“Everything else you can hire or build, but mindset you have to get right.” – Jim Brault
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A panel discussion on leadership in a Volatile, Uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. Listen to get insights on leadership from several experts, including Bob Schoultz, Christine Hassler, Brent Gleeson, and Jim Brault.
- Hear ideas on how to manage a multi-generational workforce
- Understand how and when money can fail or succeed as a motivator
- Learn about the need for real presence and authenticity in a leader
Listen to this episode for more insights on leadership in an increasingly complicated world from this group of experts.
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Mark: The topic is leadership in a VUCA world. You learned what VUCA was from Brent’s presentation. It’s a world we all live in. It’s getting more interesting.
So Bob’s presentation was such a mind-bender. Thinking about what is it going to be like 30 years and to be leading organizations, and creating organizations. And to try and be leading our families and ourselves in what some are calling a post-human world. What’s that going to be like? Going to be interesting.
So let’s see what comes of this. Thanks for joining me guys.
So, shuffle the cards a little bit. Let me kick this off with – like I said – a couple of the questions here. Well the first one is pretty much loaded. What are the tools that a leader will need to be able to operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment? What are the most valuable tools from your perspective?
We’ll start with whoever’s holding the mic. And then just toss it up in the air and see who catches it.
Brent: Well, I think – obviously we’re talking a lot about training. This whole event is about training. And that’s where I’ve seen most organizations that thrive obviously we invest significantly in our leaders in the military and the special operations community.
But most operations – I’ve actually written about this and done a lot of research on it too – organizations that are thriving and will continue to thrive for the next ten to twenty years are really reshifting a lot of their budget, time and resources to leadership development, management training – those are 2 different disciplines obviously – and really investing in real-time leadership development training for their emerging leaders. Better succession planning, better opportunities…
Cause all these things too, I think we would all agree that they also increase employee engagement. They increase upward mobility in an organization. It increases employee retention when your team-members know that you’re investing in them. Especially not just from a subject matter expertise standpoint, but also from a leadership development standpoint.
Obviously that means that there’s opportunity for upward mobility. There’s not always opportunity for upward mobility, but there’s that time and monetary resource investment that the organizations that are really thriving are investing heavily in that. And that creates a more agile environment.
Because obviously we can’t have accountable, autonomous leadership decision making mechanisms if we don’t give them the training, resources and tools to execute.
Mark: Thank you Brent. Same question. We’ll have another perspective.
Bob: Organizational agility and individual agility – things are changing really quickly. And in Chris Fussell’s book “One Mission,” that you referred to, he talks about how you need both. You need both people who can work in a structure, but you also need the agility to adjust. And “Team of Teams,” and “One Mission” both talk to that specifically. And you can’t just have nothing but agility.
You have to have regulatory requirements. You have to have some stability in the organization. And some people are better at managing structures than others. But if you don’t have that flexibility and that agility in your organization, you need a leader who also has that agility in his or her own individual leadership style. You’re going to get left behind by the much more rapidly adaptable organizations in a competitive world.
Mark: Thanks, Bob.
Christine: I feel as the world is becoming faster paced, and more complicated – the need to slow down and become more simple is going to become even more important. So to me leadership 10, 20, 30 years from now is going to really a lot on our ability to not be reactive. To actually stop, go within, work on our own consciousness – so that we can respond to things rather than react to things.
I think that that’s going to be one of our biggest challenges as humans. As things get faster… As things get more advanced… That we don’t get even more stressed out. That we don’t get as frazzled and as quick-paced as the world is becoming. That we still take that time to remember that we aren’t robots. We are human beings.
And again, so much of what I was talking about yesterday was doing our own inner work, and that is how we become less reactive. The more clear we are inside, the more we’re able to be responsive and attuned to what truly is in the highest good. Versus reactive.
Mark: Thank you Christine.
Jim: Great answers. So, it’s interesting because I think what happens in an organization and the same skills that are needed there are needed here. So I worked at Kodak for a while, and world-leader, right? They would take about 7 years to launch a new product – a new film. About 7 years.
How long do you think it takes a new iteration of a product in the digital age, now?
Mark: 3 months.
Jim: Not 7 years. 7 minutes, probably, right?
So it used to be control. That was it. You could see it in organizations and hierarchy. Manager knows everything, tells – employees do.
Now it’s not control, it’s connect. No one person’s going to know it. You need to feel, sense – you get input from your customers, from your clients, from employees, from people on the shop floor. That’s what you need. Connection.
So think about all that tools that would come in there. There are some digital – ways to get information – real-time information. But nothing will surpass the human connection to be able to relate to people. To have open and safe environments, so they will tell you things.
Cause if they’re afraid of you, they will not tell you anything, right? Or they’ll tell you what you want to hear.
So for leaders to be authentic and open and vulnerable – that’s where it starts. And if you have that, then all the other tools and the digital things and how you get more information will be great.
But if you don’t – no, it won’t work.
Mark: Awesome. Awesome answers. So that dovetails into one of the next questions – and Jim, you kind of teed it up – how as leaders do we deepen trust in a VUCA environment? As organizational leaders and team leaders.
Jim: I’ll start and we’ll go back. And I think, Mark, you embody this really well. And you said this even with Bob – be authentic, be vulnerable. Sometimes you don’t know.
That encourages people to want to help.
If you act like “I know everything,” then… “Screw you. Fine. Good luck.” Seriously, that’s what people say.
But when you say “you know what? I’m not sure. Let’s do this together.” And you pull and include people and you ask and really care about their input, then you get that power of the team.
Christine: A big part of creating trust for me is checking my ego at the door. And being more concerned about connection than about how people perceive me.
And so I think that that’s a really important part of leadership. It’s hard – as a leader – not to care about how we’re perceived. And it can sometimes be hard as a leader not to think we’re above, because we’re in that leadership position.
But if we can really see ourselves as we’re all in the same position and we care more about what the vision is, and about what the goal is than we do about what people think of us.
So not caring about how we look. Caring more about our integrity, being our word, and really creating a safe space for people. And it’s incumbent upon leaders to start that. And I think as we check our ego at the door and we’re less concerned about how we’re perceived, then we’re more likely to share authentically. And to really live in integrity.
Bob: That was the first round of applause for a response so well done.
My first response to that is that the first step towards creating trust that I worry about “am I trustworthy?” Best way for me to engender trust is to be as trustworthy as I can be. Do what I say I’m going to do. Be as honest and authentic as I can be. And also transparent.
And I’ll also go back to what Jim said about vulnerability – great book called “The Culture Code” by Dan Coyle. Some of you may have heard of it.
He talks about vulnerability as one of the key aspects of success for leaders in today’s world. And a lot of people say, “Well, once I trust you, I will become vulnerable.” He turns that around and says, “You want to create trust, first you show vulnerability. And that opens a door to other people to trust you and then for them to show vulnerability.”
So being honest, transparent and as trustworthy as possible.
That said, there’s a lot of bad shit going on out there too. So we also need to be careful who we trust. And so it’s not just all unicorns and rainbows. We are going to be trustworthy and we’re going to be vulnerable, but we also have to protect ourselves. So there’s a little bit of the Machiavellian piece of that that is important to hold on to as we open ourselves up.
Brent: Trust but verify.
So what if I don’t get applause after my response? I’m vulnerable though, it’s okay. So I’ll just suffer in silence.
No it’s been said – it’s really in my opinion, about focusing on developing your own emotional intelligence, your self-awareness, being vulnerable. Learning to be more empathetic.
Today’s workforce really connects well with that. The command and control environment does not work well in a VUCA world.
And obviously the workplace is changing, the workforce is changing. And they respond to things differently.
But it’s also about – cause the question is about building trust – and I talked earlier about… And we’ve obviously said… It’s consistency of word and action. Inconsistency – even from the most well-intentioned leaders – is one of the easiest ways to damage trust without even realizing you’re damaging it. I’ve done it in my own companies.
Especially in a VUCA environment, there’s so many things going on. Everything’s changing at the speed of war.
So, for example, if you go out and survey your whole team. You give them a voice. You get feedback. And you’re so busy… What happens? You don’t do anything with the feedback. That’s worse than not asking them for their opinion in the first place. You better just not do anything at all, unless you’re going to take action on it.
Not all feedback you get, but having a culture where you encourage upward leadership, upward management. You’re vulnerable as a leader, you’re empathetic… That really does build trust – especially if it’s authentic.
But again, you obviously have to be careful, but I think all these answers kind of combine to give you an idea of what a trusting environment is. In an organization. Same thing applies to family or a team, so…
Mark: They just didn’t want you to feel bad. Okay, you don’t have to clap after every one.
All right, so Brent you talked about engagement as one of your key points for deepening organizational trust and alignment. So one of the questions is can you talk about strategies to have small role players?
And I’m thinking about Naval Special Warfare, when we became seals we were the Rock stars. Then we went to do our job, we quickly realized that we didn’t get anything done without everybody else. And they were the rock stars too.
And so the SEAL teams actually have done a fairly good job of engaging all the players – including the people who are sweeping the floor and whatnot.
So back to the question, cause it is relevant… How do we get all the role players including the small ones in an organization to feel important and engaged? Especially if promotion isn’t likely?
Brent: No it’s a good question, because obviously going to the end of the question – if there’s not necessarily opportunity for upward mobility in an organization or for promotion – things like that. There’s tons of other different ways to really engage everyone in the organization. Not just your subject-matter experts, or your senior level folks… But obviously most important also is everyone else. All the contributors that drive that mission forward.
Giving meaningful work, really what I call purposeful storytelling – so insuring that everyone in the organization understands the mission narrative. They connect to the vision. They have that emotional connection like we talked about before… That’s critically important for keeping people engaged so they understand even their most mundane tasks have a contribution to mission success.
I did some work with Raytheon and one of the things we were doing is we actually put together an engagement taskforce to go out… But we first had to engage the engagement taskforce to go out and engage the other people. Because obviously people in, for example, Research and Development, they have an intimate connection to understanding how their job, how their job – how their work benefits the war, fight, or on the battlefield.
Whereas people maybe in finance or accounting – maybe not so connected to the war, fight or on the battlefield. And the mission of the organization.
So giving meaningful work. Giving decision making and leadership autonomy. If they’re not in a position to really make decisions, then there’s other opportunities like creating cross-functional teams for smaller projects. And giving some of your smaller role players decision making autonomy in those smaller project teams.
I think cross-functional teams are great because it pulls people from different departments, different divisions of an organization… And then you can give them really innovative, creative things to do. That also increases engagement, increases retention.
So there’s other ways that you don’t have to throw money at, doesn’t require a budget. Doesn’t require people thinking they’re going to get a promotion. But it’s really about getting creative with it, and giving people opportunity to innovate within certain confines.
Hold the applause until the end please, hunh? I don’t want to make anyone feel bad up here.
Bob: When my father was a commanding officer on an aircraft carrier, he would regularly plan a visit to a certain section of the ship. And aircraft carrier’s a big place. It’s a city afloat. 4000+, 5000 people.
And before he would go he would find out information about people in that division who were going to be there when he went. Did that surreptitiously. So that he’d go down into the bowels of the ship – these boiler techs working, lots of noise around them. And he would talk to these… This was all guys at the time.
But he already knew about them. Ask them about their kids. Ask them about their family. Talk to them about their hobbies. Just spend some time with them.
And he loved doing that, because he found out so much. And it was so well-appreciated. And it made such a difference.
The ship that he was on, they just loved him. Everybody loved him there, because he really did care and he loved doing that.
Having a leader take the time to do that – I did that a bit. Not as much as I should have, but anybody here is a leader, you can find out in your leadership team meetings, who are the people who are going unrecognized in your organization? Who are doing great work and just people don’t know about it? And for whom it would really be special if you, the boss, went down and just hung out with them a little bit. And asked them something about themselves. And thanked them for what they were doing.
That’s one of the ways that kind of get a whole organization engaged.
Mark: Thank you.
Christine: I love this question. First, I just want to echo what’s been said. Connecting to the bigger mission.
I was working with a company once and they were having a retention problem with analysts, and the way we dealt with it is we just had the C-suite people come down at least once a quarter and actually show how the work that the analysts were doing every single day was connecting to the profit of the company.
And when they started to see that connection, they started to feel like they matter. Because that’s something we as humans all… We need that. We want to feel like we matter. And we want to be acknowledged.
And acknowledgement doesn’t take money, and it actually doesn’t take a lot of time. And I think that’s another thing that builds trust, is when you truly acknowledge people… Not just for the job they did, but who they are and how they’re showing up. That creates that immediate connection.
And I think another piece that’s so important is are you creating a culture of belonging? Or is it more a culture of segregation and separation based on your rank or your role?
Because that’s another thing we all want. We all want belonging. And we want to feel like we belong to the tribe. And if there’s too much feeling of separation or segregation or “I’m here and they’re there.” then people don’t have that feeling of belonging.
So what can you do in your team? What can you do as a leader? What can you do in your organization, to cultivate that feeling of belonging? Where everybody comes together, and everybody has a voice. And we’re not separated by our role or our rank.
Or is it more a culture of segregation and separation based on your rank or your role? Cause that’s another thing we all want. We all want belonging and we want to feel like we belong to the tribe. And if there’s too much feeling of separation or segregation or I’m here and they’re there, then people don’t have that feeling of belonging. So what can you do in your team? What can you do as a leader? What can you do in your organization to cultivate that feeling of belonging? Where everybody comes together and everybody has a voice and we’re not separated by our roller rink?
Jim: That’s such a rich question. A couple things come to mind. First leaders, you have to care.
And not say… Jobs will be paid differently, right? That’s just the market. Doesn’t mean one is more valuable than the other. Or a person is more valuable than the other. So you have to care about everybody and their… They’re doing a job, but that’s not a judgment about them as a person, or their value as a person. It’s the value the market places on that role. That’s it. So one, leaders, you have to really value people. Second, you really need to understand what motivates people. Like a lot of people talk about a vision, and they’re like, “yeah, but guess what? R and D people and engineer, they want to know what’s the product roadmap. Because it’s cool and we like that.” You can talk about any vision. If an engineer or R and D person doesn’t know what the product roadmap is, they’re not that interested. Because it’s not what’s really interesting to them. Other people, they love to be part of a team.
Most managers, when you ask “what motivates people the most,” what do they say? Money. When you ask employees “what motivates you, the most?” Money is like sixth. It’s not nothing, but it’s not number one. It’s not number one.
And so a lot of leaders feel compelled like, “Oh, if I don’t give this person money, they’ll leave.” And now, to what Brent said, there are cultures and generations that if they don’t get a raise and if they don’t get a fancy title, they will leave. A lot of geographies… parts of Asia or parts of Latin America that you got to give him that.
But understand like we talk about the three P’s. Understand what your employees three p’s are. Understand what their why is. Ask them “when you have a great day at work, what made it great? When you have a lousy day, what made it lousy?”
It’s not that hard, but you have to take a little time, ask some questions, then you will know, right? A lot of people here have kids, you know, you don’t treat them the same way, right? You can buy one gift and it means different things to each of your own children. You know how to motivate them because you know them. So it takes some time, but not that much. Ask them some questions and you’ll know. Then if they’re personally engaged, that’s first. Then you know everything else that everyone said about the vision and all that. But the three p’s in one thing works brilliantly in a company.
Mark: And what a nice segue to the next question, which is in a VUCA world, given generational issues that have been exacerbated by technology, and Brent talked about the Millennial, you know, issues. How do we attract and retain the type of talent that we really need, that that is going to be, you know, engaged and trustworthy and developing into whole people. How do we attract, recruit and retain these people?
Jim: Brent earlier talked about culture. I like Dave Ulrich’s model. He talks about culture, which is a big word and it means a lot of stuff and one, it’s really hard to design. You know, people talk about engineering culture. That’s hard. But… So yeah, processes and structure and you can have talent and leadership. But the thing that’s really, really important that most people leave on the table is mindset.
Jim: A lot of people have skills, but you can have someone that has a skill set that doesn’t have the right mindset. They’re not going to help. So how would you understand what the mindset is? First you’ve got to get that. What are your beliefs? What’s your vision? What’s your mission? Then you align your processes to that. How do you hire for that? How do you develop, how do you reward? How do you tell stories about that? But you know, Mark, as you said take a long time to hire and quick to fire. Right? But you’ve got to understand, and Brent you said it earlier, I think the mindset is the most powerful component of culture. Everything else you can hire or build, but mindset you have to get right.
Christine: I love that. I always say you can, you can train skill, but you can’t train an attitude that much. So hire for attitude, train for skill. , you know, the Millennial conversation is an interesting one. I’ve been speaking and studying Millennials for the past decade and now we have gen z or the IGen generation – we’re kind of debating on what we’re going to call it – coming into the marketplace. And they actually, it’s still young. They’re like the oldest is 20, 22 but that generation is already starting to mimic more of Gen X than Millennials. So that means they, they actually care more about money than Millennials did at their age. Millennials were really into, “I need the title.” You know, everybody made the joke about Millennials getting a trophy for 19th place at field day and wearing flip flops to work. Obviously the joke is still funny.
That’s good that after 15 years, it’s still funny. , but Gen z that they don’t seem to have that sense of entitlement. Because they saw their parents struggle more financially than Millennials. Millennials were, the children of baby boomers. They had the wealthiest parents of any generation so far. And they had very helicopter – I call it cockpit parenting parents cause they didn’t hover, they actually flew the plane for their children so often. , and so that, that created a lot of that.
And so in the workplace, managers have had to do a little more handholding with Millennials. And, and that’s, that’s kind of old news. Millennials now like are, you know, 37, 38 years old. So they’re, they’re in leadership positions, they’re in management position. I’m sure there’s tons of Millennials in this room. So I think in terms of retaining that kind of talent, one, what I see a lot of leaders and managers miss is they don’t involve the generation they want to attract in the hiring process.
So if you have a rock star Millennial employee in your organization, I don’t care if it’s your assistant, I don’t care what their title is, have them involved in the recruitment and hiring and even interviewing process. Because if they’re a rockstar right in your company, one, they’re going to know other rockstar people. And two, there’s going to be able to think of questions in the interview process that you may not. So I think that’s an important thing to do. And then again, it, it just comes back to the things we’ve been talking about, transparency, having a mission, having a place where when I come to work there, I feel like I’m contributing to something that matters. Gen Z is still going to want that even though Millennials were more likely to take a job because it was cool and because they felt like they were doing something that mattered. And they would sacrifice things like salary and health insurance and that kind of stuff, because they could still live in mom and dad’s house. Gen Z not so much. They want the salary and the benefits and all those things. And they demand integrity. They demand transparency. They still want to work for organizations that are doing good in the world.
Bob: Wow. I’ve got three Millennial kids. , and I mentioned one of them is struggling with depression and he’s hard-core, because he’s hung in there. , and then the other two are harder than I am. So some of them are doing okay, I guess.
But I think the question is kind of, there’s two parts, but one is getting them on, getting them into your organization, getting the right people in. And that’s the hiring process. And what I emphasize when I’m talking to corporate groups that I think where they normally miss the boat is, is having an onboarding process, which is largely an acculturation process and a getting to know each other. Kind of like dating before you get married or living together, you date with her in the hiring and then you live together and then you hopefully get married.
And, most companies have very poor onboarding processes. And one organization that I moved into when I got out of the Navy they had, they kind of put a check in the box, but it really wasn’t very… In the SEALs, that’s what SEAL training is. It’s a cultural onboarding process. When I went through my training, when Mark went through, and Brent, when you went through, but they didn’t have SQT at that time built into BUD/S or was it…? You did, okay. Well, when we went through, they didn’t train us to do anything. We couldn’t do anything. we just got our asses kicked.
But we were acculturated. We couldn’t do… I mean, we thought we could, but we couldn’t. And then we got it. But now, they actually build it in.. But the reality was, it was good because there was a strong acculturation onboarding process. Then we got trained when we got into the organization.
Retaining them is a different deal. And , and you’re not going to be able to keep all your good people. Some of the people, you might have the best culture in the world, but some people say, “yeah, well I got this offer for $10,000 for a job,” and they’re going to go. And I, I’ve talked to several people who’ve done that and they come back on their hands and knees begging to come back because they got the $10,000 raise and the culture sucked and they hated it.
And they said “it wasn’t worth 10, wasn’t worth 20.” So talking to the people…. So you’re going to have to just, they’re gonna have to learn that the hard way that the culture that they work in is most important thing. And, and Daniel Pink wrote a book called “Drive.” Many of you are aware of it and, and people were in and he says people are really motivated by three things primarily and money isn’t one of them. Its autonomy, mastery and purpose. And if you’re engaging with people and talking to them and letting them know that you’re aware that everybody who’s working for you is out already looking for other jobs too. That’s given. And when they leave, and they choose to leave for whatever reason, then wish them well and hope they come back. If they’re good. And if not so good, then good on you.
But I think that again, bringing them in, bringing the right people in and keeping the right people once they’re in or two different, two different but related issues that are worth thinking about.
Brent: Yeah. Actually my class was the first class to show up to the team with their tridents. Let me tell you how well that went over. Does anybody know what a happy hat is? Okay. We’ll skip that. It’s a little team hazing, not that they allow hazing in the teams.
And you mentioned flip flops. Funny Story. , as my last company we were growing and going from start up to a mature organization, so as leaders don’t make rules just for the sake of making rules, right? Just to have more structure, more maturation of the organization. , so we’re having more clients coming into the office and I was like, “well, you know…” I took the flip flops away. Holy Hell. It was like a revolt happened. They had a leader, they were organized, there was a committee.
And the leader of this of this revolt always worked out in the gym and the office the same time I did. Every day I’d walk in like, “son of a bitch, Hey Chris, what’s going on buddy?” He’s like, “so Brent:” And he was really smart, and he was always right. He was like, “so why? why take the flip flops away? You know? So technically you’re telling me that I could be in Nice fancy jeans, flip flops and a nice crisp polo shirt, but somebody could be in combat boots, baggy jeans and a tee shirt and still be within dress code.” I was like, “damn it, he’s right.” Eventually I gave him the flip flops back and morale soared.
But, everything that’s been said. It’s really about being much more careful in your talent acquisition strategy, ensuring that strategy aligns with your onboarding program, your onboarding program aligns with your professional development programs.
A lot of organizations have each of those, but they’re very siloed and they don’t connect well with one another. One of the things that we did, we’d been, our turnover was increasing, we had, you know, a lot of very technical, smart people, but we’d only been hiring for subject matter expertise. That’s it. An analytics guy or a coder or a programmer or whatever it is, they’re the best of the best. Great. Get them in here as quickly as possible.
Totally the wrong thing to do. And our turnover was too high, which of course affects efficiency. It affects productivity, it affects morale, it affects your ability to service clients. And so we actually took a page out of the NSW process for when operators aspire to go from the vanilla SEAL teams to our tier one asset. First they obviously take a physical screen and then they go to basically a selection committee board review before they’re even allowed to go to the lengthy and rigorous additional training that they go through before becoming a tier one operator.
And essentially you’re sitting in the hot seat in front of a very cross functional team from that organization. And they basically ask you questions for as long as they want. And keep in mind, these are all combat experience SEALs. So basically subject matter experts they’re good at what they do. That’s not what this process is about. It’s about shared values, it’s about culture, it’s about where your moral compass lies, how you think, how you make decisions. So they give you all the scenario based questions and things like that. And a lot of guys don’t even make it through that process to even go into the training program. So we took a page out of that book and created a much lengthier talent acquisition program and a longer interview process. So longer interviews for obviously for technical. We usually have people even do tests before they come in for their first interview.
But we also screen for other things too as far as, you know, EQI or emotional intelligence or things like that. And then they come in for a selection committee board review. And one of the greatest things, and it was said before, is, that that committee would rotate it’s people. It was mandatory, it was voluntary, but it had to be people from different positions, from the most junior person in the organization, from different departments, different divisions, people that, but all people, and you could tell this because they volunteered for it, because they care about the culture. They care about protecting the culture and managing it. People who really embody the core values of the organization will volunteer for things like this. But also it’s great because they have a voice in who they bring into their world, into their environment. So, and it’s a great process for the individual as well because they know they’ve gone through that rigorous program and once they join the team, they feel empowered, because they know that they were accepted by a cross functional team within the organization.
And once we did that, and again, they’d already been vetted for subject matter expertise that was off the table. It was, again, it was about culture, how they think, what they care about. We make them do a presentation to us, but we didn’t tell them what the presentation needed to be. Basically, “Why do you think you’re a good person to join this organization?” And then we would ask them questions for another 30 minutes. And then after that after we would ask them to say goodbye, they would leave. And then right then and there the committee would make a vote, it was either, 85% thumbs up and if not 85% thumbs up, then we’d have to rethink. Or we wouldn’t hire the person. So it’s just being more thoughtful in who you bring in, how you bring them in. But Bob said it earlier, the retention program, the retention strategy is a whole different ballgame and it’s more complex than it’s ever been. So it’s been said. So I’ll leave it there.
Mark: Awesome. We’ll do one more and then maybe take a few from the audience and then we’ll wrap this up. So as you look ahead as VUCA leaders, what do you think your biggest obstacle will be and how will you address it to overcome or avoid it?
Brent: I think to your point earlier is that you know, we talk a lot about today’s workforce, generation, the Millennials and things like that, but now we have, continue to have, not to overuse this term, but the multigenerational workforce where everybody’s motivated by something different.
And now we have the next generation coming in. Like you said, they’re more like previous generations. They do care about upward mobility, they care about money. Great, wonderful. We’re going to have to give raises to everybody. Ah, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Make sure you budget for that people, this new generation. It’s having mechanisms in place to motivate and retain all different types of people. And again, that’s like it was said earlier, that’s one of the burdens of command is getting to know your people, truly caring about people and the people that you lead authentically being vulnerable.
, but really taking the time out of your own busy schedule to understand how you need to lead everyone in the organization differently. And how you need to connect with them differently. And that’s all, that’s never going to, that’s never going to change. It’s only going to get more complex as the world becomes more complex. , because like I said, we’re moving at the speed of war and it’s only going to get probably more complex before it gets less complex. , so again, and it said before, just you have to slow down sometimes. , in the teams we say don’t run to your death. Sometimes on enemy target. I said, you know, what I’m saying is, you know, take it slow, assess risk and use speed and aggression when necessary. , same thing applies from a leadership perspective. Even though you’re in a fast paced environment, the things that really matter, we have to slow down, think about it critically, and then execute so that we can retain great talent, acquire new talent and build a culture that really matters. That’s going to actually connect with the vision of the organization.
Mark: Nice. Thank you.
Bob: Yeah. My challenge is when I talk to people who are kind of in the midst of their careers and are operating at warp speed, moving forward, doing all the stuff that you have to do in your thirties and forties, and whatnot. My challenge is to get people to invest in something outside of just their immediate career. Say there’s something else… That, I mean, you need to invest in the other part of who you are. And, and I see – particularly in the SEAL community it can be such a totally engaging, fulfilling, and then when they leave that they have nothing left. Except their buddies and their war stories. And, and trying to encourage people to develop a hobby or develop some kind of application or something. To develop yourself outside of your identity as you are` in your job.
And really to become what we call, I guess in the military, the whole man. Now we’re kind of the whole person, because we have a lot of women in there now too. , and who you are. And I advocate for that and I get blank stares. Like, “who are you kidding? I’m too busy. I’m too busy to have a hobby.”
And then they’re surprised when I share these hobbies that I have. And where did you…? I started developing them back when I was in my twenties and they are serving me well now that I’m , well into the back nine. And, and they served me very well while I was also in the game. So that’s kind of my challenge, right?
I would like that. I would like to be, I like the living to be 200 while 150 of it is at age 30. I don’t want to get to 85 and say, “okay, you can live like this for another 115 years.” So that’s, that’s the part that’s my personal challenge.
Christine: I think I share one of your challenges in that, you know, getting people to invest their time and resources proactively in their personal growth, rather than reactively. You know, a lot of times people will come to me and a lot of the coaches in the room when things are… They’re in an expectation hangover. So how do we get more and more people investing in that proactively? Like let’s not wait until we have a massive expectation hangover to do that.
And I’d say two other key things I see as challenges. One, just attention span – feels like the attention span of people is getting smaller and smaller and smaller and our window to really reach someone is getting smaller and smaller. So how do we really get someone’s attention in this small window we have? And that coupled with what I like to call “Cheesecake Factory paralysis.” Has anyone been to the Cheesecake Factory?
That menu? I’ve counted it just because I was curious. 127 food choices. That’s not including the cheesecake flavors.
That’s a lot. And I think that in our world, people have so many choices and so many options. So how do we really stand out with integrity? You know, not stand out with just marketing tactics, but how do we really stand out as leaders and organizations with integrity?
But all that said, I see way more opportunities than I do challenges, because I think that, again, back to what we’ve been talking about as the world is speeding up, I feel there’s going to be more of a need for connection, trust, vulnerability, belonging, purpose, all of those things. And everybody in this room values that. You’re that kind of leader, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this room. And I feel these kind of leaders are really going to rise to the top, because people are really, really craving this kind of leadership.
Jim: Thank you. So I think the challenge on the flip side is also an opportunity and kind of echo what other folks have said. You know, people want engagement. , but you look at… You know, I heard the other day people look at their phone every 12 minutes and I’m like, I think it’s more than every 12 minutes. , as I looked at my phone. And tap it 2,600 times and so we can mimic that with teams because there’s a lot of good ideas and we can mimic that in organizations because there’s a lot of good ideas.
But just as we’ve talked about these last few days, we have to look at our priorities, right? Greg said in his session what’s your hierarchy? What’s most important to you? And then focus on that, because it’s not going to get less volatile, less uncertain, less complex and less ambiguous.
Do you think? No, it’ll get more. So as the, I heard the other day, it was the only chaos we have is that which occurs in the mind. So the training we’re doing here is going to become more and more important as people just… Everything speeds up. So part of it is as an organization, but then it also goes in the individual is select those things that are going to be the biggest and have the biggest return. That are aligned with your skill set and values. And go after it and learn to say no. Right? We have fear of missing out. Oh my gosh, someone liked something. And I’m like, okay, that wouldn’t have waited two minutes. Right? You know, like, you know, that’s a bit much. But you know, people bouncing around and we just see it the phone as sort of a proxy. But I think the more chaotic, just like we say, Front Sight focus, put everything out. So that’s as individuals, that’s as teams and that’s as organizations.
Mark: Just awesome answers. You know, one thing I will point out, and I had this discussion when I was talking to a small oil company named Shell about VUCA, volatility and complexity are external factors, right? This is what’s happening to us.
But uncertainty and ambiguity are internal factors. That’s what we’re experiencing in the world. And so we can actually begin to work with the uncertainty, ambiguity at the internal level by developing certainty, developing focus, slowing down… Everything that was just discussed here, so that we can deal with volatility and complexity much, much better. And one thing I also point out is Bob last year or two years ago, you said one of our biggest challenges is to find simplicity on the other side of complexity. And some of the best leaders today have been able to distill like what’s really important. And then when they, when they find that and bring it to the team, there’s this huge Aha moment.
Like, “Oh yeah, that is simple.” But like we used to say in the SEALs, simple’s not easy. Getting to that simple on the other side or through the complexity is very, very challenging. That’s one of the key skills that leaders can develop is to slow down, develop the capacity to deal with your own uncertainty, ambiguity, and to find the simplicity on the other side of the complexity. And then to communicate it relentlessly with your team. Right?
Asking Good Questions
So any other burning questions for this esteemed panel? Now’s your opportunity. Yes sir. Just shout it out until the mic comes to you.
Speaker: In a culture that looks like doubt is the highest virtue these days, and offending is also a big no-no, and relativism is in play. What skills that a leader would you advise to keep dialogue open, and yet also be able to make decisions that your organization can follow?
Christine: I’d start with become excellent at asking questions. I think that one thing that leaders, good leaders do exceptionally well is ask excellent questions and really, really listen. Especially in a culture of doubt and where maybe things that people and topics are a little more sensitive when someone comes to you with a problem, when they come to you with a complaint, ask them a lot of questions. Help them get to their own answers. And I think that the more we do that, the more we can see how equipped someone on our team truly is to handle a situation. And the more we can make decisions because again, in a fast paced world, as leaders, when you feel a lot of pressure is on us, we can feel the pressure to make decisions quickly and not take the time to ask a lot of questions, get really curious, really seek to understand before we make any decisions.
Jim: So you saw Christine yesterday with Alice, right? Thank you Alice for being brave enough to come up here…
And Christine by the way, if you don’t listen to her podcast, just do. She has two things went, I’m an yeah, on Wednesday she coaches people live. And then Saturday has a coach’s corner, which I think was mark was on. And then she kind of debriefs it, so it’s awesome. But she’ll talk to someone and, and very quickly get to the heart of the matter, which was invariably not what they ask. Right? Because they understand that.
So the other thing is… and some of you experienced here today, I had someone say, I’ve never told anyone this before. I said, well, how were you able to do this? And you say this all the time. And people say, I don’t feel judged, right? I don’t feel judged and you’re really present with me. You’re a master. Or is that the right word at that, right? Because you embody what the person needs. So I think really to echo or build on what Christine said, as a leader, be present.
And those are those skills of focus in box breathing and all those other things to be present with someone in compassion without your mind going “mm-hmm, mm-hmm.”
Because think about it – as a leader, the amount of things that you have to deal with are amazing. You might be dealing with a legal issue, a client issue intellectual property issue, Bup, bup, bup, Ba. And then this employee comes with a problem. Now you’ve got to change what part of your brain you use, be present, and not judge. Because so much of your mind and what you got rewarded for is being analytical, finding out problems, judging. But with people that doesn’t really work so well. And they’re not going to be open because they feel judged. So, that is a skill that should be mastered.
Bob: I think a lot of organizations have struggled with the balance between risk management and bias for bold action. And, and if you’re somebody like me who has a bias for bold action, you need somebody who’s a risk manager kind of holding you back from taking on these great ideas that are going to take you and everybody else with you down the rabbit hole. But if you have an organization, if you are somebody who’s bold, and I think that was kind of your question, this, this caution and fear and doubt and an organization being run by risk managers, then you never take any chances. It’s no fun. All you’re doing is playing defense all the time. I want to play offense. So finding the right balance. And I’ve always said that the best leadership team… A really strong, number two who is good at risk management, while the boss is a bias for bold action, but it can also be the other way around as long as the two respect each other and work.
the issue about being offended is one I’m struggling with because I grew up in a same culture that we did and one of our selection criteria is you’ve got a thick skin and you can’t be offended. So we’re constantly testing that. We’re seeing if we can offend you. And we’re going for the throat. And when we’ve done it for 30 years and all of a sudden I kinda started playfully seeing whether somebody, how all of a sudden I have gotten in trouble. Now, fortunately Kate and I… Kate and I kind of have got the same attitude towards that cause we spent a week in the mountains and , and so I knew I could I could throw some barbs her way and there’s more coming my way too. But also, I think this is an area where all of us are still trying to find out what the rules are. And people who are in the victim mentality and looking to be offended are really hard to work with. And now they got the law on their side and everything else. So it’s… There’s no easy answers there and certainly I don’t have them.
Brent: Absolutely. Just real quick. Yeah. First of all, do not use Twitter as a means to put out major leadership communications to the team. Wish our commander in chief would figure that out. , goes back to being authentic… Anyways.
So obviously with doubt and uncertainty in an organization, there’s organizations, organization level doubt and uncertainty and there’s individual level of doubt and uncertainty. You kind of mentioned it when you broke down those VUCA elements. , organization wide, I’ve found that it’s imperative to really engage the participation of almost everybody, if not everybody in an organization, in problem solving and decision making. Again, it’s said in this fast paced world obviously no one person can singularly lead an organization, nor should they. It needs to be everybody participating from, you know, your most senior people to the newest people to the seemingly smallest roles.
Everybody has an organization and driving mission success. , but when you give people the ability to connect with the problem solving mechanism, the mission planning mechanism, then they feel connected and it can mitigate fear, can mitigate certain doubt because they’re allowed to do the research. When we’re just making decisions up from our ivory tower and then delivering them out to the team, well doubt’s still there because people are like, well, first of all, why was I not consulted? I own this area of the business and you didn’t consult me about this decision. I’m a frontline manager in this manufacturing firm and you didn’t even ask me, you know, what the new system is going to be, but you just chose a new system, you know, for us to track time. Or for project manager, whatever it is. , so enlisting everybody’s participation, their feedback, using that feedback to make decisions, communicating back what you heard and what you’re gonna do to use that information, mitigates doubt and mitigates fear from the individual.
Fear and uncertainty. , going back to purposeful storytelling, connecting people to what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization, being transparent about the good, bad and the ugly at critical times. You know, transparency gets thrown around a lot. There are certain times for certain amounts of transparency and other times where transparency doesn’t necessarily need to be you know, part of the Strip communication strategy. But it’s really good to be able to tell stories through formal and informal mechanisms so that people can… Cause oftentimes in organizations, you know, we put out, oh well, you know, I thought everybody knew what was going on. I thought we were mitigating fear and uncertainty, because I explained why we’re having this obstacle of what we’re going to do about it. Cause it was in the newsletter. Fucking newsletter. Really? The newsletter?
Nobody… And what’s your open rate on the newsletter by the way? Or I mentioned it at the company wide meeting. Well how many people are really listening during the companywide meeting? , clearly from before nobody at mine were listening. Type four experience, remember. , so it’s, it’s using those formal mechanisms, but also integrated like do the math. If you have major communication touch points, like your monthly companywide meeting, your newsletter that goes out every other month, you’re only talking about, you know, maybe 20, 25 touch points a year for major companywide communications.
But if you integrate, and leaders need to take this on as a responsibility, put it in your calendar, like it was said, manage by walking around and use that opportunity to tell a story at the, you know, in the break room of, Hey, you know, Bob really, really embodies our core values because you live by those core values to help us solve this problem that we’re having.
Everybody was fearful about – thank you Bob – and tell the story informally so people connect with it because oftentimes those types of stories don’t get disseminated around the organization. And that informal storytelling mechanism is really useful to mitigate fear and what I call change battle fatigue in the organization when it’s going through a lot of transformation because it, it helps people continue to start to visualize what winning looks like, why we’re having these challenges, what’s being done about them, who in the organization is really being a change evangelist and taking the lead and oftentimes that can engage people and also helping out and helping mitigate fear and spread the good word naturally, organically.
Mark: I’ll throw my perspective in here. So I think one of the core skills a VUCA leader will need to develop is the ability to take perspectives and then to make new perspectives that are integrative and inclusive. And so we’ve kind of danced around this idea without using the terminology, but it’s a skill that can be trained. And so it requires, like Jim said, it requires presence and requires you to be kind of drop into your heart and to listen and authentically like receive information about what someone’s ideas are about how something can get done, which is going to be informed by their BOO – their background of obviousness and they’re upgrading their, you know, whether you’re a Millennial or Gen Z or a baby boomer, everyone sees the world differently. And this has just been proven here in this very panel, like we have one question and four extraordinarily different answers from different perspectives.
Everybody in your organization is like that. So get to understand them and their perspective and their worldview and their developmental stage. And get to understand your own perspective and your own worldview and your own developmental stage. And then bring those perspectives together. And do a soup and have a dialogue about it and then make a new perspective that is inclusive and better, instead of trying to just tell and you know, direct as a like the individual Godhead of the organization, right? The anointed leader. So.
All right. One more? We’ll allow one more like super burning question. Yvonne. And then we’ll wrap this up.
Yvonne: So I have a question about, I think Brent had talked about how you change the structure first and then you change the culture. My question has to do with, so you realize you’re in a VUCA situation as an organization or as an entrepreneur or wherever you are and you know where you want to go, you know you have to make changes. Most times people get paralyzed in that moment right before they make the pivot.
And so I’d like to hear examples of how – either your own personal examples or in your organizations – how you… what went through your mind or how you went through that pivot situation before you actually made it. So right after the, “Oh crap, this is a VUCA situation.” And then the next step. Are there any recurring themes that you’ve seen as you’ve been through different, VUCA situations and how you navigated them.
Brent: It kind of goes back to the philosophy of not running to your death. Think about it in a, in a combat situation. You know, all of a sudden we get a little piece of Intel that that bad guy is going to be this location, this time, this point of night. , let’s go get them.
Well, that’s not how it works. You’ve got to get the Intel and you’ve got to distill that Intel into actionable insights. Use those actionable insights to create a mission plan, contingency plans. , the same thing in a VUCA environment. , we were talking about this in the hallway when… my last company, we were going through a significant transformation. We’ve been growing almost too quickly and realized that we were going to break our back and become irrelevant in a very fast paced. It was a digital media marketing company.
While the growth is great, it was highly competitive industry, digital transformation and technological advancements. We were creating even more of a VUCA environment outside of just the growth. And so what we did was you need to take a data driven, intelligence driven, approach to transformation. When you realize you’re in a VUCA environment or you realize that there’s some things in the organization that need to be fixed where organizations fail – and according to McKinsey and company, about 70% of organizations fail or fall short of meeting their change or transformation objectives in large part because they do run to their death. They see all these different things that need to be changed and they go try and change all of them at the same. So there’s all these competing priorities. While you still have to do what? You still have to run the business. And you’re putting all these competing priorities and all these things that need to be fixed, you’re tasking people with doing them.
They also have their jobs to do and the things they get measured on doing and rewarded for doing. And oftentimes we put all these new priorities, these competing priorities on the team. We don’t change the reward mechanisms. We don’t reprioritize their schedules and what we need them to do. So eventually they get burned out and leave. And then of course, that’s why I don’t like the philosophy of multitasking, because you’re doing all those things. What? Poorly. You will fail. The engine will not continue to drive the organization forward. So it’s about going in and getting the proper data, enlisting feedback from the team on what the real priorities are, and then executing those priorities in a timely manner. And then also reprioritizing the other things on your team member’s plates so that they actually have the time, the energy and the engagement to take on these new tasks and challenges well enough to actually succeed in that change effort in an organization. So I’ll let the others talk to you, but that’s kind of a quick synopsis.
Christine: Well I’d say a few things. Going back to being responsive rather than reactive. So anytime I’ve made a pivot in my life or company, I’ve also noticed that my inner saboteur, my inner critic, they tend to act up a lot. So it’s knowing that that can come up, especially when we’re in uncertainty. So making sure that if there’s an external pivot where we’re managing a lot, that we’re not ignoring the internal mindset. Because that’s when the mindset and the self-care becomes even more important.
The other thing I’ve learned from multiple pivots is there’s a lot I know I don’t know. And then there’s a lot, I don’t know I don’t even know. But there are a lot of people who’ve been through what I’m about to go through. And they know what I don’t know I don’t know. And I have learned that to reach out for help, to ask for support, people that have done something similar. This is why I think masterminds, peers, colleagues, this kind of group of people is so important, is not taking on too much on our own. Not Thinking we have to figure it out all ourselves. Because whatever you’re doing, whatever uncertainty you’re going through, whatever pivot you’re making, someone has done it and has learned a lot. So I like to learn from other people’s mistakes as much as I possibly can to avoid making a lot of my own. So that’s a great time to be vulnerable and ask for help and support.
Jim: Thanks. Few comments. First I’ll, I’ll channel Greg for a second and quote proverbs. Greg, it says, without a vision people perish. And so when it’s really volatile, so you know when things are really tough, when we talk about micro goals, focus on the next burpee, focus on the next evolution, whatever, right? Because if you think about something too far in advance, you’ll get overwhelmed. You may give up. So focus on the micro goal right in front of you.
At the same time, to have this big vision is very motivating. It drives you forward. So you kind of want to do both. So in an organization standpoint, you need to look at and leaders need to look at where are the dynamics? Where are the market trends? Where’s the competition? What’s your SWOT analysis? All those things that you’re probably aware of and say, well where is this going to end up?
And you got to make a bet, right? You’re going to invest time, resources, energy. And then you say, okay, this is where we think things are going and then you draw it back to the day to day. So it’s kind of like having the three p’s and then coming back to your micro goals. The other thing to remember is most leaders – one is a marathon effect. So if you can imagine people are in a marathon and there’s 10,000 people, well the first runner might be done with the race before the last person even started. And so that’s what leadership is like. A lot of times. Leaders have thought something through for months and then they roll it out like, okay, here it is. And they expect people’s emotional reaction to be already done. Why? Because they did it and we’re like, yeah, but remember that was four months ago. Plus the amplitude in length of most leaders reactions is like this. They don’t get super up, they don’t get super down and it’s pretty short.
Some people are like, Woo. And it’s like you know the amount of change, but you’re like, I can’t believe they’re so scared of change. Well, what do they do for a job? They go to the same place and they work on an assembly line and do the exact same thing. I would go mental. If I did that job, I could not.
But that’s what makes them good, because they like doing the same thing. So understand that their response to change is not your response to change. As a leader, you’re boom and oh by the way, you did this six months ago, now let them go through their own process. Don’t rush it.
Mark: So volatility is when things change rapidly. And at random times, uncertainty is when you, you know, you’re doing something that generally is working, but now the inputs are uncertain. You’re uncertain about the timing. And the amount of energy to put into something or whether you should shift course. Complexity is when there’s so many interlocking, interweaving components to something that is impossible to understand the second, third and fourth order consequences of a decision. And ambiguity is when there is no clear direction forward, literally is so opaque. You don’t know whether to go forward or to retreat or left or right. Every one of these usually happens kind of simultaneously in a complex or a shock situation like you’re talking about, Yvonne. And one of my favorite quotes is doubt is eliminated by action and what we’re really saying there is – like to Jim’s point – pause but then do something that’s going to create a feedback loop.
Don’t run toward your death, but do something that’s going to create a new feedback loop, which is then going to help you gather the Intel, which then you can process. Then you can activate that OODA loop that we’ve talked about. You can observe what happened from that action, reorient yourself and make another micro decision and then take another action and then do it again and again and again. And pretty soon you’re starting to find your way through the VUCA, right? And things get a little less ambiguous, and a little less uncertain. That help?
You guys are awesome. What a really, really amazing hour this has been like, I’ve learned a lot listening to my teammates here, Brent, Bob, thank you. Christine, Jim, you guys rock. And also, thank you very much for your presentations today. Let’s give all of these individuals a huge round of applause. Thank you so much.