with. What I have done is combined different messages in a different form that hopefully resonates with you as a reader.”

You have 30 in here. We’re not going to get to all of them. As I was reading this, and especially in the environment, there were a couple of themes that I picked out that I’d love to throw around. One was around listening. In the environment we’re in, our inability to listen to understand has been detrimental to a lot of relationships. One of the individuals was Julian Treasure in here. What was that conversation like?

Julian Treasure, like you, is a fairly famous TED speaker. His TED Talk has hundreds of millions of views. He’s a British listening communication expert. He wrote a book called How to Be Heard. The insight that Julian Treasure brings is recognizing that everyone listens differently. We spend a lot of time in our careers understanding our leadership style and our personality style, but I don’t think many of us really assess what our communication style is. We have one. I have one and you have one.

As we look post-pandemic to a world where people have choices and don’t want to work for bad cultures or bad bosses anymore, they’re willing to quit and go open up an NFT, Etsy store, or trade crypto. They’re not like your and my generation where they own three cars. They don’t even own a car. Most of them don’t have a license anymore because they’re of different values than we do. Good on them.

We’ve got to make sure that we have an individualized style of leadership. Not everyone should be an anesthesiologist, a commercial airline pilot, or a leader of people so be thoughtful about how you might be lured into leadership. If you are going to be a leader of people formally, then you need to be thoughtful about how those people want to be led. They all want to be led differently. They want to be listened to, treated, validated and praised differently. They also have different listening styles.

Everyone leads differently. So if you want to be a leader of people, you have to be very thoughtful about how people want to be led. Click To Tweet

Jillian Treasure’s insight is a little bit of an awkward term. He calls it Listen to the Listening. That means you’ve got to be nimble, agile, and mature enough to change your communication style to the way different people listen differently. I have one style. It’s loud, fast, charismatic, and dominating. I’m a very loud, passionate person. Sometimes, that works for me. Oftentimes, it works against me. The big idea here is to understand if you want to be an influential leader, you’ve got to be self-aware of what your default communication style is and how you can modify and moderate it to the way other people listen. It means you have to get to know them and understand what are their fears, passions, joys, and what types of leadership work well for them.

Leadership is more difficult than even pre-pandemic because, in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, you had a style. Everybody cleaved to that. They had to align themselves with your style. It doesn’t work that way anymore. You’ve got to make sure that you are listening to the way each and every person in your life needs to be communicated to, including your spouse, your kids, your neighbors, your committee members, and all that.

That is without question. You mentioned in that chapter that you talk about your own learning lesson there. This was the old Scott where you were told by your boss, “You make too many declarative statements.”

That was a lovely day. I was the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer, of the Franklin Covey Company for a decade. It is a well-respected global leadership firm. The CEO was a lovely man. We were very different in personality and competence, but I love him and he loves me, which is why I stayed for 25 years. It was because my boss loved me.

People don’t quit leaders who loved them. People don’t go across the street for a 1% more commission, $2 more an hour, or $10,000 more a year if they believe their leader loves them. You stay. People don’t quit leaders who love them. This particular leader, we have very different personalities. He has what I call a telepathic leadership style. He does not like confrontation. Do not back him into a corner because you will lose. Do not underestimate his fierce tenacity to win. He is a gracious person and he likes harmony.

One day, in the C-Suite, after a long executive team meeting where I had spouted off way too many of my opinions, as the meeting came to a close, he walked past me and looked me in the eye. He said to me, “You make too many declarative statements,” and went to the restroom. This is the CEO of a global public company. He is wearing a suit and tie. He is your iconic public CEO of impeccable character. Talk about an ego anima. He was right. What I did was I started forming my statements into the sound of questions. I would say, “Are we concerned about the fact that this and this is happening?” I’m not sure I learned a whole lot on that other than how to frame declarative statements into interrogative statements.

Do they call that passive-aggressive at all?

Him or me?


Yes, but I’m not passive-aggressive. I’m flat-out aggressive. I love that man. It was a very insightful comment to me. Since he was such an EF Hutton type, I knew exactly what he meant. I didn’t need to go through the pain of having him describe it to me. I did some self-exploration on talking less, being the less genius in the room, and doing a better job of listening. In some cases, when I chemically could not keep my mouth shut, I form my statement in the phrase of a question so I sounded less arrogant.

I thought you were going to say you left the room.

That would’ve been a more mature version of Scott Miller.

To dovetail off of that, another theme there is self-awareness. The two go together. You talk about Tasha Eurich. I loved the definition that she used. She said, “The will is having the will in the skill to see yourself clearly.” That’s so important when it talks about the will. People have to want to do this first to be in awareness, and also then, how do you develop the skill to know yourself more clearly?

This is a phenomenal mentor, Tasha Eurich. She’s an organizational psychologist out of Denver. She wrote a very famous book called Insight. She looks at self-awareness from how we see ourselves and also how others see us internally and externally. I highly recommend the book Insight. I don’t know about you, but I spent my career of nearly 30 years in formal leadership positions at the Walt Disney Company and the Franklin Covey company. I had the honor of interviewing thousands of people over the course of my career and hiring hundreds and terminating dozens of them.

LFL 153 | Master Mentor

Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life

I can tell you that in 28 years, or more than that, I never once had to fire someone because they lacked the technical skills to do the job they were hired for. They always had technical skills. Every single termination that I was responsible for executing on, every one of them was because the person had no idea what it was like to work with them.

They had no idea what it was like to lead them, be led by them, stand in a trade show booth for three days with them, be in a Zoom call, or launch a product with them. They had no idea. Oftentimes, it was because I don’t think they ever had a leader who loved them enough to risk not being liked at the moment to tell them the truth or give them feedback on their blind spots.

I’m on a little bit of a tangent here, but with 30 years in the leadership business, I do not believe that a leader’s number one job is the mission, vision, and values or system, structures, and strategies. You’ve got to do those things. I believe a leader’s number one job is to recruit and retain talent. That is the talent that is noticeably and palpably more talented than you are.

A leader's number one just is not mission, vision, and values. It's recruiting and retaining talent. Click To Tweet

The second most important role of a leader is to give people feedback on their blind spots, which requires them to move outside their comfort zone and discuss the undiscussable. Sit someone down and declare your intent, like, “My intent is not to minimize you or embarrass you. My intent is to help you build a more expansive brand here. I want to give you some feedback on some things I see you doing that are limiting your reputation here.” This is a leader who loves her people.

People aren’t naturally self-aware. I wasn’t naturally aware that my voice is always at this level until my wife says to me, “You are a jackass. Why are you talking so loud? I don’t like you. Stop screaming in my ear.” My sense is it probably comes from my feeling of a need to have power over people. The louder I speak and the more firm I am, the more they’ll do what I want. That’s a diminishing thing. I don’t know how people see me. I’m trying to learn that so I can have better friendships and a stronger marriage. This is a chapter I’m especially passionate about.

If you think about it like a Venn diagram, the best teams do three things. One is they support each other. We have each other’s backs. That comes in the form of listening and appreciation or empathy for those around us. The next is they celebrate each other. That’s about recognizing people for who they are and what they do. Those two things are important. I don’t think we do enough of the celebration part within organizations that we recognize people. It’s this old mentality that you and I probably grew up with in terms of work was, “Why are we going to recognize somebody for what we pay them to do? That’s what they get a salary for.

The last part is critical, though, that the best teams challenge each other, which is what you’re talking about. To challenge somebody in a way that is effective, you have to earn the right to be able to do that so it doesn’t land in the wrong way. The only way you do that is when you demonstrate to somebody, “I have your back. I support you. I celebrate who you are. I recognize you.” When I do those two things, I’ve not only earned your trust, but I have an obligation to challenge you.

That is so well said. One of the mentors from volume one is Stephen M.R. Covey, Dr. Covey’s eldest son. He is a very dear friend of mine. He wrote a book called The Speed of Trust. He is a seminal thought leader in the world on building a high-trust culture. He says something so profound in his speeches. He says, “Raise your hand if you’re trustworthy.” Everyone’s hands go up and he says, “Put them down. Who decides if you’re trustworthy?” Everyone says, “It’s the other person.” The key premise of this is you have to behave yourself to a reputation of being trusted by others.

When someone trusts you based on the fact that you make and keep commitments, you honor confidential information, and you don’t gossip about people, then they’re going to be more open to you giving them feedback on their blind spots because they also know your intent. Sometimes, it requires you to declare your intent.

LFL 153 | Master Mentor

Master Mentor: Trust is based on the fact that you can keep your commitments. If you can do that, people will be more open to you giving feedback on their blindspots because they know your intent.


Use the words, “I’d like to have a bit of a high courage conversation with you. Could I first declare my intent? My intent is not to do anything other than to help you. My intent is not to do this.” People and their reptilian brains calm a little bit. If they trust you based on their experience with you and you have declared your intent, they’re more likely to receive your feedback on their blind spots. As a result, their self-awareness grows.

I had the good fortune of interviewing Stephen on his book.

Am I on the same show as Stephen M.R. Covey?

Yeah. It’s like the Franklin family right here.

That’s awesome.

There was one thing that stuck out to me. It was around trust in him, too. To gain trust, you have to give trust. You have to say, “I trust that you can handle this. You’re going to do this.” There’s a lot of power to that in terms of when people feel as though you believe in them. You trust that they’re going to be able to pull this off. It’s almost like you don’t want to disappoint them. 

It’s an epiphany for a lot of people. We all view ourselves as being trustworthy. You’ve got to behave yourself into being trusted by others. That’s a process. It’s not an event or a mindset. It’s a reputation for making and keeping commitments.

That gets built over time. It’s not instantaneous. The last one I wanted to touch on in this environment is anxiety. You have a great story in there about Chester Elton.

Chester Elton is one of the finest, most abundant people I know. He wrote a series of books. His fame came from writing The Carrot Principle back in his days in O.C. Tanner. He left O.C. Tanner and went on with his writing partner Adrian Gostick to write 4 or 5 best-selling books. He calls himself the Apostle of Appreciation. I’d love to keynote your conference people, but don’t hire me. Hire Chester Elton. He’s better and riotously entertaining.

He wrote a book called Anxiety at Work. It was, in essence, a leader’s guide to understanding the pervasive aspect of anxiety and how it’s not going away. If you remember the chapter in my book, I’m fortunate I don’t suffer, that I’m aware of, from any serious mental illness. I’ve had a very remarkably trauma-free life. I’ve been blessed with great mentors and parents. I made good decisions. I also made some bad decisions along the way, but I’ve had a fairly trauma-free life. I don’t suffer from anxiety. I suffer from lots of other things, but not anxiety.

What I did was I turned the chapter over to a young man who works for me. His name is Drew Young. He is 25 years old and he suffers from crippling anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. They’re things that I can’t even comprehend. I highlight Chester as the mentor on how pervasive anxiety is in the workplace. I turn the chapter over to Drew, and Drew writes a very vulnerable first piece about two people suffering from anxiety at work. He follows it up and writes a chapter on their leaders, the Scott Millers of the world, and how to lead them better.

It wasn’t a risk because I trusted Drew a lot, but I wanted it to be a validation to leaders like me that can’t understand and get frustrated perhaps with people that have pressing emotional issues and how to value them, make them feel seen and heard, and give them some space. It is also for people that are suffering from anxiety that Drew speaks to them to say, “It is okay. Take it one day at a time. It will get better. Reach out for help. Talk to your leader. Tell them what you’re going through.” I hope that chapter is well-received.

If you are suffering from anxiety, take it one day at a time. Talk to your leader and reach out for help. Click To Tweet

It was powerful, the way it was written. It was talking about it from the perspective of the person that’s going through it, but also as a leader, saying, “Here’s what you need to know about this.” To take a step back there, in regard to leadership, you talked about all these things that are important. In the programs that I went through and the experience that I had, we spent too much time as leaders talking about leading as opposed to focusing on followers. Without followers, we’re not leading anybody.

I look at it as if I was selling a product, we would do market research and say, “This is what the customers want to buy. This is what’s important to them.” If I’m selling that product and I say, “That might be what they want, but I like these things. I’m going to sell a product as this,” it wouldn’t sell. Leadership development oftentimes looks that way. We haven’t looked at the market research that’s been done on the customer who is the follower to say, “Give them what they need and they will buy your leadership.” They will buy it. The data is out there in Gallup studies, Press Ganey, or whatever it is. The data is there to be able to say, “That’s your market research. Follow that and people will follow.”

I have nothing to add to that. That was perfectly stated.

Of all of these in this second volume, is there one that was most important for you?

Thank you for asking. The first chapter is about a man named Zafar Masud who survived a commercial airline crash, but the one I want to talk about is chapter number two, Bobby Herrera. Bobby Herrera is Latino. His family was from Mexico. They met a new Mexican farmer, and the farmer invited them over to work on their farm. They showed up with thirteen children. The farmer had no idea. Bobby was the first in the family to be born in America. He is 1 of 13 kids from a hardworking and fairly resource-rich family. You can imagine a Latino family with thirteen children.

He then went on to become a very famous entrepreneur and author who had a book called The Gift of Struggle. Don’t Buy Master Mentors. Buy The Gift of Struggle. This is a beautiful book. You can read it in an hour. Bobby tells a story that is life-changing. When he was in high school, he and his brother played basketball on a local high school basketball team.

LFL 153 | Master Mentor

The Gift of Struggle: Life-Changing Lessons About Leading

After every game, when the bus would stop at a restaurant, all of the members of the basketball team got off and went in to have dinner, win or lose, except for the Herrera brothers. They stayed on the bus and they ate the brown-bagged dinner their mom had packed for them. How embarrassing and emasculating. Every night, the Herrera brothers stayed on the bus while all their teammates went and had dinner. My sense is it wasn’t Ruth’s Chris. It was more like Sizzler or a burger shop.

It was not until one day, one of the fathers of one of the teammates re-boarded the bus, walked back to their seats, and said in private, “I want you to join the team. Be my guest.” He handed them each $10 and says, “No one needs to know. I want you to join the team. All I ask for in return is to go make something of your lives and do the same for somebody else.” Bobby Herrera said it was the first time in his life he’d ever felt seen by anyone. He couldn’t see tomorrow, next month, or a career. He couldn’t see his way out of this, but A Latino farm family went on to run a $500 million company and write a best-selling book.

The point is every one of us in our lives, someone re-boarded the bus for us. Someone made us feel heard or feel seen. That’s a gift we’re going to give all of your readers. Think about who’s the person that made you feel seen. Who boarded the bus for you? Have you told them? That father, his name was Mr. Teague. When Bobby launched his book 30 years later, he found the man, still alive, and flew him out to his book launch. He told the story and the man wept and said, “I remember that. I had no idea the impact that had on you. You’ve made my life feel as if it had meaning.”

I’m getting emotional telling the story because I was not raised in a family like that. I was raised in a family of more privilege, but I want to make sure that I use my time, wealth, positional power, and influence to make as many people feel seen as possible and to re-board the bus for people because people re-boarded the bus for me. That’s Master Mentor number 32, Bobby Herrera. Go buy the book, The Gift of Struggle.

I have nothing else to say.

Thanks for a great conversation.

This has been phenomenal. Your book has inspired me in so many different ways in terms of the little snippets here and there of reflecting on how I can continue to make a difference, too. I’m like, “What am I giving back?” For that, I thank you. Enjoy.

Thank you for your class act.

Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in to my show. If you found the guests and topics on my show and my perspectives on the show to be valuable to your own personal growth or to the growth of your team, I would love the opportunity to have a discussion with you on how the models, the approaches, and the book that I’ve published, The Leadership Bridge: How to Engage Your Employees and Drive Organizational Excellence, can help you and your organization as well. If you’re interested, you can reach out to me at Let’s explore how my unique models and approaches can help you and your team or your organization to rise above your best.


Important Links


About Scott Jeffrey Miller

LFL 153 | Master MentorCapping a 25-year career where he served as a chief marketing officer and executive vice president of business development, Scott Jeffrey Miller currently serves as FranklinCovey’s senior advisor on thought leadership, leading the strategy and development of the firm’s speaker’s bureau, as well as the publication of podcasts, webcasts, and bestselling books. Scott also hosts On Leadership with Scott Miller, the world’s largest and fastest-growing leadership podcast, reaching more than six million people weekly. In addition, Scott authors a leadership column for and is the bestselling author of the Mess to Success series.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

How The Best Organizations Create, Drive, And Sustain Culture With Al Curnow – Episode 152

LFL S4 152 | Sustain Culture


Culture is the bedrock that holds not only society but every organization. In today’s episode, Al Curnow from CultureWise discusses how the best organizations create, drive, and sustain culture. He clears out the misconceptions that often cloud what culture really means and the changes happening that affect how people behave in the organization. Al then shares the systems in place to create a company culture and the importance of having processes to reinforce it. In this changing environment, there are more threats to the way our people perform in the organization. Lean and learn from this conversation to overcome these challenges and better position your organization as one of the best!

Listen to the podcast here


How The Best Organizations Create, Drive, And Sustain Culture With Al Curnow

Thank you for joining me on another episode of the show. This episode is all about company culture. We’re going to be talking with Al Curnow from the company CultureWise about what it takes to build a great culture and what great organizations share in how they create, sustain, and drive it. Let’s get into it.

Al, thanks so much for being on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation about culture. Even though we talk about it a lot, I think there’s a lot of confusion about what culture really means. It means different things to different people. That’s your specialty. I’d love for us to start from that space and talk about what are the systems in place that we create a culture within organizations.

Thank you very much for having me on. It’s a pleasure being here. When it comes to the definition of culture, if you ask a room full of 50 people, you’re likely to get 50 different definitions. Each one of them probably is a bit fuzzy and maybe a bit ambiguous. Historically, culture has been one of those things that’s difficult to define, which is a bit problematic because, in our experience working with close to 700 organizations, we find that it’s incredibly important and influential in everything an organization and a person does.

From our standpoint, when we look at defining culture, we feel that the clearer and more specific we can be, the better. I love one of the definitions I’ve heard. It’s what happens amongst our team members when we’re not in the room. That’s the culture. I know you are too, Patrick. I’m a big sports fan. I use a lot of sports analogies. If I’m a basketball coach, my culture isn’t me with my team in a pre-game or pre-practice huddle. It’s my players in the locker room without me there or what happens after practice. From our standpoint, it’s all the more reason we as leaders need to be very clear and influential in defining our culture and culture being how we do the things we do.

If you look at it from a corporate standpoint, particularly in industries that are highly commoditized, it’s not the widget, the screw, or the wrench we manufacture. It’s how we deliver it. If you look at the hospitality industry, it’s not necessarily our thread count on our sheets, although that’s important to some. It’s what the experience I get when I stay at that particular hotel. For us, it comes back to, as leaders of organizations, being clear in the beginning to define what our culture is as opposed to letting it grow and morph as it will without our influence.

As I heard you talking about that, in regards to when you ask people what their culture is, they can also say what their culture is by definition. If their behaviors don’t align with that, it doesn’t matter what you say your culture is. Your behaviors will trump whatever you want to say your culture is.

I go a step further. Not only will it trump it. It can become dangerous and problematic if what we say as leaders our culture is, and if there’s a misalignment in terms of what it is and what happens. That’s why people leave. “I came to work for you, Patrick because you told me we have a culture of collaboration and teamwork. We have each other’s backs. The second I find out it’s anything other than that, that you don’t support me as a leader, or I’m surrounded by a bunch of teammates with big egos that don’t care, I’m out of there.” To your point, oftentimes, what we say our culture is and what’s actually happening can be two very different things.

Oftentimes, what we say our culture is and what's actually happening can be two very different things. Click To Tweet

I’m going to volley back to you for that one. Have you seen a difference since COVID? I always hesitate now to go back with BC in terms of Before COVID now. That’s what BC stands for. Have you noticed a difference organizationally in terms of what people are willing to tolerate and how this is revealing itself?

Yes, in a few different ways, Patrick. It’s a great question. One, I generally think, not just amongst our clients, but based on my own personal anecdotal experience. People generally are operating at a much higher emotionally charged level. It seems like our collective patience is a bit thinner than it used to be, our tolerance. You probably do the same. I do a lot of travel for my work, so I’m always on crowded airplanes and airports. That’s where you begin to see it firsthand. We see some elements of that. What we’ve also seen is since COVID, we’ve never been busier.

In fact, we’ve had unbelievable growth since COVID because I believe it’s forcing leaders to think about their culture. They’re either dealing with remote employees, hybrid employees, or they’re struggling to recruit, hire, or retain. All of those things come back to that underlying culture. It’s interesting. We’ve seen the impact in a couple of different ways. In the end, it has presented a lot of opportunities for us to help, coach, and guide.

It’s interesting. When you mention that, I think of a book I read during my graduate work in leadership. I won’t get the title exactly right, but it was along the lines of the light versus shadows in leadership. When we expose the light on things, that’s when we start to see what’s there. To your point, the light has been shown in a lot of areas that were hidden before. It was in the shadows, and it couldn’t be anymore.

You’re right. Indications are changing a bit now in terms of the labor market, but it’s amazing what an incredibly tight shrinking market will do in terms of enhancing or awakening leaders’ thinking around the subject of culture. When it’s in the light of day, we tend to view things differently.

It's amazing what an incredibly tight shrinking market will do to enhance or awaken leaders' thinking around the subject of culture. Click To Tweet

I had heard this from somebody not that long ago. This was an organization I was in, and they were talking about turnover and a lot of the things going around this quiet quitting. Once the economy changes and the labor market tightens up, their thought was a lot of that stuff would go away. What are your thoughts on that?

From my personal experience from a narrow perspective, I don’t know if I totally agree with that. There are a couple of factors. One thing COVID has done is awoken all of us. A lot of us have taken a look back inside and said, “What’s important?” We’re thinking in terms of meaning and impact. They’re here to stay. I don’t think that’s something that ebbs and flows with an economy or a market and so forth. There’s that. As the dad of a sophomore in college and a senior in high school, I’d say that our youth, our next team-up, view the world differently. I don’t think that’s going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, that’s going to heighten the importance of all of this. There might be some short-term blips in terms of rates of quitting, retention, and so forth, but long-term, I don’t know. Some of these things are here to stay.

I would agree with you. The conversation that went on after that was although the physical numbers of people leaving an organization might change, my belief is that this will go back underground again. We’ll just have disengaged individuals that have quit, but they didn’t go anywhere because they didn’t have an opportunity to. Those are going to be worse because then they will resent the fact that other people got out and are stuck at an organization that they should have left when they had the chance.

The collateral damage when that happens is huge, as you know. I conducted a webinar on the topic. I don’t have the statistics at hand, but they’re mind-boggling, the impact of that phenomenon and those around them. When you have that one who can’t leave or won’t leave yet is unhappy and disengaged, what can that do to our best people? That’s where it becomes problematic and dangerous. Our best people can leave. They are the most talented. It creates a very problematic dynamic when that’s going on. It’s a dangerous thing.

On your site, you talk about high-performing organizations doing three things. It’s about creating, driving, and sustaining culture. I was wondering if we could step on each of those to get a better understanding. For those people that are out there saying, “How do I go about this in terms of culture and developing it?”

At least with our approach, it begins with creating clarity in defining and taking ownership of your culture. We see the responsibility, particularly for the most senior leader of an organization, like a president or an executive director. The same could apply within a department or on a team with the leader of that team. We see it as their responsibility to draw a line in the sand or put the white stake on the ground. Use whatever analogy you want to use. It’s the responsibility of senior leadership to define clarity in terms of, “What is our culture? What do we want it to be? What are the elements of our culture that are non-negotiable? What are the elements that perhaps might be a bit more aspirational where we need to grow?”

It's the responsibility of senior leadership to define clarity in terms of what our culture is. Click To Tweet

In our experience, it absolutely and positively has to start there. Until we’ve taken the time to do that, I’d argue we’re operating in the shadows, as you referenced before. We’re operating on hunches, best guesses, and so forth. What’s interesting about that is that even some great companies haven’t necessarily gone that far. Historically, what most organizations have done to try to establish and define their culture is create a mission value statement. They’ll establish some core values. While that can be good and important, particularly if they’re meaningful and live to what they espouse, in our experience, it’s not enough.

For example, you look at core values. In everyone’s core value statement, you’ll see something about respect and integrity, which is incredibly important yet tends to be vague and ambiguous. For example, let’s say we have 25 people in my company. Five come from an urban area, and five from a rural area. Maybe I have a few international employees in my group. If I were to ask every one of my team members, “What does respect mean to you?” I’d highly likely get 25 different definitions. Whereas if we can be clearer and more specific and focus on the behaviors we’re looking to drive, those things mean the same things to all people.

What are the behaviors we’re looking to drive that speak to respect? Is it listening generously? Is it being clear on expectations? Is it honoring our commitments and doing what we say we’re going to do? If we can operate on that level and create a language we can use with each other and our team members, it will help us be better leaders. It creates clarity for our team members. It gives us something that we can do something with and measure. In our experience, most organizations haven’t gone that far. That’s something we’re very involved with. The first step when working with an organization is getting at that. It has to start there.

I’d love to hear you say that. From my perspective, I fully agree with you. I look at mission, vision, and values as such a missed opportunity with most organizations. I’ve been in those organizations where cynically, I looked at them and said, “We don’t stand for any of these things.” We have this nice printout and plaque and whatever it is, and it’s on our badges and some places. It’s even worse when it’s on your badge, and you feel like people don’t model those behaviors because now you’re reminded of it on a daily basis, “What out of alignment this organization is.”

It’s so true. The opposite can be true as well if we truly live to them. In our experience, it’s challenging to live to them if we don’t have enough clarity in terms of what they mean, how we can practice them, and what they mean to us on a day-to-day basis. That’s where there tends to be a disconnect. In our experience, it’s also an enormous opportunity to begin to leverage, harness, and define your culture.

LFL S4 152 | Sustain Culture

Sustain Culture: Begin to leverage, harness, and define your culture.


That’s such a great exercise too for you to do because it involves people. Now it’s not just words. It’s asking people, “What do you think? How does this impact you?” You now get buy-in because people don’t feel it’s being sent down on high that they’re part of this process of, “What do these really look like?”

Patrick, you’re so right. It’s interesting because something happens when we’re given a voice, regardless of whether or not we end up in the same place. In other words, if an organization is trying to define that set of behaviors that they’re looking to drive, even if we would’ve ended up with that same list regardless of that participation or involvement, it brings it to a whole other level when it’s coming from us and when we’ve had a voice. That ownership is the key particularly when you come to that next step in the process of once you define it, how you integrate it, drive it, and so forth. Having that ownership in the first place can help along those lines.

Along those lines, when I think of the mission, vision, and values of this missed opportunity, I look and think, “What an easy way for us to have a roadmap for this organization.” I can look back and say, “Are my behaviors now in line with what we say we stand for, what our values are, and the decisions we’re making as an organization right now? We need to make this difficult decision. Is this in alignment with what we say we stand for as an organization?”

It’s interesting. In addition to being consultants on the topic, we’re practitioners as well. I can tell you firsthand that when you have that language and awareness, it’s almost inescapable in a good way. I’ll be in a meeting with 3 or 4 of my teammates. We’re trying to solve a customer-related issue. I’ll find myself saying in that meeting without having to even think about it, “If we’re going to do what’s best for our customer, we should probably be thinking about X, Y, Z.” I don’t think it’s by accident or a fluke thing that I’m thinking through that lens.

One of our fundamentals, which we call our key core behaviors, is always to do what’s best for the customer. When you have that level of clarity and are continually focusing on it, you’re always aware. As incidents arise, I don’t have to check my guidebook. It’s there. It becomes how we do things. That’s the power. You have to first start with being very clear in terms of what those things are before you can do much meaningfully about it.

LFL S4 152 | Sustain Culture

Sustain Culture: When you have that level of clarity, and you’re continually focusing on it, you’re always aware.


On that last point, I’m going to jump to the end of sustain. You being able to leverage those and being able to refer back to that, to me, is about sustain. This isn’t just a nice thing we’ve put on the wall. It’s like you go to the gym training to build these muscles.

In between those two with the definition and sustaining, probably one of the most important in terms of, “How do we drive it? How do we implement a process that reinforces it?” that, to me, at least for our recipe, the secret sauce. It’s to get you from defining and sustaining that necessary part. The thing that’s going to get us to the gym, even on those days that we don’t feel like it, is that second piece in terms of how we can drive it.

Anything the biggest mistakes that you see organizations making in the drive component of this?

It’s interesting because our approach with the drive component is we utilize a fairly simple, straightforward, yet incredibly powerful approach and concept. We help client organizations establish what we call rituals. Rituals have no religious connotation. It simply means we help our client organizations create practices, routines, and habits to help their leaders and team members stay focused on those important behaviors. It’s an interesting and effective approach, Patrick. What our client organizations will do is they’ll come up with a set of fundamental core behaviors. They might have anywhere from 15 to 30 of them, but each and every week, they focus on one of them per week organizationally-wide.

They do that through any combination or combination of rituals or practices. It might be something as simple as some weekly messaging, getting a message out to all team members, “Team, this week we’re focused on X, Y, Z.” Other clients will do some interesting things like start every meeting or certain meetings, like department meetings, staff meetings, or client meetings with a brief discussion about that week’s behavior and fundamental. Some will use different ways of using tech to reinforce it. They do that every week over and over. When they get to the end of their list, they start all over again, and they do it over and over.

This approach isn’t novel or new necessarily. You’re probably familiar with Ritz-Carlton in their daily basics approach, where every day, every property around the world, or every shift change, they discuss one guest-centric idea per day. Think about the power of that, whether you were in Singapore, London, or Boston, to know that those team members are focused on delivering whatever that one concept is organizationally wide. In fact, we were heavily influenced by that model when we developed ours. Once you’ve established that framework where you’re focusing, it allows you and your team members to stay focused, continually improve, and sharpen your skillset when it comes to those respective behaviors.

That’s an important point or framework. Going way back to your question, where we see client organizations falling short when it comes to driving it is there. They don’t have a framework or a process in place. They might talk about these important things, but they don’t have a systematic way of operationalizing them. They might do a training program now and then, it gets hot for 30 days and then goes cold. That, in our experience, tends to be the norm versus the exception. They haven’t developed or even thought about a systematic way of keeping those important things front and center.

I have found that it’s worse to do the 30-day rah-rahs than to do nothing at all. I always equate it back to antibiotic treatment. If you think about going for antibiotic treatment, even if you’re feeling better, take it all because if you don’t, it’s either coming back or worse, you’re going to become resistant. The same thing has happened in the world of training. For most people, they get a little bump, they feel good, and, “I don’t need to take the rest. We don’t need to continue to run this thing out. We got it from here.” What happens is they become resistant. The next thing that gets implemented, employees are like, “Here we go again. It’s not going to work.”

When you look at the best companies and the great sports teams with a long history of success, they’re all about that continued focus because they’ll have players come in and out. Not always necessarily the top-skill positions, but because their culture is so strong and those expectations are so clear, they benefit from that continued focus. You’re right. When we’re rolling out our process to our client organizations, I take that head-on initially. I’ll be in there with a room full of employees, and you can tell, “Here we go again.” Give this 30 days. We can wait this one out too, but I take it right out and say, “This is different. You’re already good. This is about creating a great team for a sustained period of time.”

LFL S4 152 | Sustain Culture

Sustain Culture: The culture of the best companies is so strong, and those expectations are so clear they benefit from that continued focus.


That’s a higher level of commitment and responsibility. To do that, we can’t leave it to our own devices because it’s going to be like the New Year’s resolutions we broke. The way we’re going to prevent that is we’ve got this framework and this process, so we never lose sight of what’s important. We continually get better. We continually talk about those things that are important until they become what we do and how we do it. We never stop also because as we add new team members, they need that clarity too. They need to know what to expect coming onto our team because our team’s different than probably any other they’ve been involved with before. There’s real power in that.

Team members get that as well. Once they see it, they get it. The next important thing, going back to your original question of potential spots for problem areas, is as long as we’re sustaining those practices and rituals, as leaders, we need to make sure we’re leading by example and protecting that line in the sand that we drew. For example, what does a leader do if one of their team members says, “Those behaviors are good for you. Not important to me,” or worse, what if they continue to operate in a way that’s completely counter to all those things we said is important? That’s where and when leadership has to be willing sometimes to make difficult decisions in terms of, “Is this person a fit for my team in terms of what I’m looking to build and grow?”

Those decisions are a bit easier if those team members are underperformers. What do we do if it’s your top sales guy or one of your team members who manage your largest account, and the account loves them, but they’re wreaking havoc on the rest of your team and are becoming toxic? That’s the other area. Organizations are vulnerable if they haven’t been clear in establishing what they’re building, they don’t have a process to reinforce it, and if their leaders don’t lead with it and draw that line when necessary.

Organizations are vulnerable if they haven't established what they're building clearly. They need a process to reinforce it. Click To Tweet

I’m glad you say that because it exposes unfairness within an organization. Even if employees don’t say anything, they see it and think, “Sue or Jim don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of us are, and nobody’s calling them out on it. It doesn’t fly.”

It happens all the time. It’s interesting, too, because we’ve worked with our client organizations and coached them through some of those things. It’s funny. When that happens and when the leadership ultimately makes the right decision, in those cases, as difficult as they sometimes are, the result is always the same. The team members around them breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “About time,” and the leaders, pretty much without exceptions, will always say, “I wish I did that six months ago or a year ago.”

We’re not one of those who approach things like, “You’ve got to get rid of 10% of your workforce now.” We’re all about coaching, skill improvement, and development. Every all boat rise. The reality of any organization is from time to time, you’re going to have a bad apple or two that we need to deal with if we’re serious about creating an extraordinary culture.

LFL S4 152 | Sustain Culture

Sustain Culture: The reality of any organization is you will have that bad apple or two that we need to deal with if we’re serious about creating an extraordinary culture.


Going back to defining culture, one of the definitions I love, and I don’t know who this is credited to, is there’s a saying that the true definition of your culture is the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate as a leader of that organization. In other words, if I came to visit your company, organization, or team and I knew nothing about you, and I spent some time with you behind the scenes without the leaders in the room so on and so forth, what I witnessed as the worst behavior is how I’m going to define you and your organization. That is insightful and accurate.

I would argue that you owe it. There’s a responsibility you have to that. Whatever that person looks like, they’re not in the right place. You are not serving them well by having them remain. It works in the organization’s best interest to have that person leave. It opens up the spot for somebody that should be there. It sets a precedent for other people to say, “This company is serious about this stuff.” It releases them in a way to go somewhere else that’s going to be a better fit for you.

Could you imagine if you worked in an environment where everything you believed and performed was counter to what was being stressed? It’s not healthy. Sometimes we get stuck. That can be hard. Have a leader to be able to identify and help. We owe it to that team member and get them on a path that’s right for them. That’s the thing. It’s not good or bad or right or wrong. It’s more of a fit. Sometimes it’s a matter of some of our team members might not fit. It doesn’t make them bad people. In fact, it’s likely to flourish in the right fit in an organization that’s the right fit for them.

That was my last organization. I was so unhappy. I look back on it now. The values I held were not the same values that I was experiencing around me. I didn’t have the courage to make the jump I wanted to make at that point until it was forced upon me. It was comfortable.

How long were you there, Patrick? I’m curious.

It’s a total of five years. That part wasn’t until the end that there was a misalignment between what I wanted and what I was receiving. I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” It was a gift.

The other element and one thing that certainly has grown in terms of an area of concern, need, and awareness is the whole wellness. I’m a big believer and supporter that it tends to look at things holistically. When we’re in a spot like that, it’s not healthy for our mental or physical well-being. All of these affect performance, but to me, more importantly, they affect our health at the same time. It can happen. Going back to establishing clarity as a leader of an organization, what it does, too, is it helps from the standpoint of those situations where we’ve got a team member that’s not a fit. It does shine more light on them more quickly than it might hadn’t we taken the time to provide the clarity and expectations of our team members. It forces the issue a little bit in a positive way to make better decisions.

One other topic that was very interesting, especially as it relates to culture in an environment where we’re finding more remote work, is how we keep that together. What does that look like?

One thing we’ve all learned is the answer is not necessarily another Zoom happy hour. The First 1 or 2 weren’t bad. In our experience, what we’ve found is we just need to double down. As this one is, it’s putting those consistent channels of communication in play. It’s providing opportunities to listen, particularly our remote team members, to be heard, those connection points, not just at the weekly check-in but more frequently and systematically. In our experience, that’s the most critical. An event here and there isn’t going to do it. It’s got to be more substantive and consistent. It’s by having some framework or schedule that isn’t necessarily forced but provides those real opportunities to connect to be heard, share at the same time, and establish the flow. To us, that’s been one of the biggest factors.

One thing I have observed is that we don’t know what this is going to look like. The organizations that are best suited for navigating what culture will look like in a remote versus brick and mortar are those that stay curious and open to exploring how we are going to do this successfully and maintain a positive identity in this new environment.

It’s a tricky one, Patrick. I can see both sides. Early on in COVID, I had clients who were adamant that they were going to keep their employees at work as long as they could. They’re going to bring them back as quickly as they can. I had others that were much more open. I can see. There are certain advantages and benefits of being with others. If you probably can recall the author’s name in The Culture Code, Dan Coyle, it’s the whole idea of bumping into each other. Like water coolers, we share things. Things happen. There’s a certain magic to that. We lose that. Therefore, we need to be mindful of how we, on a remote basis, replace those connection points and establish those so they won’t be the same.

We can get close as long as we’re mindful of it and flexible in terms of it. The whole other element of it is we all perform differently. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always worked remotely. This isn’t for everybody. Some need that structure and that separation. There’s that element too. To your point, the best strategy is to try to be as open-minded as you can, recognizing the realities of your business. Some businesses require hands-on. Trying to be flexible, open-minded, evaluating your team members and where and how they operate best, creating those clear expectations, and creating those systematic, regular communication touchpoints are a good start.

I would agree. Al, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time. If people want to reach out to you, what’s the best way to contact you and the company?

If they want to contact me personally, my email address is If they want to check out our company, our website is I know everyone says this, but if you’ve been on our site, we produce a lot of good content that we freely share on the topic. If there are any other culture geeks out there, we have lots of materials. We do a very comprehensive biweekly blog. We have lots of videos on the topic, white papers, and things. It’s a great resource. Even if it’s just a conversation, I’m always happy to help. I’m passionate about the topic and looking to help as much as I can.

There’s certainly a huge need for it. Thanks again for taking the time to share what you guys are doing. Best of luck.

It’s my pleasure. Same, Patrick. Thank you.


Important Links


About Al Curnow

LFL S4 152 | Sustain CultureAl has over 25 years of experience in the employee benefits industry. His diverse experience includes facilitating employee engagement, corporate training, product development, sales, and sales management. Al has spoken at numerous events on the topic of culture and has worked with more than 80 organizations helping them design and sustain incredible cultures. In both his professional and personal life, Al is a consummate coach. He enjoys nothing more than bringing out the best in his corporate clients as well as the youth basketball teams that he coaches. Al is a graduate of The University of Rhode Island. He’s also completed graduate work in Business Administration at The University of Missouri at Kansas City.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today:

Listening Expert Oscar Trimboli Shares How You Can Improve Your Listening – Episode 151

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your Listening


During your meetings, are you struggling to pay attention to the speaker? Or as a speaker, do you feel like people not listening to you? This happens because no one is listening to each other. All people do is communicate what they want to communicate. They are more focused on the content rather than the communication process. If everyone starts listening to each other, your meetings are going to go by a lot faster.

Join Patrick Veroneau as he talks to author, Deep Listening podcast host, and sought-after keynote speaker, Oscar Trimboli. Oscar gives some neat tricks on how you can improve your listening. He also shares how you, as a leader, can engage with your audience before, during, and after a meeting. Take a pause and start listening today!

Listen to the podcast here


Listening Expert Oscar Trimboli Shares How You Can Improve Your Listening

Thank you for joining me on another episode. On this episode, it’s all about listening. My guest is Oscar Trimboli, who is a world expert in regard to listening. Our conversation first started out in regards to a game that he sent to me called Deep Listening Impact Beyond Words but it went so much further than that in terms of going deep into how we listen and the impact of listening and how to improve our listening. Let’s get into it.

Oscar, I want to thank you for being on the show. I have so much appreciated going through the material you sent to me and I was joking before we started this. You sent me this box. When it arrived, I felt like I was opening something from Apple. It was so elegant the way that you put this together. We’ll talk about it.

One of the things that stood out to me when I first opened this was a line in there where you said, “We’re taught how to speak but not how to listen.” That resonated, especially in the environment that we’re in now. It’s not that listening hasn’t been important before but it’s even more important now. I’m looking forward to understanding how you came about, the model you have put together, the game that you created, and where you think it’s most needed in this environment.

We're taught how to speak, but we are not taught how to listen. Click To Tweet

You’d need to zoom into a budget-setting meeting in April 2008. I’m sitting in a boardroom between Sydney, Seattle, and Singapore, where there are eighteen people on this video conference setting a budget. The meeting’s designed to go for 90 minutes. At the twenty-minute mark, after a lot of debate, my vice president looks me straight in the eye and said, “Oscar, I need to see you immediately after this meeting.” I don’t know about you, Patrick but when your boss says that to you, I’m counting how many weeks of salary I’ve got left in my bank account.

I’m figuring out what are my big expenses coming up. Tracy had never said it with that much directness to me before. Tragically, for me, the meeting finished early. It finished at the 70-minute mark. It was a productive, positive meeting. She asked me to close the door. I thought, “Great. She’s going to fire me in private.” As I walked back towards the chair sitting next to Tracy, she said, “You have no idea what you did at the twenty-minute mark.”

I thought, “Great. I’m getting fired and I didn’t know what I did.” I sat down and she said, “If you could code the way you listen, you could change the world.” It was a profound thing for her to say. It was an insightful moment of listening on her behalf. Patrick, the only thing going through my head was, “I hadn’t been fired. I can put all that money back in my bank account.” The next thing that went through my head was that the division of the business I was running had gotten a 32% uplift in our revenue line year on year. All I was trying to process was how to make sense of that.

I wasn’t listening to a single thing Tracy was saying to me about listening and changing the world. The only thing I could get out of my mouth was, “Tracy, Do you mean code or code-code?” She said, “We’re a Microsoft, Oscar, code.” Which meant putting it into computer software. Make an application out of it. Make it reusable and give it scale. As I look forward to the people who’ve interacted with our programs, our books, our applying cards, our jigsaw puzzle games, and the deep listening quiz where people can figure out what’s their primary listening barrier.

We’ve built a community and they’ve named themselves the Deeper Listening Ambassadors. The Deeper Listening Ambassadors go out and try and explain to people in foreign lands the importance of listening and they created this quest. The quest is to create 100 million deeper listeners in the workplace of the world. That’s the start of this story.

Back to your point that you said, we’re taught how to speak but we are not taught how to listen. In fact, we are taught how to listen, just not formally. We’re taught through role modeling an example from our parents, our teachers, our aunties, our uncles, our grandparents, and anybody we interact with. These are all role modeling listening back to us. The ironic thing is that the first skill you learn at 32 weeks inside your mother’s womb before you’re born is that you can distinguish the sound of your mother’s voice from any other voice in the outside world.

By 36 weeks, you can distinguish music. You can distinguish Beethoven, from the Beatles, from Bon Jovi, from Justin Bieber. Listening is something we’re taught much earlier than we think, yet we have a series of examples around us. We aren’t taught how to listen formally. In fact, we know from research that only 2% of people in workplaces are ever taught how to listen.

By the first decade of somebody’s workplace career, at least 1/3 of people are taught how to speak, how to communicate effectively, and how to communicate with influence. By the second decade of their career, 74% of people are taught some approach to speak. That’s the most wonderful set of ingredients I’ve come across. Back in 2008, my boss said to me, “Code how you listen because you could change the world.”

Even the title of this, Deep Listening Impact Beyond Words, to me, there’s so much there to unpack. As you were putting that together, what’s the significance of that for you?

If people know these three numbers about listening, they understand what impact beyond words means. First number 125, next number 400, next number 900. 125 is my speaking speed. 900 is my thinking speed. I can think at 900 words per minute, yet I can communicate 125 words per minute. Straight away, once people understand that the first thing somebody says is not only 14% of what they think and possibly what they mean. If you become conscious, good listeners listen to what’s said and great listeners notice what’s not said.

They notice the unsaid. They notice a bit beyond the words. That’s the subtitle in the book. When you listen and notice what the other person in a group meeting who’s not speaking up and what themes we haven’t explored, your impact becomes amplified. We know that when people start to listen for what’s unsaid, meetings become shorter. Back to that original budget meeting, we cut the meeting twenty minutes short for something I said at the twenty-minute mark, apparently.

That’s why the impact beyond words because when you realize your role as the listener is not only to make sense of what they’re saying but it’s to help the speaker make sense of what they’re thinking. A speaker rarely has the opportunity to say the next 125 words. There’s a lot of poor dialogue that happens because we’re all communicating around 14% of what we’re thinking. Now, I don’t know about you, I don’t gamble a lot but people tell me if I go to Las Vegas, that’s probably about the same odds I would get at a roulette wheel, a blackjack table, or at a slot machine. That’s a loaded game, so ask another question.

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your Listening

Improve Your Listening: Your role as a listener is to not only make sense of what the speaker is saying but to help the speaker make sense of what they’re thinking.


One of the things we get people to do after our workshops is simply going into the next team meeting and noticing how many people ask a clarifying question before they answer the question that’s posed. Oftentimes, people go, “There’s nobody except the exceptional communicators who will clarify the question before they answer it.” The problem is that when I’m asking a question, I’m usually saying the first 125 words. A little linguistic hack for you, Patrick, eight words or less is a powerful and neutral question. If your question is longer than eight words, it’s probably either a statement or has implied bias in it.

I love that. That is something I have never heard before. If I don’t write that down, I will forget it even though we’re recorded.

If you want to hear what’s unsaid because a lot of people say to me, “Oscar, I’m struggling to hear what’s said. What’s this unsaid stuff?” these three very simple phrases will liberate you but more importantly, liberate the speaker, and start to get them communicating what they mean as they think through what they’re about to say.

If you use some of these phrases or variants of them and they’ll be very short, so you can write them down shortly, it won’t be a problem. If you use these phrases, you will see a visible change in the posture of the person you are speaking with or the group you’re interacting with. You’ll notice they’ll sigh. They’ll take a deep breath in or their shoulder position will change. They’ll typically go from whatever their current shoulder position to a more erect shoulder position.

Their head will tilt slightly differently on their head. If it’s to one side prior, it might come to an alignment or it might go to the other side. They’ll use these magic code words. Listen out to these ones because if you hear these code words, you’re getting closer to what they mean rather than their level-one thinking. They’ll say things like, “What I meant to say was what’s important to me. I’d like to focus on.”

They’ll change their body position and they’ll use these phrases. What they’re about to tell you is what they mean, not what they said the first time. That’s only possible if you ask these three simple questions. The first one, “Tell me more.” You’ll notice it’s only three words long. You could use a variant of that, which is, “Say more about that.” You could simply say, “Say more.”

The next one is, “And what else?” or you could say, “And?” Now please make them your own because I’m giving you five other words to play with on the outside of all of these. You could say, “I’m curious. Tell me more.” The last one is the simplest, the easiest, the most powerful, and the most potent. Done well, it’s liberating, and done poorly, it’s intimidating.

When you use this phrase across all cultures, across all centuries, across all countries, across all workplaces, this is the most potent, and here it is. Don’t worry. Nothing went wrong. It’s no coincidence. That’s silence and listen. Share identical letters. Pausing will create a magnet for the speaker to connect with their meaning. I’m curious about what’s going through your mind now.

Pausing will create a magnet for the speaker to connect with their meaning. Click To Tweet

The last one that you mentioned there, was the silence. What is that? Is it a level of we’re not comfortable with silence, so we feel like we have to say something?

We are not comfortable with silence. The pregnant pause, the awkward silence, the confronting silence. In the West, we have all these phrases for it. When you study ancient cultures, high context cultures, Korea, Japan, and China, when you study the inure culture of North America, the Eskimo, when you study the indigenous communities of Australia in the upper region, when you study the Maori culture of New Zealand, the Amazonian jungle cultures, the Polynesian cultures of the Pacific, silence is a sign of wisdom, respect, of authority and it’s also a signal to the group to gather.

When groups come together in these high-context cultures, the groups always come to presence in silence. As silence is led by the leader. This is a very western construct, the awkward silence. I need to fill the pause and it’s only consciousness once people know that silence is liberating, both for the speaker and the listener. A lot of people say to me, “Oscar, this listening stuff is hard. It’s draining. It takes too much effort.” I say, “Could I invite you to have another perspective on that?” When I listen, it’s light, energizing, and simple.

I often say to them, “Are you listening only to make sense for you or you’re listening to make sense for the speaker?” In that moment, they realize that silence will help the meeting shorten. More importantly, speak about what matters. When you’re okay with the silence and when people start to talk about what’s important to them, what’s at risk for them, and what’s consequential, there are fewer misunderstandings. You don’t come back to the weekly work-in-progress meeting or weekly update meeting on a project where people say, “I’ve delivered that output.” The other person said, “That’s not what I wanted you to do. I wanted you to do this.” “If only I’d listened.”

The reason they don’t listen is because we haven’t become comfortable with the tools of asking a clarifying question and knowing silence is completely okay. Too many people in Western workplaces think they’re paid for the speed of their answer and yet, when I work with executives, they would rather have a high-quality slow answer than a rapid top of head answer. The consequences, as we mentioned earlier, it’s beyond words.

When you listen to what’s not present in the dialogue, resourcing doesn’t become something that’s constrained. Projects probably finish a lot earlier than anticipated. The way the team works together, I won’t say is more harmonious but conflict is shared earlier rather than when it’s too late to do anything about it in a team or group setting.

It’s interesting when I hear you speak about that. I remember having a manager years ago that I would be in meetings and I wouldn’t say much. I would be one that would sit back and I wanted to soak it all in. I wasn’t going to say anything without trying to understand more about what’s going on. This manager did not like that. It was almost as though I didn’t care about the meeting, which wasn’t it at all. I needed more time to soak in what was going on, that western culture of you need to speak, you need to say something. I would certainly think that’s true.

Now, in one of the things that I will often talk about in listening and I’d like your thoughts on this. I talk about it in terms of listening with the mind. That’s the point where I slow down but I’m asking maybe myself questions. If you say something to me before I react to you, I’m maybe questioning myself, “Is that what Oscar means?” Maybe I need to say, “Oscar, I heard you say this. Is this what you mean?” I give you an opportunity to say, “Yes, that’s what I mean, Patrick, or no, that’s not,” as a way to slow things down.

For a lot of people, they don’t do the very first thing in any dialogue, whether that’s a group or one on one conversation. The very first thing you should say in any conversation is a version of this. What we don’t do enough of is communicate about how we want to communicate and all we do is communicate about what we want to communicate on. We’re focused on the content and not the process.

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your Listening

Improve Your Listening: People don’t communicate about how they want to communicate. All they do is communicate what they want to communicate. People are more focused on the content rather than the process.


This was taught to me by somebody from the neurodiverse community, not the neurotypical community, which probably most of your readers are. Jennifer is a mom whose son came home from school. His name is Christopher. He said, “Mommy, I’m so excited. I learned that 3 is half of 8.” Jennifer was a primary school teacher and she’s doing her chores and all kinds of things and said, “Christopher, honey, could you say that again?” He said, “Mommy, I learned that 3 is half of 8.”

She shook her head and she was frustrated like, “What are they teaching kids at school these days?” She went to the cupboard, grab eight M&Ms out of the cupboard and laid them out like soldiers on the kitchen table and pick Christopher up. She had the M&MS in rows of two. She said, “Christopher, honey, count how many M&Ms are on this line of M&M soldiers.” He said, “1234, mommy.” “How many on that side, Christopher?” “They’re all facing each other mom, four.” She said, “See, honey? 4 not 3 is half of 8.”

With that, Christopher left off the table like Superman and went and got a piece of paper from the corner cupboard and a sharpie. He drew the figure eight on this piece of paper. He showed it to his mom and he folded it vertically. Showed it to his mom as he tore it in half and said, “Mom, 3 is half of 6.” Most of us in workplaces are fixated on the content that 3 is half of 8 or 4 is half of 8 and we are not listening to what that person means.

By the way, if you fold the eight horizontally, 0 is half of 8 as well. All of us are obsessed with content in the workplace. “You are wrong. Four is the right answer. No, I’m thinking three. No, I’m thinking zero.” What Christopher taught his mom and he’s three years older and he is going to school. He is pretty advanced and he finished college much sooner. He finished college at the age of sixteen. He’s a world-champion bug catcher. I’m not talking about the insect variety. I’m talking computer software variety as well.

The most complex computer problems in the world, he’s solving. My point is that when I ask Christopher how he communicates with people, one of the first things he says at the beginning of every conversation is how effective communication for me is and he outlines it. This showed up to me once when I was working with an executive in a board situation and the board had brought me in because they said, “This board member is excellent but they’re not listening.”

They were simply putting their head down and looking at their shoes while the conversation was going on. That was a concentration method for them because they found that listening to how people were speaking, the actual dialogue was visually distracting and they couldn’t focus. I want to give everybody a question they can ask at the beginning of a conversation that will completely transform the situation. I want you to zoom back into your situation with your manager, which is where we started here. I want you to think if you had to ask this question. Would the dialogue have been different?

The question is a very simple question, “What would make this a great conversation for you?” You could ask, “What would make this a great conversation?” You could ask, “How would you like to discuss this?” Any one of those three questions will move everybody in the room if it’s a group or an individual to a different place. The place is creating a compass for our conversation. This is how you shorten the meetings, by the way, Patrick. I’ll come to shorten the meetings using this tip after you reflect on that moment with your manager who wanted the rapid-fire answer. If you would’ve said to them any variant of those three questions, what do you think they would’ve said back to you?

I would’ve liked to have thought he would be more open to giving me that space to be able to formulate my question.

We know that in 30% of cases when you ask that question, the other person will ask you the same question in reverse. What will make this a great conversation for you? Let’s pretend I’m your manager and I said to you, Patrick, “What will make it a great conversation for you?” We can’t talk about the content. What would make it a great conversation for you? You would’ve said?

For me, it would be the opportunity to not have to feel as though I’ve got to quickly respond to this but some opportunity to process what’s going on. That would make it good for me.

We’re talking about how we’re communicating, not what we’re communicating. We use this as a little compass setting. In a one-hour meeting, every fifteen minutes, you go, “We’re fifteen minutes in. Let’s do a quick checkpoint. Patrick, at the beginning of the conversation, you said you’d like some time to process your response. How are we going with that?” It gives both parties the opportunity to adjust and this is the hack that shortens meetings.

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your Listening

Improve Your Listening: In a one-hour meeting, every 15 minutes, just say “okay, we’re 15 minutes in, let’s do a quick checkpoint.” This is the hack that shortens meetings because it gives both parties time to adjust.


When people ask this every 15 minutes in a 1-hour meeting, your meetings will typically go between 40 and 45 minutes and some meetings finish at the 15-minute mark because people say, “I’ve got what I need. We don’t have to keep going.” In a half-hour meeting, you should be asking this question about every ten minutes.

If you can, try and avoid setting meetings up at the top of the hour or the bottom of the half hour. Offset them for 5 minutes or 10 minutes. Give people a chance to visit a restroom and collect their thoughts. Patrick’s smiling because he’s very confused about why did Oscar set this five-minutes past the hour. It’s a listening hack. Patrick, when you received a meeting request for five off the hour from me, for us to have this conversation, what went through your mind?

I thought, “I didn’t even know I could set five minutes after the hour for an appointment.” I don’t know how he did that then what’s even more interesting or comical about this is that when I sent you the link for the Zoom, I put it back to 4:00, not to 4:05.

What’s even more fascinating for me is when I have a meeting for the first time with somebody, I always arrive at the top of the hour because they are so programmed and coded to turn up at the top of the hour. All of a sudden, they go, “I didn’t know you could set the meeting at five off the hour. I didn’t know you could do that.” You can set your default up so you don’t have to think about that. Patrick, I’ll be happy to send you a screenshot. We’ve built this guide for people. It’s called the Ultimate Guide to Listening on a Video conference. These are the very specific listening hacks we give people.

By the way, if you set the meeting up at 5 minutes off the hour and 5 minutes off the top of the hour, you make a 1-hour meeting, 50 minutes and this is how people get 4 hours a week back in their schedule because people use that checkpoint. In a team meeting, you can do the identical thing and ask people what will make it a great meeting as we all come into the meeting. You can check in as the leader every fifteen minutes on that as well.

The group momentum builds up as they learn that you’re going to ask that more regularly because you then, as the leader, are removing yourself from the content and you’re leading the process of communication, which is ultimately what you do. As you code the team to learn this process, you virtually make yourself redundant and leading becomes lighter and easier for you as well. Now for those who can’t see, Patrick’s got a smile the size of a boomerang across his face now.

I thought I was a pretty good listener. In the cards, you have an exercise in there for yourself of doing this twice a day for five weeks on the different cards of the different levels. For those of you, I hope you will have an opportunity so you can find out how to get those. Oscar, I am starting this. I am going to start this. I sent you a quick questionnaire to ask, “What are some things that you want to talk about?” You said, “It’d be nice to focus on groups and not one on one.” As my head is spinning now, thinking of all of this stuff, I’m thinking of remote work and meetings done remotely and how valuable what you’re talking about now is to create a space where people feel productive.

When you think about the clients you work with now and the struggles they have with video specifically, do you sense it’s more about the context of connection, or is it something else that you feel those reading are struggling with now when it comes to video conference?

Honestly, I’m not in a lot of those group meetings that they have but I would say that what I hear and when I’m in them, some of it is connection but there’s probably a monotony to it for them. It’s like a redundancy. It’s like Groundhog Day going into a meeting again. A couple of things that have come out from some of the clients that I’ve had, especially in healthcare where they’ve talked about Zoom meetings as Zoomitist. “Please not another Zoom meeting.” They label participants on them as Zoombies. I do think part of this is I feel like we’re not present. We’re going through the motions.

This is why we wrote the guide. We got a lot of feedback from the deep-listening ambassadors that we mentioned earlier. It’s like, “Oscar, create something for this video conference context.” We’ve done a Zoom version of this guide specifically to give you some little tips. It’s not a technical guide in terms of software. Although, I was selling video conference software in 1996. That’s a story for another day. The technology itself hasn’t evolved. The availability of the technology has evolved. Here are a couple of quick tips if you are the host.

To move those meetings from Zoombies to something that’s powerful, exponential, and beyond words, the first thing to know is that listening happens before, during, and after the meeting. Most people think listening is only when you log into Zoom. That is only a small proportion of that. I’m going to give you a tip on how to listen before and how to listen after. Before I do that, back in 1996, I interviewed people from Stanford, Missouri University, and Utrecht University in the Netherlands. These numbers haven’t changed.

In a meeting, listening happens before, during, and after the meeting. Click To Tweet

A human can hold their attention in one context or modality for a maximum of eight minutes. You plug someone into staring at a screen for one hour nonstop, which is the currency of most workplaces. By the way, why one hour? Who made up that rule? Those people who run Google Mail and Microsoft Outlook have a lot to answer for because they have created a default, which everybody salutes. In fact, I didn’t even know I could change that. Now, dirty little secret. I used to be one of those little soldiers of Microsoft selling those systems, so I apologize.

You can only hold your attention for eight minutes continuously. By the way, if you want to know how that applies in TV, it’s commercial breaks. If you want to know how that applies to a Netflix series, it will be scene changes roundabout the eight minimum. This is applied in multiple domains. If you are the host, change the context of the meeting every 8 to 12 minutes. What does that mean? Ask people to turn off their video cameras. Put them in a listen-only mode. Ask them to write something in the chat, have a poll, play a video, or ask them to go to a breakout room. Stop the meeting, ask them to have a glass of water, stand up, and move around their desk.

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your Listening

Improve Your Listening: If you are the host of a meeting, change the context of the meeting every 8 to 12 minutes. Ask people to turn off their cameras, write something in the chat, have a poll, or play a video.


Most people don’t realize the impact of physical movement. Now, Patrick can see this. I stand up for any video conference I do. I do that for a couple of reasons. One, my diaphragm is fully expanded so I can project effectively, communicate, and enunciate. When you’re sitting down, your diaphragm is basically crushed. It’s difficult and takes effort to breathe. We don’t all have the opportunity to have this set up but as a host, you can give the participants the opportunity to move around every 8 to 15 minutes.

When I do this on the videos as a host, you can see the change in state and engagement when people come back in. As a host, you should be drinking water every half an hour. You are doing that for you and for them. You should be drinking a glass of water before you come into the video conference as well. With those simple things, modality changes. You’re going to get a different level of engagement. The other reason why you got a bunch of Zoombies is that you’ve never asked anybody at the beginning of the call, “What would make this a great conversation?”

If you’ve got too many people where you can’t ask that, you can simply get them to put in the chat. In the chat, pop in there, “What color do you feel like? What drink do you feel like? Explain it in one sentence.” I’ve had people put in the chat that they feel like soda pop. I’ve had them put in there that they feel like champagne and some feel like vodka. It doesn’t matter what they put in the chat. You are connecting them to the group in a completely different way where people can see visibly the state of that person.

A lot of people say to me, “Patrick, I don’t get to read body language. I don’t like video conferencing.” I say, “You’re doing it all differently. Here’s a couple of other ways you can do it.” Rather than the standard, “What town are you checking in from, and what’s the weather there now?” that’s a low-yield question. It’s an okay question if the groups never met but the context you’re talking about is where there are these repetitive meetings.

Find a way to connect with the energy at the end of the call before it finishes, not at the five minutes to the top of the hour mark but at about the 40-minute mark, and ask the same question. “What color are you feeling like? What movie star are you feeling like? What drink do you feel like?” Notice the change because if the group is talking more about champagne and soda pop than it’s talking about vodka and coffee.

Maybe it’s been a good meeting, I don’t know but these are questions to understand people’s emotional state because as the host, your job is not to get people to listen to the active speaker. Your job is to get the group to listen to itself. When the group listens to itself, it solves its own problems faster. Again, you as the leader become redundant. Now the guide is 105 pages. I could talk all day about this topic but I want to talk about the before and after the meeting. Before I do, what’s on your mind?

I want to know how to get the guide.

That’s easy. Go to and you’ll get the guide there.

The other thing, Oscar, I will say that as you were saying that I was trying to think of my own questions to maybe ask to get people. Is it, “Tell me the type of car you feel like you are now coming into this meeting?” There are different fun things that you could do. I love that every eight minutes. Again, think about some of these things. I’m big into research.

What’s the why? The research says that this isn’t something that I thought up but there’s evidence that suggests that this is why this works. That’s what I love about this because I’m thinking of that as I do my webinars or things. Am I doing that? I do polls but am I making sure that I’m breaking them out that way? I certainly will be more conscious of making sure that I’m doing that.

I have a simple example. A lot of people get frustrated with breakout rooms. Again, people don’t understand how to set up a breakout room to be effective. When you do, people come back in an energized space and they do liberate their thinking. Ask questions before the video conference. This can be structured. Zoom as you can get people to register. Most people don’t know. You can ask people when they register for a Zoom meeting. Not just a Zoom webinar but a Zoom meeting. You can ask questions there.

I will ask these three questions in the Zoom meetings I run. “What’s the biggest thing you struggle with when it comes to listening? What frustrates you when other people don’t listen to you? What’s one thing you want to improve in your listening at the end of this conference?” I make a slide of that and show it to the team, the group right at the beginning. I say, “This is what everybody said.” Do you know what every participant’s doing? They’re looking for where theirs is on the slide. I’ve got them.

The meeting is starting off from a very engaged position because this dude has been listening to me even before we turn up to the conversation. Now in a big group setting, I get people to go and visit Take the seven-minute quiz and find out what their primary listening barrier is. We show a pie chart and say, “This group is a problem-solving group or this group is an interrupting group. They value time more than they value the relationship. This group is all about the connection.”

I adjust my content accordingly because I’ve asked the three questions in advance or I’ve got the big quiz where I’m dealing with hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. Straight away, the group’s going, “I’m on that pie chart. He gets me,” and because they think I get them, I have them for at least eight minutes. That’s the maximum amount of time I’ve got for now. After, this is the big bid everybody misses.

After the meeting, it’s crucial in a workplace context that either you as the host or the meeting host were delegating on behalf of not just communicating the actions that were taken in the meeting but continuing to communicate the progress on the actions regularly. If the meeting is weekly, you should communicate at least three times between the end of the meeting and the commencement and the next meeting, the progress on those actions because that creates momentum. It gives people an opportunity to support people who may be slow in getting their results whereas other people have got the outcome quicker.

The difference between hearing and listening is action. If you don’t take action after the meeting, as a leader, the group will never believe you’ve listened to them. Please put as much effort into your preparation as you do into post-meeting. In too many meetings, everybody puts effort in 80% to 90% of the actual meeting. A third of your effort should be pre-meeting. A third of your effort should be during and a third after.

If you don't take action after the meeting as a leader, your group will never believe you've listened to them. Click To Tweet

When you do that, it’s sustainable because leadership is shared during the actual group meeting itself. A lot of reasons why people think they’ve got to put all this effort into listening during the meeting is because they’re the only ones doing the listening as the host. We need to delegate listening. Good Zoom hosts make sure people are listening to the active speaker. A great Zoom host makes sure everybody’s listening to each other and noticing who hasn’t spoken. We haven’t even touched on the five levels of listening, 20,000 people in the research group. We can come to that on another day. What’s going through your mind now, Patrick?

This is like multiple episodes but there’s so much here. Again, I thought I was pretty good at listening and understanding and it’s like peeling an onion back. There’s layer and layer here but all-important stuff. One thing that I was thinking about when you’re talking about the 30% at the end of the meeting, it’s almost like when surveys are done in a company and no feedback has ever been given as to what the result of the survey is.

People become cynical. “I’m not wasting my time doing another survey because nobody cares anyway or I invested a lot of time in the last one and nothing ever happened because of it.” As I’m hearing you, this is like those people that are in the meeting that are like, “We spent all this time yet there’s no feedback or bringing it back to where we are on that.” People become cynical about that too. It’s like, “Why bother? Let’s get through this.”

I get approached and engaged by a lot of software companies that do those surveys that you speak about. Before I take the engagement, my opening line will be, “Stop surveying your staff until you’ve implemented what they told you in the last survey.” I’m not talking about the headline. I’m talking about everything they say.

While you are busy doing balloons and cakes to try and get people to fill in the survey and share when you get 50%, or 60% uptake, the reason they’re not filling in the survey is that you didn’t listen the last time. You’ll have a bigger impact on survey uptake if you communicate what you implement. In the room, I ask people to all stand-up and then sit down if they haven’t communicated what they’ve implemented. Usually, in a room of say 500 people, there are 10 that are still standing when I ask them.

It’s a very small group but that group is highly correlated to the highest-performing workplace cultures as well. As leaders, listening happens before, during, and after the conversation, before, during, and after the team meeting, and before, during, and after, any systemic survey. It’s identical for your customers as well. A lot of people go, “How do I communicate back to my customer with a customer satisfaction survey?”

I was working with a client. They have a massive contact center. When you’re on hold, they play certain messages. We got them to think about communicating what they’ve implemented based on that, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you recommend us? Please leave a message with any other feedback.” What they said is, “Based on your feedback in the last surveys, we listen and ask you for your postcode or your ZIP code when you come in. We try and match you with somebody in that area who has local knowledge so they can help you with so we can help you with your claim faster.”

It was an insurance company. They tripled the number of people who left feedback because they did a simple test. They split the calls. People got the standard message. People got the new message. The other thing they say is, “We’re using your telephone number which you’ve allowed us to match to our database so we can pull up your records immediately. Our call center agent will look at your history before they pick up the phone and speak to you while you’re waiting on hold.”

Again, that’s simple. Communicating back to people increased the net promoter score response. A lot of people don’t realize they have all these ways to communicate back to suppliers and customers. Politicians can do that to the citizens and the voters. If you can do that and explain what you’re doing, the connection will be great.

Along those lines is that you need to follow through on it. If I take somebody’s number, when I do call there and if I have to go through everything again and they act like they didn’t look at any of my stuff. I’m like, “You promised me you were going to do this.” In organizations, it’s the same thing. There’s a misalignment. There’s no congruence. What you said and what you do is not the same thing but when they’re aligned, it’s so powerful which is what you’re talking about here. It’s like connecting the dots or closing the loop.

Oscar, I had two and a half pages of notes of things that I was like, “I’d like to touch on these,” but I haven’t had an opportunity to hit on one of them yet because this conversation has exceeded my expectations. I thought there was a lot here and you’ve even blown that out of the water. I want to thank you so much for this. I love to do at least a round two on this because we’ve gone way over eight minutes, no doubt.

I’ll be delighted to come back. You can ask your audience either through your newsletter or your socials, what questions they might like to ask me next time or what concept landed this time. Rather than getting in contact with me, I strongly recommend you visit Take the seven-minute survey, find out what your primary listening villain is, and what’s that barrier that gets in your way.

We’ve got a simple one-page prescription about what to do about it based on your listening profile. That will be the start of your journey. We’ve got lots of other assets that we touched on as well, so that would be the strong thing I’d recommend. The difference between hearing and listening is action. If you want to take action, take the Listening Quiz.

We said this in the beginning or at least I mentioned this to you. Not that listening hasn’t been important prior to now but I do believe that something has happened since the pandemic in terms of accelerating. As I’ve seen it on my end, listening has devolved for a lot of people into not about listening to understand somebody else but more about listening to undermine or not being present with people.

All the things that you’re talking about help us to get back to that being able to be productive and especially in a group setting, how do we do that? I want to thank you so much for this. I’m going to make a promise to you on this as well. I’m putting a stake in the ground now. I’m going to do that challenge for the next five weeks. I’d love to have a follow-up from that where I’ve done what you’ve prescribed in that yourself portion of this.

I’m sure you will. Thanks for listening, Patrick.

Thank you so much. Take care.


Important Links


About Oscar Trimboli

LFL S4 151 | Improve Your ListeningWho is Oscar?

Oscar Trimboli is an author, host of the Apple award-winning podcast Deep Listening and a sought-after keynote speaker. He is passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in homes, workplaces and cultures around the world.

Through his work with chairs, boards of directors and executive teams in local, regional and global organisations, Oscar has experienced firsthand the transformational impact leaders and organisations can have when they listen beyond the words.

He believes that leadership teams need to focus their attention and their listening on building organisations that have impact and create powerful legacies for the people they serve – today and, more importantly, for future generations.

Oscar is a marketing and technology industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience across general management, sales, marketing and operations for Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Polycom, Professional Advantage and Vodafone.

He consults to organisations including Air Canada, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, CBRE, Cisco, Commonwealth Bank, Energy Australia, Estia Health, Google, HSBC, IAG, Macquarie Bank, Microsoft, PayPal, Qantas, Reebok, SAP and TAL.

Oscar lives in Sydney with his wife Jennie, where he helps first-time runners and ocean swimmers conquer their fears and contributes to the cure for cancer as part of Can Too, a cancer research charity –


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the LEARNING FROM LEADERS Community today: