Let's move into Q&A mode. Any questions from the group?
So John, in working with companies in the past that you have, what barriers have you come up with those higher-level or middle management, and what barriers in terms of shifting that mindset, and how can we get around that?
Yeah, great question. And I'll tell you one of the sort of funny things is when I'm brought in it's usually by senior leaders for the next level or the next level and whenever I do an over leaner they're like for God's sake can you please do this for the senior execs? Right, because a lot of the senior execs are operator, knower mindset archetypes and the reality is I almost never get to do it with the most-senior folks, which is too bad but so then the next questions which tends to pile onto that is, okay, so, if you're not going to be able to share this with my leaders how can I help them shift from the knower mindset and archetype to the learner? And there are some really good ways and I'll teach you...
one that was used on me, actually. I was a total knower archetype my first year then I went to Seattle and I came back and one of my team members, a woman name Shelley, was really good at sort of reading the room, and after we discussed my action plan and what had happened and how things went off the rails with me and she's like "you know, if you like, I'll help you" and so what she would say, I would go into a meeting and inadvertently still shut people down and she would say this she wouldn't say "John, I have some feedback for you" because that, in my experience, that gets walls up. People get immediately guarded, they're less open to what you're about to say, it feels threatening, their cortisol levels go up, it's not, even though it's taught that way in terms of giving feedback, I have some feedback for you, I don't personally find it that useful, SBI and these others. What she would say is "Hey John, I have something that might help you" which is a far less threatening way to approach this. I'd be like, oh, okay I'm curious, you know. "Well, in the meeting when Sarah suggested XY and Z, what you said -fact, not opinion- what you said was this, and then what I also observed is that Sarah never spoke again in that meeting, and her body language kind of closed up." and I would be like oh, God did I inadvertently shut her down? "Maybe you might want to talk to her, I don't know for sure" So then, what I did, I started asking her to do that every time. Can you just watch me in this meeting? Can you just watch me while I'm on stage? Can you watch me while I'm in this encounter? And so by offering this "I have something that might help you" I actually enlisted her a lower-level employee to be my coach. So if you can get, now not every leader is going to be up to this. About, my rough estimates 80% will, 20% won't give a crap, but 80% actually care, they don't want to show up that way, and so if you give them that feedback and you do it a couple times, they might just enlist you, and then you can suddenly and slowly shift their behavior to start showing up as a learner because nobody, I mean very few people, want to be shutting people down or making them feel unimportant, or all that. Most people have really great intentions. This is behavior that's just learned over time that can be unlearned. Does that make sense?
Couple things, I can't remember who said the quote but it's "leaders don't create more followers they create leaders" and you know, that's kind of what you're saying. I was fascinated with what you said, you said that you came in as a consultant which, you're brought in if you're a consultant you're supposed to know things.
But if you shift over to leadership you have to change that, and what I find interesting is that everybody is insecure I don't care who they are and sometimes the most belligerent, most person that thinks they know everything are probably the most insecure and that's why they put up this big shield and they shut people down and it's just, like you speak of it in your book, is just reaching out and finding out your strengths and weaknesses and being honest and once people shut that down and say okay, I understand, that's when real creativity happens and production, I think.
No, you're absolutely right, and one of the early and quick ways to adjust to the knower problem, behavior set, it's ingrained in a lot of people is to admit it to the team. Hey, I got here, I used to be a consultant, my job was actually to tell people what to do, because that's what they paid me for. I'm trying to be a better listener but I'm probably going to offer my opinion more often than you really want it. Can you just bear with me and coach me if I do that and you feel like you're run over. You just ask for permission. The one thing I have seen over and over again is that people are super flexible and adaptable and are willing to work with you if you are vulnerable enough to admit if you have a challenge or something, they'll totally roll with it. If you don't tell them they're totally not tolerant, right? If you're knowing all over them if you're just blurting out, you're direct and honest and rude, they're not going to be cool with that unless you tell them in advanced. If you let them know, hey I tend to say what I think, people are really flexible, really tolerant. Because everybody has weaknesses and the fact that you've admitted your just makes you more human and it can actually, I mean, the coworker that I shared another module with is direct, honest, and blunt, and rude and just shared that with everybody it was actually humorous we kind of look forward to it, right? Because we would be like, Oh, I see him raising his hand I don't know what's going to come out of his mouth but it's going to be interesting. And it was no longer threatening because he had set our expectations, and that's so powerful. Yes, Mark.
It's like what you said earlier, the guy who started out by saying, hey I'm an asshole, and it gives people permission to, it's really good what you said.
Yeah, design around, right, yeah. One of the other, so inverses of this is, and this could be a whole other lecture the introverts in a team are often railroaded and missed and one of the power of the introvert, if you've ever seen the TED talk is they are the deep thinkers. They actually they wait, they process, they come up, they filter and by the end of the meeting, often or not, they'll have an insight or idea that may be the single best distillation of everything that has taken place and then they file out because nobody had ever called on them. And it's such a huge miss, and managing the tyranny of the experts is an important role of a leader, particularly an innovation leader because the introverts often have the best ideas they just don't ante them up unless asked. And, you know, the extroverts they just, they'll run the roost and you've got half the table dominating the conversation and the people that are actually thinking inside aren't talking, so, another dangerous side effect.
We've got a question from online from Juan who says "how do you establish credibility with a learner mode in a room full of knowers, especially when you are the new guy?"
Yeah, well, when you're the new guy you almost necessarily have to fall into the learner archetype because you just don't know, and so part of the new guy role actually is tooccasionally assert your knowledge, and by the way, one of things being a learner-leader isn't is it's not an abdication of your leadership responsibilities whatsoever. This doesn't mean you ask the team every single time because if you do that they're going to be like "this guy doesn't know anything, why's he asking me? Isn't that his job?" You don't want that. This is really a model for a certain type of opportunity where there's an unknown. Where there's time, where there's an unknown and time. If you don't have time, and you have an unknown and you're the expert, it's perfectly acceptable and probably the right thing to say is "I had to make a decision because we only have this much time, here's what we're going to do unless somebody has a significant issue." That's, leaders have to make decisions, they have to use their expertise to provide guidance but if you do that every single time, as I did for a year, that doesn't work out so well. So, finding those opportunities where, here's a complex problem that I don't actually know the answer to I have some thoughts about it, I might even know the answer but, "hey team, what do you think what should we do?" gives them the idea that the where-with-all to ask questions, to provide input, but it doesn't abdicate you from your leadership role, you still have to make decisions and use your expertise and gather knowledge from your team in order to represent them in the boardroom and the other places and the best way to do that is frankly from getting these outside and other perspectives. That makes you so much smarter and better. The best, smartest leaders I've had were learner-leaders and I mean, my last boss, gosh I remember I came into this consulting firm and I had all these ideas and so many of them were terrible, I just didn't know it and I sat down with him my first couple of days and I was spouting off all this stuff and I know that in his head he was thinking "this guy's an idiot, what is he thinking? That's nonsense, that could never work." but what he said instead is, "I'm curious have you talked to any other team members about this idea?" and I was like, well no, not yet. "you know, you might want to run that past Bill, Steve, Bob, Sarah, Kathy." and, so I go and I'm like, I talk to somebody like oh my God that's the dumbest idea ever and, he didn't shut me down, and my boss is open to my ideas and I'm going to bring him more ideas because I like this guy, because he didn't shut me down even when I was being not particularly thoughtful. So That openness to embracing people's ideas and being curious about them and not shutting them down is a core I think to an innovative culture and I've seen it work again and again.
That probably relates quite nicely as well to another question we'd have which is if you're a new manager how do you re-engage employees that were previously shut down? I think some the advice you just gave there would be appropriate.
And that's a real thing, I think, that happens, right? So people get shut down, a new manager comes in, they're just going to assume you're just like the one, so they're going to stay closed and guarded until they've got some kind of signal that you're not the same, and, but new managers really have a window there to say "hey, I'm new. I don't know. I don't know your standard protocol, I don't know your operating procedures, I don't know the right decisions for a lot of these things. I came from an adjacent industry I'm going to have ideas but I need you to teach me". If you share that kind of perspective, you could hopefully open up the blossoms of creativity for that team that has been closed for a long time. You have that window but if you show up as a knower for a few months, you're probably done. Yes, Mark.
In my company, because I have had an opportunity to be through it all as a CO, I've dealt with legal issues, I've dealt with production issues, and I've dealt with all the issues with developing product, all those things need to be taken into consideration, legal implications, production and marketing, and so on and it's processing a lot of information at once. You've got people that are experts in one area.
So marking is going to be adamant about we gotta do this and it doesn't necessarily work well with either legal or production, this is where I'm struggling with this is, I'm sitting here saying obviously this is brilliant, you're, God, in my experience you're absolutely so right, John, and but how do you deal with situations where someone is seeing their own perspective? I've also made the distinction sort of intuitives versus people that phenomenal logic, for me a lot of times, intuitively, and I think it comes from the fact of having gone through so much, being able to process a lot of information, you sort of intuitively think you've got a good solution for something and I run up against people with great logic
I think the design thinking step of empathy is probably the most important in this kind of scenario. If you've got experts in different functional fields, that's their job to know what is legal, what is compliance, what's regulatory, what's IT capable, and if you can't put yourself in their shoes and repeat sort of from their perspective, what the obstacles might look like, they're not going to be very open, but you can say, potentially bad example, but "hey, IT, when we're thinking about doing this non-contract thing, imagine the first thing that comes to mind is how are we going to drive any process in this landscape that are all driven by this one pivotal contractual node, how are we going to do that? And I don't know so we need your help. Because if we can do this, we think we can shift the customer experience, sales, revenue, top line, bottom line, but we don't know how. And I imagine it looks impossible so, can you help us?" If you come in and say "hey we need you to create a system that doesn't use contracts. That's probably not going to lead to great, that's going to lead to all kinds of barriers and obstacles, but coming at it and starting from their shoes of "wow, this is going to be really hard this seems probably impossible" That's my experience, has been the best ways to switch roles, be in the shoes, state the implied or obvious obstacles and then ask that system, function, team, leader to help solve.
Absolutely, in fact when you were giving that example one of the things that came to my mind is sometimes different areas are led by let's say legal, who thinks, but one way perhaps with the phone is that it's an incentive to stay with you outside of being handcuffed by legal is, once I've got this really cool phone I don't want to leave this company, because, so now you're like, going back to the IT and saying how do we get them so hooked with what we're doing they don't want to go anywhere else?
Yeah, actually, you know something else that's super powerful, when you have people that are in functions that are experts and they're raising obstacles because that's their job and they're good at it, when you can anchor back to a customer in need, nobody can argue with a customer in need. They can't. The customer wants this thing. They don't like this thing. That's just fact, and the whole business ultimately is run by the voice of the customer and should be, so when you put in that perspective the obstacle making is really we gotta figure it out it's not we can't or we won't. Because the customer is the only one that actually gets to lead, if that makes sense.
It does, totally.
I've got a copy of your book here, "Design for Strengths" it's one of the two books you have written, but I just wanted to show people at home, online, where they could find out more information about you if they'd like to hear or see more.
So if you want more information on this topic you can text the word 'innovation' to this number and you'll get signed up for our, approximately monthly, email and get some additional information downloads. The book "Designed for Strengths" just came out a few weeks ago and it's really all about how to use design thinking, this really meshes two fairly common conversations, design thinking, which is becoming all the rage, I think, it's becoming a pretty hot topic and strengths finding, so it's all great that you want to design your life for your strengths, but how do you do that? What are they? How do you determine what they are? What they are not. What are your weaknesses? So meshing those two is using creative problem solving to design a life for your strengths, so that's core of the book but it also includes a number of stories from sports, from my athletic career as a speed skater because, you know, sports are easy, business is hard, life is hard, sports are easy.