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Unbeatable™ Podcast

Susan Scott on Fierce Conversations

By May 7, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

“The answers that we got to were so much better than answers that any one of us could have ever arrived at.” – Susan Scott

Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of  Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.

Susan Scott is a pioneer in coaching business leaders to have honest conversations with their teams. She founded Fierce, Inc. and is the author of two books: “Fierce Conversations” and “Fierce Leadership.” Today she talks to Mark about the importance of communicating honestly with your team, as well as trusting them with problems that you’re not sure about.

Hear how:

  • You need to develop courage in order to have these conversations.
  • A business will succeed one conversation at a time.
  • The first fierce conversation to have every day is with yourself.

Listen to this episode to learn more about the importance of open and honest communication with your team.

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Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is your host Mark Divine. Thanks so much for joining me today. Super-appreciate your time, and I promise you it’ll be well worth it.

My guest today is Susan Scott, who is a tremendous leadership coach and development expert, focused on having fierce conversations. Something that is near and dear to my heart. Though I am far from an expert.

In fact, I’m mostly a bumbling fool. So I’m looking forward to learning from Susan. Before I introduce her in a little bit more detail, let me mention that my book “Staring Down the Wolf” came out the week before we all went on lockdown.

So you may or may not have heard about it. There’s been a lot of other things in the news that have captured our collective attention. So let me take a moment to tell you about it again. So “Staring Down the Wolf” is all about developing emotional awareness and strength as a leader. Oftentimes when it comes to our teams, leaders are the limiting factor. Because they bring their baggage. They’re afraid to have those fierce conversations that Susan and I are going to talk about.

Or they do it unskillfully, or they’re a perfectionist, or an absolutist, or judgmental or a righteous person who has to have all the answers, or be the one with the last say all the time. And so anyways, these are just some symptoms of a leader who hasn’t stared down their wolf.

And that’s a reference to staring down the wolf of fear. And by fear, I mean all the biases and shadow aspects of ourselves that hold us back from our true nature. So that’s what the book is about.

So I tell some really cool stories in there, about how some special operations leaders have exemplified what I call the 7 commitments of courage, trust, respect, growth, excellence, resilience, and alignment. And then how yours truly has fallen on his face with those same commitments.

But I’m getting better. Trust me.

At any rate, if you’re interested also has some free video training on it. Or you can order at Amazon or whatnot. So thanks for your support, I really appreciate it.

So back to Susan, our main attraction. So, Susan Scott is the founder and CEO of fierce conversations. So she’s a well-known leadership coach, who has a bold and practical approach to development around this topic of having fierce conversations. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

So her book “Fierce Conversations: Achieving success at working in life one conversation at a time,” is something we’re going to discuss today. She’s a very successful and sought-after fortune 100 speaker and all-around awesome person.

So, Susan thanks so much for being here today. I really appreciate it. First question, are you still in your tree house?

Susan: I am, and I’m here with my three dogs – two Labradoodles and a Yorkshire terrier – so if you hear dog noises in the background, that’s what it is. And I just noticed, a little while ago, that my socks don’t match. But who cares?

Mark: (laughing) Fortunately, we’re not on video, so… or unfortunately. I’d love to see the socks, and the dogs, but that’ll have to be another conversation.

So yeah, what interesting times we live in. I mean just to timestamp this recording is happening what? Is it April 9th today?

Susan: Yes, it is.

Mark: I’ve lost track of time.

Susan: Yeah, and in fact my team and I are really scrambling. We want to get out of free mini-course next week for everybody who’s at home. Working from home, and struggling with isolation, and anxiety and all those things. I mean, there are not enough Netflix series and nobody’s motivated enough to read a novel. We’re all gaining weight. And we’re feeling guilty, because we know we should be putting this time to better use.

So we’re going to offer… we’re gonna talk about three different kinds of conversations that would be great to have during this time.

Mark: Yeah, I tell you what. A crisis has a remarkable way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. And when I say the worst, I don’t mean people are bad… I mean, all those aspects – the shadow, the emotional baggage… all this stuff that we kept bottled up and it’s pretty easy when everything’s in control. But when it’s not… when things spiral out of control… all of a sudden that stuff leaks out all over the place.

Susan: That is so true. And something I have really noticed that is causing all kinds of havoc is our tendency as human beings to make up stories about other people. And about what’s going on. And behave as if our stories are true.

Mark: We’re masters of that.

Susan: Yeah, and when we’re isolated there’s nobody to say “what?” We kind of go with those stories and can spiral downward into a very dark place. So oh my gosh I’m confident that we’re all going to return to a new and hopefully greatly improved “normal” sometime this summer or fall.

Mark: I agree with that.

Susan: In the meantime, I know some people are really struggling. I’m a card-carrying introvert, so I’m quite happy here in the tree-house, although I didn’t intend to be here this long. I came early march, thinking I’d be here for a week, and I’m still here. And will probably be here for another month. Maybe two. Who knows?

But I’m lucky to have this place. So I’m not complaining.

Mark: Well it’s interesting. I was just reflecting on how – maybe you experienced this – but I had all these events lined up, right? That just suddenly got canceled, and how much of a relief that was for me. Because about half of them, I probably shouldn’t have said yes to. And the other half are just kind of routine. And it’s just nice to have a break from just the rabbit hole. Spinning the wheel around, you know?

Susan: Yeah, I mean I was supposed to be a speaker at some events, and those events have been canceled. And I had the same reaction you did – it’s like, “oh, this is fantastic.” I mean, I love to share everything about fierce conversations with people, because it’s really why I’m here, I think.

But to have a break, it’s fabulous. The very first sentence in my book is “no plan survives its collision with reality.” And this world has had a massive collision with a common enemy – COVID-19 – and it has seriously complicated our favorite plans about how things were going to go.

But I see this as a time to really reflect, to reboot, to have a series of conversations with ourselves. And even though technology is allowing us to see one another, and I’m facetiming with my granddaughters and with my friends and everything. And zoom – gosh, I have never been in so many zoom meetings in my life…

Mark: (laughing) Me neither.

Susan: But technology does not ensure the quality of those conversations…

Mark: Not at all.

Susan: That’s really been our focus.

Mark: Yeah, and also when we’re forced to just slow down and to not leave our homes. The first fierce conversation you got to have is with yourself I think. Right? Around what is the story you are living, what was the hamster wheel that I was on that caused me to say “yes” to things that maybe I should never have said “yes” to? Or weren’t serving me?

And what patterns were ruling my life that I can now take a serious look at? And maybe change.

Susan: I couldn’t agree more. I mean one of the conversations I’ll be recommending to people who attend our free course, is to write your own personal stump speech. And it answers for questions – where am I going? Why am I going there? Which is kind of a big deal. Who’s going with me? And how am I going to get there?

And it really should be addressed at a high level. It’s time to focus on what really matters, rather than arbitrary empty notions of fulfillment and success. And when you get this right, your stump speech should sing to your sou. It should want to change you.

And so if ever there was a time to contemplate changes that you want to make in your life, this is a perfect opportunity…

Mark: Yeah, I agree. I don’t know if you have this experience, but most of the people that I train or that I kind of come into contact with have some sense of discontentedness or did…

Susan: Yeah.

Mark: And some subtle feeling that they could be doing something different, or better, or more aligned, or more powerful, or more in service…

And yet they’re kind of stuck. They’ve got a lot invested in that structure, and in the people they’re supporting – not just family, but often their team, if they’re entrepreneurs – and so, yeah, all of a sudden if COVID and then the us government or whatever country you’re in suddenly says all stop to the economy what a great opportunity to stare down that wolf of fear and be “wow, this is it. This is my moment.”

Susan: You know, your book is perfect for this time. Because COVID is a wolf for sure that all of us need to stare down. Otherwise it’s gonna gobble us up, and I know some people are really kind of losing it. And relationships, people are… there have been a lot of cartoons and jokes about what’s happening with marriages right now.

Mark: (laughing) I know. I mean, it’s not funny, but the cartoons and the memes have been absolutely hilarious.

Susan: They’re hilarious. Although I have to say my favorite meme lately is the woman who turned herself into a potato and let a zoom meeting as a potato. She didn’t want to, she didn’t mean to – but she didn’t know how to fix the problem.

Mark: Let’s talk about a little bit – we’ll come back to COVID-19, because you can’t dance around the elephant for too long, but how did you kind of get involved in helping leaders have fierce conversations? Or to take a look at the stories that they’re running in their head and to overcome them?

Susan: Well, I had been chairing two groups of non-competing CEOs in Seattle where I live – when I’m not in my tree house. And I had been doing that for 13 years.

And I had two functions. One was to meet with each one of them once a month for about a 90-minute to 2 hour sort of “come to god” chat about what was going on in their lives. And my focus there was to try to zero in on what was the most important thing that was on their plate, rather than just going down a checklist. And “how’s this happening?” And “what’s happening here” and “how are sales?” And blah-blah-blah.

Sometimes that was not the most important thing.

Mark: And why were you qualified to do that?

Susan: I wasn’t. (laughing)

Mark: (laughing) Fake it ‘til you make it.

Susan: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I was an English major, Mark. I love to read great literature and I did not study business.

However, after I taught high school English for several years, I ended up… my husband and I we moved to Seattle from Missouri, and I ended up going to work for a search firm. And it was amazing, because I didn’t even know… I remember meeting bill gates – who probably doesn’t even remember meeting me – when he had just moved to the area and he had I think 15 employees.

Mark: Wow.

Susan: And they had no furniture yet, and so I kicked off my high heels and sat on the floor and said “what do you need?”

And they started telling me, and I said “ok, I don’t speak this language. If you will tell me where one of those exotic creatures might be found, I’ll go after them for you. But you’re gonna have to humor me a little bit and educate me.”

And they did, and over time I learned a lot about business. A lot, a lot, a lot about business. But I think I got hired to chair these groups of CEOs in Seattle, because the organization that was overlooking all of this globally didn’t have any women in that role. And I think they thought “we’re probably going to get sued if we don’t hire a woman.” (laughing)

And somebody recommended me, and I managed to get in under the wire, before they slapped on all these qualifications – none of which I had. And I would never have made it.

But the thing was I ended up being extremely successful in the role. In both working one-on-one with my clients and also once a month each group would spend a whole day together. To advise one another on their most pressing issues.

And I really struggled, because it’s like… “In the 1-to-1 how am I going to spend two hours with this very busy, challenged individual that will be worth it to them? And I sure as heck don’t know anything about all these 30 different industries in which I’m now involved. So I’m not going to be saying I ‘here’s what you need to do.’’

So I had to come up with an approach that allowed me to ask questions, such that as you went deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper – those are my dogs growling in the background.

Mark: (laughing) They’re giving you props. They’re like “good job.”

Susan: And they went deeper and deeper and then they began to unearth the importance of what they needed to do. And focus. And next steps. Without me advising them. And they were very successful and still are – those CEOs – and when they would sometimes be asked “what’s happening in your life these days that’s of value to you?” They would sometimes speak about their conversations with me and with one another in the meetings.

And so the meetings were… I mean they blew my socks off. It’s like I had a 50-yard line seat on some of the most interesting lives in Seattle. And it was no-holds-barred. You had to tell the truth and once in a while in a one-to-one, I would unearth something with a CEO and I would say “we’re gonna take this to the group.”

And he or she would say “oh no we’re not. I’m not gonna share that with anyone.”

And I would say “oh yeah you are, because you need help. And these people love you. And they can be of help. And we’re going to do that.”

And we would do that. And then there would be help. And the answers that we got to were so much better than answers that any one of us could have ever arrived at. We needed those competing views of reality. We needed all of them, because when we heard everybody’s ideas and suggestions, then what would finally emerge would be a truly elegant solution or next step.

And then the other thing was that the theme that ran through almost everything, every issue… whether they were trying to solve a problem, or make a decision, or design a strategy, or evaluate an opportunity – it always required a conversation or a meeting. I mean, that was always the next step.

And sometimes how they got into some of the pickles they got into was because of failed or missing conversations. With individuals, or with their whole team, or with their clients.

And so it just began to be clear to me that this was all about conversations. That we really, really are navigating our professional and our personal lives one conversation at a time.

And then they would say, “Come in, and I want to have conversations like this inside my company. Will you come in and teach us?” And I did.

And then my peers around the world said, “Will you show us what you’re doing with your CEOs?” I said of course, and I did. And then people said “write this down, write this down.” And I honestly had not planned to, but I finally did. And I mean, what has happened since then has been amazing. Because it’s really clear that I was not the only person on this planet who was longing to have conversations that were meaningful. That actually accomplished something.

So that’s how I got started, is from all that work with the CEOs. And paying attention to my own life and my own marriage, which was quite rocky at the time.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Susan: Yeah.

Conversations at Work


Mark: A couple things come up. One is an observation – or series of observations – and then a question for you. The observation is that you’ve become a very effective coach – but you didn’t have to have – you even self-proclaim this – you didn’t have to have the business expertise to be a good coach. And consider that nowadays all leaders need to be coaches. And how often they go back and try to rely on their expertise in that role as a coach. And that’s not what the people they’re trying to coach or mentor really need. They need someone to listen to them. And someone to ask good questions, right?

So that’s a real insight for a lot of people. “Oh yeah, I don’t have to be an expert or have some sort of positional level in order to be a coach. I just need to actually develop good communication skills.”

Susan: And the other thing about that, Mark, is that if you think that your job is to advise people, that is a heavy load. And you’re kind of sunk too. Because you’re not always going to be right, for example. I mean, it’s just too much of a burden, and so we’re training within companies all over the world – from start-ups to fortune 100s – and one of the things that we teach is our approach to that one-to-one conversation.

Whether it’s just coaching or a monthly check-in or whatever it is. And people are thrilled with the approach, because it is just seven questions that you ask and one follows very naturally after the other. And you end up arriving at some place rather extraordinary. That you would never have arrived at, if you had jumped right in with “oh, okay. Well, gee, I’ve seen that before and here’s what I recommend.”

Mark: Right. Well, the follow-up to my other observation was a question. Kind of curious to me, because I’ve been involved in those types of groups. Like Vistage and YPO and whatnot – and the forum experience or that group experience can be – not always – but it can be quite extraordinary for a few reasons.

One is the power of the coach. Which you’ve exemplified.

Another is the confidentiality. And then just the depth that it can go, where these individuals typically don’t have those conversations at home, or at the office. So have you seen where an executive team working with you has developed that same level of trust and transparency as you experienced in the in the coaching group?

Susan: I have. And let me just say that even for CEOs, it’s lonely at the top. And for years I bought into that, but actually I don’t think that’s true. I mean, if it is lonely at the top, it’s your damn fault. I mean, it does not need to be lonely at the top. You’ve got all these people who bring through the doors with them – once we can get back into our offices – who bring through the doors with all this wonderful intelligence. All this desire to do good.

And yet we don’t ask them. And yet the answers are in the room. We have those answers. And so I mean, one of the things we teach is how to turn your ordinary, waste of time, meetings into sort of think-tanks. And it’s very important. I mean, what gets talked about within a company, how it gets talked about, and who is invited to the conversations, determines what’s going to happen. And what’s not going to happen.

So when I think about companies and teams, I think about meetings and meetings and meetings and meetings and more meetings. Oh my gosh. All attended by the usual suspects, and you already know what Jim’s gonna say, and what Mary is gonna refuse to say. And you’re always gonna know what the person leading it – how they’re gonna react to everything that happens. And it is… oh it’s so disheartening and I mean sometimes you walk out of a meeting thinking “why did I even bother to get out of bed this morning?”

Mark: (laughing) Been there. That’s hilarious.

Susan: I mean, some meetings can go on for quite a while, while everybody is still wondering what this meeting is even about. “Why are we here? I mean, what is it that you want from us?”

I remember reading a book by Studs Terkel so long ago. The book was called “Working.” And he told a story about a young woman named Nora, who had just graduated from a very prestigious university, and got her first job at a really cool company. And she could hardly wait to make a difference.

And very quickly she realized that everything that she had to bring was not welcome. And that she just found herself making herself smaller and smaller and smaller, until she – and this is how she put it – “until I absented my spirit from my work.”

Mark: Wow. That’s interesting, because that describes the average workplace. Yeah, that’s heartbreaking.

Susan: Talk about engagement – employee engagement – and a lot of people have absented their spirit from their work. Because we’re not really inviting them to work with us, to figure things out.

There is a true story about jack welch when he bought some manufacturing company. And he gathered everybody together in their big warehouse. And he made his little speech, and then he said, “And we’ve got problems to solve here, and I’d really be open to your ideas.”

And a guy in the back of the auditorium wearing overalls waved his arm. And so jack welch said “yeah, did you have something to say?”

And the guy said “yes, I have a suggestion.” And he made the suggestion. And jack welch said “that is a really good idea.”

And the guy said “Mr. Welch, for years they’ve been paying for our hands, when they could have had our heads for free.”

Mark: (laughing) I love that.

Susan: I love that.

Mark: That’s awesome. Well, this takes courage, right? And that was the first commitment that I talked about in my book “Staring Down the Wolf,” because courage… it doesn’t come easy. It’s hard. It’s a practice.

For us in the seals, we had to practice courageous things to be courageous. Everyone thinks that you’re just kind of born that way, I don’t agree with that at all. I imagine that’s something that shows up for you in teaching people how to have fierce conversations.

The first step is courage. How do you develop that? What‘s your method with that?

Susan: Yeah, so what helps is that nobody taught us – certainly nobody taught me how to have the conversations that were important to me. I had no idea that I was navigating my life one conversation at a time. Not a clue. I just hadn’t put it together.

And some conversations, I had tried and they had failed utterly. I mean, they went south in a heartbeat. And so I just stopped having them. And I just withheld what I was really thinking and feeling in many situations. More actually at home than at work, for whatever reason.

So I think a lot of people have sort of given up for very good reasons. I mean, they’ve been in the room when somebody sort of “got shot.” “Gee, you remember when Jack pushed back on the boss’ favorite ideas? I really miss, Jack. He was a great guy.”

So it’s the skill. If we have the skill – if we know how to have conversations that interrogate reality and provoke learning and tackle tough challenges. And enrich relationships. Then it’s not so scary. And then after you’ve done it once and you think “gosh, nobody died here.” In fact, I get emails from people all the time saying “I just had the best conversation with so-and-so that I ever had.” Or “I had a really – I went into a conversation extremely worried about how it was gonna go, then it was wonderful.”

Mark: Are there any training wheels? Like, we had a principal – crawl, walk, run – right? First, start with the basics and then once you master the basics, you pick up speed a little bit. What are the training wheels for having fierce conversations?

Susan: The training wheels. I mean you can teach somebody how to do something all day long, but unless there is a very clear and compelling “why,” they may or may not embrace it. And so I’m not neutral at all. I believe and I may have shared with you… I don’t know… years ago when I was working with all those CEOs, I was reading Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” in which a character is asked “How did you go bankrupt?” And he responds “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Mark: Right.

Susan: And I had sort of what my niece calls “apostrophes” – she meant “epiphanies,” but I’ve always liked the idea of having an “apostrophe” – and so I had this apostrophe that our careers, and our companies, and our relationships… and our whole lives succeed or fail gradually then suddenly. One conversation at a time. One successful one, one failed one, one missing conversation… and so that idea is very helpful to people. That’s one of the training wheels.

There’s another one – which I actually learned from David Whyte, who is a poet from England. Just love David. And he’s from Yorkshire, England and he was talking one time and he said “the young man who’s newly married is often really puzzled, and frustrated, and perplexed because this lovely person to whom he has plighted his troth – that’s how they talk in England – and with whom he hopes to spend the rest of a glorious life. She insists on appearing before his face on a regular basis wanting to talk yet again about the quality of the relationship.

And he wonders “why are we having this conversation again? Could we have one massive conversation about this, and then coast for a year?

Mark: (laughing) Right. “Didn’t we talk about that five years ago? Everything’s fine, c’mon.”

Susan: “didn’t I tell you that I loved you on our last anniversary or something?” And then he said “long about age 42” – and he was 42 at the time he said this, because he was speaking from personal experience. He said “long about age 42, if he’s been paying attention, it dawns on him this ongoing, robust conversation I’ve been having with my wife is not about the relationship. The conversation is the relationship.

Mark, when I heard that, my heart just stopped, because I had just separated from my husband after many years of marriage. And that explained everything.

So it’s one of the things that we teach the conversation is the relationship. And if we can see that there’s something to that, then if you and I add another topic to the list of things we can’t talk about – because it wrecks another weekend at home, or another meeting at work – then all of the possibilities for that relationship become smaller and smaller.

And even all of the possibilities for the individuals in the relationship become smaller. Until one day I notice I am making myself quite small in every conversation. I am engaging in three-minute conversations that are so empty of meaning, they crackle…

Mark: It’s all surface chop. It’s funny, reminds me of my wife, who’s a therapist, and I would come home from work in the early days – she’s like “how was your day?”

And I’d be like, “fine.”

And then she goes “you know what fine means, right? It means effed up, insecure, neurotic and emotionally incompetent.”

And I’m like, “oh, that’s me. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t so fine.”

Susan: (laughing) Yeah. That’s really, really good.

And then the third… there are actually three training wheels. The third one is that we have to realize that all conversations are with myself. And sometimes they involve other people.

And what I mean by that is I’m running everything in my life through my own personal context. My own filter. My own belief system. That causes me to behave in a certain way, and my behavior produces the results in my life. And so these conversations that I am unconsciously constantly having with myself – like at the beginning of this, when I said we make up stories about other people. And then behave as if our stories are true.

Our beliefs are running the show. Our context is running the show. So to become aware of what story have I told myself here about this or that person? And is it serving me, or them, or any of us?

Mark: Reminds me that we started this whole conversation saying the first fierce conversation to have every day is with yourself.

Susan: Yeah, exactly.

Mark: We have the wolf of fear and the wolf of courage. That’s one way to look at it. So there’s two parts of you that need to have a conversation. And also the story that we tell our self, defines how we’re going to contextualize and tell stories about other people.

Susan: It does. And we’re telling ourselves all kinds of stories right now. While we’re at home, with very little to distract us. And if we don’t check out somehow, someway – check to see if our stories are true. Or maybe they aren’t. And often they aren’t.

But there’s something about human beings that we kind of like to embrace the scary story, the bad story, the mad, angry story. There’s some juice there.

Mark: We get off on it, right. Well, it’s also kind of a conditioned programmed cultural behavior. Our media and our society has been really negative.

Susan: Tell me about it. “I would rather be angry, and point my finger, and be critical of the world and all those people out there, than be happy, and peaceful, and productive.”

Mark: Right. Be part of the solution.

Susan: Yeah.

Mark: So one of the things that we aim for is transparency. And we also find – this is in my organization – that it’s very difficult. And you talk about radical transparency. Can we kind of look into that a little bit?

Susan: Sure. In fact, I did a TedX talk on radical transparency that anybody can watch if they want to. And I think it has – I mean I gave it a while ago – but I know it has a lot of humor. And then it has some pretty important points. But radical transparency… look, the truth is always gonna out in the end. You might as well share it. For example, right now one of the things that my company is doing is we just got the results of our best companies to work for survey. And this is really important to us, because this helps us know how we’re doing in the eyes of our employees. And we always share everything with them – the good, the bad… everything.

And then involve them in suggestions for what do we keep? What do we need to change? How do we change those things?

And I even remember in the in the huge downturn in 2008, Starbucks was really hit hard and Howard Schultz stepped back into the company. And he said to all of his shareholders, and all of his employees, and anybody who was interested – he said “we tried to grow too fast, in too many locations, and we’ve overreached. And now we need to pull back. And we are regrouping and our stock price is going to drop for a while. And then it will come back up, because of the plans we’re putting in place.”

“And one of the things that we’re doing is we are changing out our machines. The whole reason I started this was because this was a place for people to come and have conversations, and sit and talk over a cup of coffee. And we’ve got these huge machines, where the barista cannot even see the customer. And we’re replacing them with the low profile machine, so there’s eye contact. We can look at each other, we can talk while a drink is being prepared.”

And so he said “here’s what we did wrong, bullet, bullet, bullet, bullet. Here are the things we’re changing bullet, bullet, bullet, bullet. And I absolutely invite any of you to offer suggestions. And here’s where to send them.”

I mean that was a great example of radical transparency.

Mark: So getting to the truth, as opposed to some sort of groupthink…

Susan: Well, putting it out there, because if you think people don’t know what’s really going on you’re wrong. They do. They absolutely know. They may not know all the details, but if something isn’t working – if there’s trouble in the waters – whether it’s in a company, or within a team, or within a family, a marriage… whatever it is – we know.

We just kind of don’t really want to talk about it, right now. We will say “I’m fine.” “What’s wrong, honey?” “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”

And same thing in the company. “Are we okay?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna be fine. Don’t worry about it.” Which is just not comforting at all. So it’s really important to – as Shakespeare would say – “screw our courage to the sticking point.” Say “here’s what’s really happening. Some of this is great. Some of this is really not great. And here’s what we’re planning to do and what do you think?”

Mark: Right.

Good Meetings


Mark: You mentioned earlier that you – like most of us – are doing more and more meetings virtually using things like Zoom and whatnot. What are some of the landmines with regard to working remotely that can become obstacles to really effective communications?

Susan: Meetings by themselves – and I talked a little bit about this before – are often a waste of time. Just not very productive, but people are there in the room together in a normal situation. And they can see each other. So nobody’s playing solitaire…

Mark: Right. They got to put their best foot forward, so to speak

Susan: Yeah, exactly. But whatever dysfunctions exist within any organization, those dysfunctions will be amplified in a remote world. So, for example, what I would say when there’s going to be a meeting – the way we do it is we send out… first we consider very carefully, who should be at this meeting? Whose perspective would it be really useful for us to understand? And that’s not just the executives… that’s the person who’s going to be affected by something, who’s gonna be carrying it out. A person who sees things very differently than we do. And is often the naysayer – that person is very useful too.

And so we’re thoughtful about who to invite. And then we send out the information – this is the issue we’re going to put on the table. And this is why it is important. And I want you all to come prepared to share your perspective.

And I mean that, because I’m going to call on each one of you. I really want… so that way, for one thing you start the meeting with a bang, because everybody knows this is the issue. And this is why it’s important.

And then you also… so everybody’s in the meeting – the zoom meeting or whatever kind of remote meeting – and you say “all right, let me just review this and give you a little more information. The issue is blah-blah-blah-blah. It is important because blah-blah-blah-blah. Here are the results it is currently producing: blah-blah-blah-blah. Here are the outcomes we want instead: blah-blah-blah-blah. Here’s what we have done so far. Here’s what options we are considering. And if I had to make a decision today without your input, this is the one I would make.

Mark: Oh that’s interesting…

Susan: Yeah, so a lot of people don’t do that.

Mark: Yeah, you plant your stake before listening to everyone else and revising.

Susan: Yeah, the thing you say, you have to mean this. You cannot fake fears. Then you say “so your value in this, and our time together is to tell me what I’m missing from your perspective. What you would do instead of what I just said. Or if you would do what I just said why. And if we get this right, I will be different when this meeting is over.”

That is a very humble, vulnerable place to come from. And I’ll tell you, people will lean in and then you also… you do call on everybody, and you have to keep track, you have to notice who has spoken up and who hasn’t. And if somebody hasn’t spoken up, you have to call them, “hey, jane, haven’t heard from you.”

“Well I don’t really have anything to add.”

“Well, what would you add, Jane, if you did have something to add?”

Mark: You just described a meeting to kind of solve a problem, and that’s definitely a meeting that we want to have. And want engagement toward. What are some meetings that we shouldn’t have, in your opinion? Maybe ones that you’re just like, “I got to stop doing this. This is a waste of time.”

Susan: Well, I was just working with a very high-level executive in a university – let’s just put it that way… and I worked with her for about three months. And this woman’s life was nothing but meetings.

Mark: I know. Those environments are back-to-back

Susan: And I would to seriously consider doing myself in. I just I can’t live like that. And I said to her, “look you don’t need to go to all those meetings. You could send someone else on your behalf. Or you could simply decline altogether, because you don’t need to be there.”

And she said, “Oh, I need to be there. It’s for prestige, it’s for visibility, it’s for what people would think. They expect me to be there…

And I said “oh, so all of that crap is running your life, whereas the reason you came to me was because you have some huge deliverables you’re expected to provide for the university. And you don’t have time to do any of it, because you’re in meetings all the time.”

“And you didn’t call all of those meetings. Some other people called those meetings, but they want you there. And you have to learn to sometimes say to people, “I thank you for the invitation. I am absolutely focused on the thing that’s got my name all over it right now. And I need to decline.”

“But I’d be happy to send someone else for my department.” And just let it go. And that was almost impossible for her to do. It was really, really a struggle – and she kept giving me all the reasons why she couldn’t possibly miss those meetings.

And I finally said “I think we’re wasting each other’s time. I mean, you’ve got your excuses down cold, girl.”

Mark: Right. Practicing them every day.

Susan: Yeah, enforcing them all the time. “Do you hear yourself? What you’re saying?”

“I want this, but here are all the reasons why I can’t have that.” And so I think we should not have so many meetings. We should not always invite the same people to the meetings that we do have. I mean some people will be thrilled to death, if they’re told “you don’t have to attend.”

So I just think meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary – don’t have them. And also another thing that happens is there are some people who are late to meetings. And the person running it waits. Says “let’s wait until everybody’s here.”

No, no. Let’s start when we said we were going to start. In fact, let’s close the door.

Mark: Right. Yes, so stop that behavior right in its tracks.

Susan: Yeah. And I had worked with a pharmaceutical company was they were the worst. And also a big movie company where everybody waited for the CEO to appear. And he was always late. And so they didn’t bother to cut… it was just ridiculous.

So starting on time. You have to honor people’s time. I mean, that’s a precious commodity, don’t waste people’s… it’s like Bob Dylan, that line from one of his songs, “I’m not saying you treated me unkind, you just kind of wasted my precious time.”

I love that. So we just don’t have the right to waste anybody’s precious time.

Mark: Right. Death by meeting is so prevalent. I did a training session with the Walmart executive team – their international executive team – and they confided to me that they have over… the team – not just the CEO – but the team, has over 780 hours or something of meetings scheduled throughout the year already. And then there’s all the other stuff that goes on.

And I was looking, I was just like, “holy cow.” And what you just said, some version of that was kind of my recommendation. I was like, “this is a real issue, guys.”

And I wasn’t in a long term coaching relation – I’m just doing a 3-hour training on how they can get control of their mental/emotional states. And I was like, “this is one of the problems you guys have.”

Susan: Yeah.

Mark: You got no time to get control of your mental/emotional stake, cause you’re just running from one thing to another to another to another.

Susan: Well everything… all this stuff about meetings is in my book, too. So if somebody wants to know how to run a fantastic meeting, they can find it there – all the details about how to do it.

And it’s really very simple. It’s just we don’t do it that way.

Mark: (laughing) Well, it takes practice, right? These are things you got to practice – having fierce conversations – not easy, but you could do it.

Susan: But Mark, what we teach is not complicated at all. When somebody walks out of one of our trainings – whether it’s a classroom or a remote virtual training – they’re armed and dangerous. They’re ready. And they don’t have to refer back to the materials that we gave them… I mean, they got it… because when we’re training people, we do real-play, we don’t do roleplay.

So people put a real issue that’s very important to them in their lives right now on the table. And they practice whether it’s a one-to-one, or a feedback, or confrontation, or a meeting, or whatever it is. And they practice using the model with their real issue. So that when they leave, they’re – like I say – armed and dangerous. They’re ready to go.

It’s not complicated at all. You don’t have to be a psychologist. You don’t have to know what everybody’s different personality styles are like. You don’t have to know any of that.

It works with everybody. In fact it works with cultures all over the world – including cultures who are very, very keen on relationships, and never causing anyone to lose face or anything like that.

Fierce conversations – I mean one of the objectives is to enrich relationships. And that’s really important. So, it isn’t complicated. And once you have the skill, then the courage comes along with it. And once you’ve tried it once or twice – it becomes a way of life. It’s not just something you pull out on special occasions. It’s really a way of life.

Mark: Love that. We gotta wrap up soon, but I do want to ask you with this COVID crisis and you running your own business, and working with other companies – what are some of the…? How are things gonna be different, when we get back to… or get to whatever you see is our new normal? What’s gonna be different, and how can we prepare for that from your perspective?

Susan: Things are going to be different. I mean there are trends that were happening before COVID that are going to accelerate as a result of COVID. Lots more people not putting in the typical nine-to-five day. Or not putting it in always in an office setting. A lot of work needs to be done virtually, with virtual reality with all kinds of very, very cool tools that are being developed.

I’m trying to think of all of it, I just had this long conversation yesterday, with six people about this very topic. And if only I could remember what all we said. (laughing)

Mark: (laughing) It was a long time ago…

Susan: It was a long time ago. But we were talking about the company of the future. Especially training companies. And I remember many years ago faith popcorn – who’s America’s leading trend expert – predicted the triumph of the individual.

And she was right on. I mean, it’s the individual. Amazon is a perfect example of a company that has paid attention to the individual, and knows what you want and what you like and reminds you “wouldn’t you like to order this again?” And you were looking at this, how about this?

So one of the things we’re going to be doing – and we’ve already well begun – is a totally asynchronous version of what we do that allows anybody, anytime, anywhere to gain some skill. But the specific skill that they’re interested in at that moment. They don’t have to sit through two days of other stuff, to get to the one thing that they really want the most.

Mark: Micro-learning.

Susan: Yes, micro-learning, but totally engaging with all kinds of… I don’t know if you watched 60 minutes the other night, but it was fantastic. Because there are people who interviewed holocaust survivors and they one of the gentleman who’s now dead, but he was interviewed for five days from 9:00 to 5:00 every day. Wearing the same clothes.

And what they did was they asked him a gazillion questions – every question imaginable – and then now people can sit in front of the screen and ask him questions. And he answers their questions. And you would swear they were having a conversation with each other.

Mark: Huh. That’s cool

Susan: The person would say “what was it like when you first went into the concentration camp?” And you would say oh I remember that so clearly here’s what it was. I mean, it’s powerful and I was thinking “oh, I want to do that with our material.” I want people to be able to ask a question and get the answer to that question.

I think there’s probably not going to be as much hugging as there has been.

Mark: (laughing) I hope that doesn’t go away, that was one of my more favorite things

Susan: I know. I’m a quite a hugger and I probably will miss that. But I think a lot of us are a little skittish and will be for a while. And I think there will be more virtual working. And it’s really interesting to me what industries have thrived during this time.

So alcohol, garden centers… there have been a lot of businesses that have done really well.

And then the ones that haven’t and what adaptations they’re gonna need to make.

Mark: Right. Yeah, I feel very blessed myself because our business… we haven’t had to lay anyone off or do anything drastic… we’re waiting for the shoe to drop, but we offer mental toughness, resiliency, courage training.

So guess what? We’re at the right place at the right time, I guess.

Susan: Yes and I told all of our employees that we definitely have been hit, because some of our biggest clients are in retail, and medicine, and aeronautics. And industries that have been hugely hit. So our business has just dropped precipitously.

But I told them, I don’t want any of you worrying about paying the rent or your mortgage… it’s not the plan to lay anyone off. We are applying for the forgivable loan and that’s gonna give us some time, buy us a little time.

Mark: Right. Well, if you lay everyone off, then you can’t work together to pivot. And I see how a restaurant has to do that, or heavy labour… but man, for their knowledge workers, now is the time to really double down and figure it out together, right? Because if you lay everyone off and you’re the entrepreneur and you’re sitting there alone trying to figure it out, good luck.

Susan: And everybody is pivoting… I love that word pivot… and you need to be able to be nimble, and agile, and quick. And that’s what we’re doing, we’re doing some major pivoting in areas we were headed anyway. This is just speeding it up. So yeah, I think a lot of good stuff is gonna come out of this.

Although I totally feel for the people who are having to file for unemployment right now.

Mark: Right. Me too.

Yeah, all change comes with pain, but if we breathe into that and we’re optimistic and future focused, then on the other side of that is gonna be some really nice changes, I think.

And also some unpleasant ones. We’ve always had that. That’s the yin and the yang.

Susan: That would be called “life,” right?

Mark: That’s life. Exactly.

On that note – where can people find you? I know you have a website and the book…

Susan: We do. It’s So we’re there. And then I have two books “Fierce Conversations” and then “Fierce Leadership.” And the subtitle of that book is “a bold alternative to the worst best practices of business today.” I’ve often said to people it could have been titled “a complete guide to the freakin’ obvious.”

So those are two books that people can get anywhere.

Mark: And would it be helpful to read “Fierce Conversations” before “Fierce Leadership?” Or do they kind of stand on their own?

Susan: I would. I would read “Fierce Conversations,” first. And then “Fierce Leadership” is a deeper dive into some specific practices – like anonymous feedback – that drive me batty.

So, yeah, I would say go for “Fierce Conversations” first, and then see what you think. And if you really like that, then get the other one too.

Mark: It’s a great book, and I’m working through it on audiobook. Which is a new thing for me. Which is kind of a fun way to learn.

Susan: I’m always listening to a book on audible. And then reading a book on my iPad. And then I have a book book in my hands because I like to support bookstores, you know?

Mark: Right. Isn’t that cool. We have many ways to consume that content. It’s awesome.

Susan: I’m just getting into your book, and so excited to read it.

Mark: Oh wow, exciting. I hope you like it.

Awesome. Well, Susan we’ll spare the listeners a little bit more time. Let them get back to what they’re doing. So thank you so much for your time today. This has been really just an honor and a ton of fun. And I appreciate you for what you do and for your time.

Susan: Thank you, Mark. Thank you for having me. And I really enjoyed it.

Mark: Yeah, if you ever find yourself down in San Diego – when we’re allowed to travel again – it’d be great to see you. And if I make my way up to Seattle…

Susan: Yes, yes. It would be fabulous.

Mark: Yeah. Well, thanks so much.

All righty, folks. That was Susan Scott. Check out her work at and “Fierce Conversations” and “Fierce Leadership.”

This is really, really important. I can’t emphasize it enough. I think the next frontier – which is on us right now, so it’s not even our frontier anymore, it’s just in our face – is to become really effective communicators. And I’ve often said that the level of your emotional awareness and competence is expressed in how we communicate. So you can reverse engineer it.

Susan: Can I add one more thought?

Mark: Yeah, please do Susan.

Susan: In “Fierce Leadership” I’m telling people and I’m saying it whenever I speak – if you want to become a great leader or a great human being, you must gain the capacity to connect with the people who are important to you at a deep level. Or lower your aim.

Mark: (laughing) It’s just not gonna work, right? Unless you do. People demand it.

Susan: That’s what it’s about. Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. I love that. Thanks for sharing.

Susan: You’re welcome.

Mark: All right folks. That’s the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for listening. Really appreciate you, and stay focused, stay confident and courageous. And just show up every day knowing that you’re awesome and the world will be a better place when we get through what we’re going through right now. And I appreciate your support. See you next time.

Divine out.

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