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Tom Steding on Emotional Leadership, Trust, and Culture

By January 7, 2021 January 31st, 2021 No Comments

Today Mark is talking to Tom Steding, business leader, author, and former member of SEAL Team Stanford. His most recent book is Real Teams Win: What Smart Leaders Need to Know Now About Achieving Peak Performance. Tom gives us some insight into his approach to leadership complete with the principles and practices that will lead your team to high trust and safe collaboration.

Hear about:

  • Moving away from the old leadership model of “My way or the highway” to the new model that will give your team a higher purpose
  • The principles that inspire trust and ensure the psychological safety of your team
  • Dealing with narcissists and how it is the root cause of all dysfunction in an organization
  • How “Mindset eats culture for breakfast” and much more…

Listen in to get a better understanding of effectively leading your team and building the emotional integrity to truly value it during these times of high VUCA.

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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine for the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Super-stoked to have your attention, which I don’t take for granted, given all that’s vying for your attention. So I really appreciate you being here and joining us on the Unbeatable Mind podcast.

Today’s guest is Tom Steding. We’re going to talk about emotional leadership, emotional development… how do you build a team that’s built on trust. It’s going to be a fantastic discussion. Something near and dear to my heart. It’s kind of the center post of what we’re doing with Unbeatable Mind. With our vertical leadership and team development program.

Before I introduce Tom a little bit deeper, it’s very helpful if you review this podcast. And we have a ton of five-star reviews on amazon and that helps other people find it. Also helps for you to refer it, for other people to find it… but reviews are really important.

So if you enjoy what I’m doing and the guests we have, and the conversations we have, then take a little moment if you can, and review it on iTunes, or Google play, or Stitcher… or wherever you listen to it, basically. So that’s very helpful.

And I also want to put a note here that if you enjoy my books, it’s also helpful to review them. Hooyah. And that’s pretty much at amazon.

All right enough on that. So Tom’s been teaching leaders, he’s been building companies and teams for many years now. He’s been a CEO of more than 12 high-tech companies. He’s chairman of several others. He works with startups at Stanford on an elite team of advisors they call the SEAL team at Stanford – which is pretty cool.

He’s a founding member of the Silicon Valley angel group. I was part of the San Diego angel group for a while – that’s pretty cool – so obviously he’s into investing and supporting leaders, entrepreneurs and founding teams.

He’s co-founder of the Mayfield alliance with a former Facebook exec named Braze Bertrand. Author of “Built on Trust: Gaining Competitive Advantage In Any Organization.” And his newer book “Real Teams Win: What Smart Leaders Need to Know Now About Achieving Peak Performance.” Awesome.

So we got a lot to talk about, Tom. Welcome. You’re coming in from Lake Tahoe?

Tom: Yes indeed. Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

Mark: Yeah, nice to have you. How has the lockdown been treating you?

Tom: Oh, it’s been fine. We just had a nice snowfall last night, so everything’s white. And so it’s a pretty good place to be, right now.

Mark: Are you up there pretty much permanently? Or are you going back and forth?

Tom: Yeah, we had a home in the bay area and the home up here. And decided when the kids went to college that we had multiple dwelling disorder. And I was actually running a company in Tahoe at the time, so it was an obvious choice.

We love it. We live in a national forest, so it’s fantastic.

Mark: What town are you near?

Tom: Between Homewood and Sunnyside. On the west shore.

Mark: Sure. Beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful.

Well, I always start by just kind of like getting a sense for formative years. Like what got you engaged and heading down this path? What were your early influences in life that really triggered this passion for leadership and team development?

Tom: I talk about this in the forward – I had some wonderful friends who were advising me on the book. And one of them kept beating me up about telling my story. And I said, “the story’s boring.”

She whacked me upside the head enough times…

Mark: (laughing) no story is boring, right Tom? When you really get down to it.

Tom: Yeah, so I wrote the story. And I looked at and said “holy cow. It really makes sense.” But it’s sort of like I just have an innate interest in leadership and making things better. And improving the system around me. That’s probably rooted in early childhood experiences of some kind. Some of which I mention in the book.

And then my career is a succession of attempts to find that leadership style that works. And it’s been a journey in depth. It goes deeper and deeper… it starts out at the intellectual level… PhD in control theory from Berkeley…

Mark: What is that, by the way? Let’s pause there. I’ve never heard of control theory…

Tom: It’s a mathematical optimization of physical systems. So very mathematical area. And it’s powerful, works really well…

And they’ve come up with some great stuff. But optimal control – leadership of people has nothing to do with “optimal” nor “control.”

Mark: (laughing) right, that’s where my mind was going… I could see that work for management systems, but for leadership it’s completely disconnected…

Tom: Yeah, so ten years later my company sent me to the Stanford Sloan program – one-year, mid-career program. Fantastic program.

And so I learned strategy and then I went on to learn a bunch of stuff – in sort of decade-long chunks of trying something. And not finding something that really got to the essential aspect of leadership.

Until in the last 20 years. And that’s when I discovered this material that’s in the book – working with another partner – and felt I had to write it down. Because it really works. I really got to the deeper hidden factors and layers in the organization. And able to characterize those for the benefit of the reader.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Wow.

That’s interesting. Most people don’t know this, but I was actually in a doctoral program in leadership at the university of San Diego. And I invested four and a half years and had about 90%… I was doing my doctoral prep – I forget what that course is – dissertation prep. I had my dissertation subject all lined up, and the team and everything.

And then I got recalled to go to war, which doesn’t usually happen to doctoral students…

Tom: Yeah, right.

Mark: And when I was in Iraq, I had a lot of time to reflect upon where I was heading with that… and the experience that I was just kind of like blindly going through.

And what I came up with is that – no disrespect to USD – but the professors in the leadership program really knew nothing about leadership. But they knew a lot about leadership theory, right?

Tom: Exactly.

Mark: It reminds me of like philosophers – philosophers today know a lot about theory of philosophy, but they don’t put it into practice. So they don’t really understand philosophy.

Same thing with leadership. If you’re not practicing it and as you talk about in your book – the practice of leadership is very, very distinct and often devoid of any reality from what they’re talking about in the theory.

Tom: Exactly.

Mark: Because it’s all about the emotional development and connecting at a deeper level with human beings.

Tom: Exactly right.

Mark: So that’s when I made the decision to leave that program. And come back and start my business to actually develop leaders. And that’s been a long trial and error. So it sounds like we have a lot in common, in that regard. That’s interesting.

So what were some of your kind of major discoveries or insights in terms of what makes leaders more effective? And then let’s get into teams as well. And let’s really see if we can peel the onion on some of these things to help listeners grow their teams and organizations.

Tom: Yeah absolutely. Let me describe it this way – let’s start with the title of the book “real teams win.” The distinction, of course, is between real teams and pretend or fake teams – which is the vast majority of the cases. I’ve been CEO of 13 startups, and in many cases come in to take over a company that’s been in operation for a couple years or longer.

And you talk to the team and they say “yeah, we believe in teamwork. This is great…” And so forth. And under further examination, you discover they don’t communicate, they don’t trust each other, they don’t like each other. There’s slippage… toxic gossip and the culture characterized by fear.

So the approach to building real teams, and well… so how do you do that? Well, it’s a new leadership model. And in the context of the new leadership model, we’re able to deliver that.

So the new leadership model it is an art form and also the promise of the book – about how you actually implement that. The old model is a hierarchical command and control, tell and sell, top-down approach that views the organization as a… it’s a machine metaphor, right? And views the organization from the outside – no concern about the inner life of the team.

The new model is more of a network of nodes, and those nodes are people or teams and they’re connecting links are not reporting relationships… but rather open paths of high trust, safe creative collaboration. And what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to build a system that encourages and inspires participation, full engagement, that’s safe to speak up.

And the new competitive advantage comes from the superior intelligence and creativity of the connected team. So that’s the art form.

Mark: It reminds me a lot of one of my military peers is general Stanley McChyrystal and his team of teams concept. Where you look at the organization more as an organism versus a hierarchy. And each team has autonomous operations. As the dotted line to the information flow to the higher headquarters – which is also a team – and the higher headquarters main purpose is to ensure shared vision and shared experience as well.

The autonomous teams understand the boundaries of execution. It’s really interesting.

Tom: I was briefing the senior fellow of the institute for future and he got through it, he said “this is great.” The one instance he’s seen in the real world where this has been done is Stanley McChyrystal.

Mark: Outstanding. Have you met him? You would enjoy meeting him.

Tom: I’ve connected with the co-author of the book. McChrystal probably reported to general Abazade. General Abazade was on my board in this Tahoe company. And he and I became good friends. So I’m trying to angle my way towards actually meeting McChrystal…

But anyway, what he did is exactly… the book is complementary to his book, because it goes deeper in some aspects. He’s got more stories than I have. He’s got more stories than you can count.

But it’s a great book, and it’s a great demonstration of this method.

Mark: Right. How does one begin to move from an organizational structure and culture that is old model mechanistic, industrial age, management theory into a team of team/organism, network approach? Seems to be almost easier to start that from scratch, than it would be to change a structured culture into that.

Tom: You can change the culture, but that’s always a challenge. The way I do that is suppose it’s a case where I’m taking over a company – like the Tahoe company I just mentioned – been around 25 years.

They were run by a psychotic CEO…

Mark: (laughing) with all due respect…

Tom: With all due respect… and so it’s not a good starting point in terms of everybody feeling safe about speaking up. But what I would do is I’d take them off even in the first day – the first morning – I took that whole team off to an off-site. And I trained them for two or three hours. We talked through the whole thing.

Mark: So you introduced kind of the model, the framework… say, “hey, this is what your future is going to look like. And either you’re on board with it, or you’re not,” kind of thing.

Tom: Yeah, there are three principles, four practices and then this three-layer diagnostic model. So we talk about that.

And then we would go back to the office and over a week or so draft onto a single piece of paper, a statement of principles, that are based on the training. But other aspects.

And everybody gets to edit, contribute to that document. When it’s finalized, everybody signs it. So now he’s got to start.

Then I hold weekly all-hands meetings. Voluntary – it’s not scripted. And use that conversation to constantly reinforce. So people come in and say they’re doing such and such, or are they having a problem here, problem there. And you say “well, here’s how to address it using the training.”

And eventually the light goes on. I mean people start talking about “oh my god. I’m living in an open communication company. And I can speak up. And I don’t get shot.”

And one of the things in that particular case I did was that the CEO kept a employee handbook. And if he caught anybody doing something that he didn’t like – like, going to the dentist at 11:30 rather than 12 – he would write up another rule in the book.

Mark: So he’s managing by rules instead of by values and guidelines.

Tom: And so it’s a 200-page document. I asked everybody to print it off. I went to the fire department; I got a fire permit… and we went out in the parking lot – got a big barrel. And we burned… everybody burned his or her copy of the employee manual. Never replaced it.

Mark: That’s awesome.

Mindset Eats Culture


Mark: I want to get into this later – the three principles, and four practices – a little bit more. But you make a comment which I just loved that… we’ve heard that culture eats strategy for lunch. And then you say mindset eats culture for breakfast. Let’s talk about that a bit. That’s really cool.

Tom: The book introduces the notion of the mindset layer… the mindset layer sits below the culture layer. Now in high tech… finally and thankfully people begin to understand the importance of culture. And that’s where the statement that culture eats strategy for lunch is – I think – correct.

And I went to Stanford and became a great strategist and I realized that culture was more important.

But the problem is, no one knows how to talk about culture and so culture is a pizza for lunch on Friday or it’s “we don’t do politics.” Or other aspects…

Mark: People mistake structure for culture…

Tom: That’s right.

Mark: Because pizza on Friday is structure. Brown bag lunch learning is structure.

Culture is the collective internal sense of self – of the team. Which is really hard for an individual to put their thumb on, because they don’t understand. They’re kind of blind to their role. And they’re blind to other people’s biases and projections. And shadows elements. Interesting.

So the book says if you want to talk about culture, you cannot talk about culture without first talking about mindset. Mindset is defined as the patterns of thought between the ears of the leaders. Whereas culture is the patterns of behavior between the members of the team.

And there are four dimensions to mindset, they’re archetypal in the sense that we’ve been using this for more than a decade, where if you assess a company’s leadership along these four dimensions you can get a very accurate forecast for the outcome of the company. Tell you a lot about them.

And the four dimensions are agility, relatedness, awareness, and courage – and this is all in the book – and each of those has an intellectual, and an emotional dimension… so I use one example – intellectual agility says, “okay, we’ve got a product roadmap. We’re pursuing that. We discovered that that’s not the right road map.”

And you turn on a dime. You change the road map and you’re off on a new path. That’s intellectual agility.

Emotional agility is different. Somebody comes to you with a point of view and you don’t even agree with them… you may not like them…

And yet you’re open to really hear what they have to say and to work with that. And be open to that kind of collaboration. That’s emotional agility.

Mark: That’s what you call complementarity?

Tom: That’s complementarity. That’s an example of complementaries. Both/and…

Mark: Both/and, right. It’s moving beyond agree to disagree, which is shutting down the conversation.

Tom: That’s right.

Mark: Yeah, interesting.

Tom: Now in the four dimensions there’s a notion of the weak dimension. And that’s where dysfunction and that’s dysfunctionality comes into the organization. So you could be strong – and I’ve seen it. A company was strong on agility – well, weak on courage… but strong in the other dimensions – and they were stuck.

So to really understand how the company’s going to perform, you need to look at the balance among those four dimensions.

And then from that you can build an effective culture. But that’s why we say, “mindset eats culture for breakfast.” Because if you don’t have it right, you’re not going to have a good culture.

Mark: Are these four domains… are those the diagnostic model?

Tom: Yeah, that’s right. The diagnostic model is a three-layer model – there’s the enterprise at the top, which is the business strategy and the intellectual stuff, the middle is cultural layer, then the bottom is mindset. Bottom-up model.

So that goes way beyond what they teach you in business school in terms of what’s important.

Mark: Definitely. So with regards to – let me put it this way – one of the things that we really try to build upon in our program is the foundation for what we call the seven commitments of an elite team. Our courage, trust and respect.

You talk about a high-trust, low-fear environment. So trust seems to be a recurring theme. And that comes from having a safe environment where it’s safe to challenge people – which is kind of what we were just talking about… it’s safe to disagree, but also not feel shut down, because your boss says okay “we agree to disagree, but…”

So talk more about trust. How do we build trust in a team? And it probably starts with mindset, and then from there it leaks into the culture just naturally.

Tom: Yeah, that’s right. And the principles and practices are geared towards inspiring trust in psychological safety. Which is a factor that…

Google did a massive – you’re probably aware of this – this massive survey and figure out what was the most important factor for supporting innovation. The answer – number one – was psychological safety.

And that’s consistent with what the book’s talking about is create an environment where people will speak up. And that’s where the best ideas come from.

I mean it’s the McChyrystal experience…

Mark: Psychological safety… is that inclusive of emotional safety in your opinion?

Tom: Oh yeah. I think it’s primarily emotional safety.

Mark: Right. That’s interesting that they use that term. Psychological safety – which to me seems to be really about cognition, as opposed to emotional awareness, yeah.

Tom: Yeah. And it’s not their term – it was previously described by Edmondson at Harvard; she talks about psychological safety as well.

Mark: Right. It’s so interesting to me how like management theory, leadership theories… get kind of trapped by the language of the academics.

Tom: Oh yeah.

Mark: When it’s really a little bit devoid, because what we’re really talking about and I want to get into is emotional intelligence. And even what that is.

Like now we’re stuck with emotional IQ because of Goleman’s work, but even “IQ” is an unfortunate term…

Tom: Yeah, that sounds intellectual…

Mark: It sounds intellectual, right? And so people read the four quadrants of emotional intelligence – social, emotional, and whatever – social skills, individual skills, and individual awareness – and they think “okay, I got this,” right? “I’m aware of this stuff.”

But awareness – we were talking before we started – emotional awareness, emotional control… emotional skill, right? Being able to actually work with your emotions and not be shut down, or repress or reject, or project yourself or others, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

And then you also mentioned emotional integrity.

So let’s talk about this. Like, how does a leader or leadership team – they want to really have the right mindset, also have to have the emotional mindset, which is the flip side of the cognitive mindset.

Tom: Right. Yeah, the awareness has complementary dimensions and the other job of the CEO besides the strategy and the positioning and marketing and all that kind of stuff… is understanding what’s really going on in the team. And to value that. Do people communicate? Do they trust each other? Drama and slippage are signs that it is not working. There’s something going wrong. So what’s going on?

Mark: What’s slippage in your opinion?

Tom: Well, we’re working with a partner now that’s slept a year on their product development plan in a year. I mean, that’s hard to do, but that’s not uncommon. Especially in software.

So that’s where people make a commitment, and they don’t honor the commitment. So get them to be conscious of the notion of an authentic commitment, versus a false commitment.

Mark: Oh boy, we’ve had a lot of slippage in my organization. And we teach this stuff. (laughing) that’s why I know this is hard, right?

Tom: (laughing) it is hard.

Mark: (laughing) it’s easier to teach it, than it is to implement it.

Tom: But we teach that false commitments lead to dramatization in the organization. That’s part of what the training is. When you make a false commitment, you are going to create drama, and that’s going to be sand in the gears for execution.

Mark: Are people aware of a false commitment when they make it? Do you think?

Tom: Often not. They are good intentioned. It’s sometimes… we call it the hallway salute. We’ll go along with the program. “yeah, I’ll take care of that.”

And they don’t think… we talk about honoring doubt. Any serious commitment is preceded by some level of doubt. So you’ve got to allow people time to think it through, and make it, because now the emphasis is on accurate, authentic commitments.

You’ve got an action-item list from the executive staff meeting – don’t come in next week and tell me that you slept on it. You knew on Friday, this is Tuesday. You knew on Friday it’s a slip, you got to bring it up right then.

So it’s a big deal. Authentic commitments become a really big deal. And we use – for example, you avoid force commitments – so if you say somebody “well, when are you going to get that done?” And they’re not sure about when they can do it, you give a date for a date.

Say “well, if you can’t give me a date, you need to think about it. What’s the date when you will have a date?” And that shows up on the action-item list is a date for a date. A d4d. And it’s a very effective way of letting people…

Now you closed it. You got closure…

Mark: Right, otherwise these things can just keep getting kicked down the road, right?

Tom: Exactly. Exactly.

Mark: I’ve seen that. Lots.

Tom: So that helps trust a lot.

Mark: Fascinating. You talk about – and this is related to setting those dates and getting clear about deep commitment – like a full-on commitment versus a “maybe” commitment – is idealized expectations and idealized fantasies. Let’s talk about that.

Tom: Right. One of the three principles is non-attachment. And this is to address the problem of idealized expectations, which we describe as cancer of the mind. So in this in this new leadership model you want creative collaboration. We want open-flow creativity. Avoiding dogmatic thinking.

When you get to dogmatic expressions in the team, you stop the creative flow. The one reason that you get dogmatic statements is somebody’s sitting there saying “I have the superior answer here. This is the only way we can do this thing.” And they state it. That’s their idealized way

Mark: My way or the highway.

Tom: My way or the highway. So they’re attached to some expectation, and we’re saying those attachments are what stand on the gears, again, towards having the creative process provide a better answer than the one that you happen to be attached to.

Mark: And is that also a fantasy? Or how does a fantasy differ than an idealized expectation?

Tom: They’re synonymous, but we use the fantasy to convey the pejorative aspect, and our contempt for how people think that way.

Mark: Yeah, I see.

Tom: “you’re in a fantasy mind. Get out of your fantasy.”

Mark: Yeah, well I’ve seen that play out a lot – lack of awareness around a competency or competency, skills and the totality of what’s involved in a commitment. Which is why I love that date for a date. That’s time for you to go do your homework. See what’s going to be involved, before you take this commitment on.

Tom: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Mark: What are some of the tools to break down those barriers around idealized expectations? And I love this idea that “my way or the highway” is like putting up a mental wall – a mindset wall against that creative flow. It’s like you build this freaking cement wall in front between you and the team. Where they just turn their back and say “okay.”

Tom: Right, exactly.

Mark: Not much going to happen here. So how do we break down those walls?

Tom: Well, a number of things. We could talk about the principles and practices, but there’s another I think, key part of the book. That I found to be incredibly helpful. And that’s called “this is how you do empathy.”

People talk about empathy – including in the EI material – but they don’t explain how to do it. So here’s how you do empathy. And this is complementary, because it’s empathy and challenge together.

So you got two people… you want to have a conversation. You know you violently disagree going into the conversation. You elicit willingness to talk about it.

And then the process is one side is allowed to completely download their point of view. Front to back, top to bottom. No interruption. Encourage completion. Make sure it’s completed.

The other side then does something very unnatural – which is to find something about the person’s point of view and their position that they can agree with. And they state it out loud – it has to be out loud.

Now. That’s experienced by the ego as a defeat. You just gave up ground. I mean, I served under General Patton Jr. General Patton Jr. gave me an award at fort Knox. Patton said, “never give up real estate.”

Well, you just gave up real estate. So it feels like a defeat, from an ego perspective.

The other person experiences that as being seen and heard, to some extent. Being seen and heard is one of the top four things that the people want from their leadership.

Mark: Yeah, you give a little, to gain a lot.

Tom: And then you switch, and you repeat it. Now you’ve got you come out of that with two people, with two perspectives together in each mind. And that creates the setting for finding a third path.

Mark: Yes, I love that. We call that perspective making in our program.

It’s not easy, because if someone is stuck in a rigid thinking or fixed thinking mindset and the other is willing to make a new perspective, then it’s a one-way street.

Tom: It is.

Mark: So, how…? Again, with the more intractable, fixed mindset leaders that you’ve worked with, how do we break them out of this idea so that they can be collaborative, and their way isn’t always the highway. And there’s always a way to find a third win or a middle path.

Tom: In the training you forbid the use of the word “but,” and you send them off to do a little role-playing test. They will come back over and over again, and say the hardest thing was to stop saying “but”… “I can see your point of view, but…”

Okay, well start over, right? And “agree to disagree” is another statement of failure – declaration of failure. So you train that.

You also show them… there’s a high-end tax software company – had a Nobel laureate on the board, a famous guy from Stanford, economics professor – spent 32 million dollars before I walked in the door.

They were stuck on a product decision for nine months. They could not make a decision. We cleared it up in 20 minutes because the underlying factor was the guy was head of technical support, the woman was head of product management and they hated each other.

And so you had to get to the emotion what what’s the basis for the contempt? And resolve that. And then the rest of it flowed naturally. The book talks about complementary partnering or twinning and so you can assign people – “you’re now going to be twins.”

Some people don’t like the term – we like the term, screw it. We’re going to call them twins. So the two of them, we said “you guys are now twins. You are making an unconditional commitment to the person’s well-being. You’re going to cover the other person’s back. You’re going to keep them informed. You’re going to talk every day. And you are going to have a very tight partnership.”

So they went off and did this and fell in love. That’s a little consequence… an unintended side effect, but nevertheless it worked for the company.



Mark: You know, one thing that I’ve been plagued with, because of my upbringing, was attracting narcissists into key roles in my organization. Because I didn’t trust myself enough to either hire the right people, or to do the work myself.

And I think that narcissism plays a huge role in people seeking leadership roles. I’ve seen that, and of course you see that across the governmental spectrum. For me, leadership should be either conveyed or it should happen naturally, right? Because of your character and being in the right place at the right time. Or being the strongest one on the block right there.

Emotionally that is.

So how do we deal with narcissists? Have you had success in unlocking potential and bringing narcissists along? Or should we like identify and kind of move them along?

Tom: The book declares – which I believe – that narcissism is the root cause for all dysfunctionality. It is at the bottom of the stack.

Mark: Narcissism is like hyper-identification with your ego, which is highly defended, right? And so then you get all these distorted behaviors. Try to defend that.

Tom: The book goes back to ancient myths, in order to understand human behavior. And one of the core myths – there are several – is the myth of narcissus.

Now everybody knows about that. Falling in love and looking at the reflection in the water… and falling in the water and drowning. And the narcissus flower and all that kind of thing.

The point about that myth is not so much that – it’s the fact that the narcissists would not take input from anybody. The narcissistic leader is the one that will not take input from the marketplace, or from the team. He’s stuck with an idealized fantasy about what things should be and refuses input.

That is the root of all evil, I think. And we talk about if that’s the case then the mandate is what the book calls “the surrender of the ego.” You’ve got to let go of that, and to be open to reality and the perspective of the team and honor that.

Mark: That takes deep, deep, deep commitment to emotional work.

Tom: That’s right.

Mark: Years of therapy, or just… that’s my experience anyways. I know some people can have spontaneous emotional enlightenment. But it’s usually not the case.

Tom: The shortcut is if you get to the connected team – the other people on the team are not screwed up in the same neurotic way you are. And so they’ll correct…

Mark: (laughing) you’re talking about me, of course.

Tom: No, no, no, no. The generalization “you.”

Mark: I know you’re talking about me.

Tom: (laughing) we’re talking about me, too.

Mark: (laughing) check.

Tom: But the point is that the team may have other problems, but they’re not screwed up in the same way you are – we are. And they’ll correct it. If you allow that – to be open to their input – they’ll tell you when you’re going neurotic again, or narcissistic again.

That saves a decade of therapy. I mean, everybody could use a little therapy…

Tom: I totally agree. One of the things that we’re doing – you might find interesting – with our leaders who bring their organizational teams into our program which we call Unbeatable Mind – you can see that behind me – is we put them into a developmental boat crew or small team.

So you’ve got the company teams that are focused on company stuff, organizational stuff… but then they’re in this other team – which actually might be the same group – but they’re not focused on the company vision, mission, values – execution stuff.

They’re focused on their own growth as individuals, and as a team. Unlocking the potential… having those brutal conversations, and they have a facilitator who’s a certified coach.

And we’re finding huge success with this, because they begin to break down those barriers, those narcissistic, ego barriers, because the leader then begins to recognize that they’re the limiting factor. Because they’re getting this direct and honest feedback, because it’s safe and it’s a facilitated environment.

Tom: Yep. That’s cool.

Mark: That’s a pretty cool model, that we’ve just kind of unfolded, and we’re bringing from the SEAL teams that model. Because everyone in the SEAL teams is part of a team. And that team has a senior leader, who’s not the officer. Who’s the senior enlisted advisor. Who’s like the coach.

And the most junior guys have every bit as much say as the senior guys. And if the senior guy is the one who screwed up – which, as you’re aware – a lot of times it’s the officer all along, because they just kept getting promoted or you know what I mean? How that works in the military. The Peter Principle.

They get called out, and they have to either develop or end up leaving the organization.

Tom: That’s a great approach. That’s exactly in line with what the book talks about. That’s a really wonderful way to implement that. Bring that to life.

Mark: We’re kind of nearing the end the time that we have here, but I’d love to go back and address the framework of the three principles, four practices, and the diagnostic model. Just to kind of reframe it up for the listeners, so that they would be like “huh, I want to learn more about that and go get this book and dig into this a little bit deeper.”

Tom: Sure. So the three principles – and you’re not going to find this in much intellectual leadership books. But the three principles are complementarity – which is both/and thinking. And complementarity… it’s not this or that… it’s this and that – shows up in nature. It shows up in quantum mechanics, it shows up in DNA… shows up in electromagnetism.

It’s apparently, a basic rule of nature. The issue is how do you apply it to leadership. And the book talks about how to do that. We’ve talked a little bit about that.

The second one is empathy, of course. That’s the glue. But we talk about emotional intelligence… we go beyond that to emotional integrity, which is an advance – I think – on the EI dialogue.

The third one is non-attachment, which we’ve talked about before. So you got three underlying that’s at the bottom of the stack. Then there are four practices – communication, collaboration, commitment and closure. Now they sound like normal practices – the point we make is there’s a lot about implementing those things that are an art form.

And the book talks about that. An example was… we just talked about a date for a date. And the notion of avoiding false commitment… all that kind of stuff… that’s all laid out at the practice level.

And then you’ve got the three-layer diagnostic model. It’s kind of a pyramid. The bottom layer is mindset, that drives the next layer up, culture. So you can’t talk about culture without going to the mindset first.

The culture then delivers performance at the strategy level and the business level. So those are the three big chunks of the of the book.

Mark: I can see how all those are self-reinforcing. That’s terrific. I love it, and I love this notion of looking at leadership and team building as a practice. The old model was forming, storming, norming, performing… you know what I mean? “okay, like that just happens.”

It will happen, but you never get to the performing part. Get stuck in the storming part.

Tom: Yeah, the book says how to… how do you do this? Step by step.

Mark: That’s awesome. Yeah, and basically our lives are a how-to. Backed by a strong “why.” So we’re constantly practicing every day. And if we’re not practicing, then someone else is practicing on us. And we’re becoming something that we shouldn’t, right?

Tom: (laughing) that’s right. Exactly.

Mark: In closure, what’s your view of the future… either social culturally, or for organizational leaders? What do you think’s happening?

Tom: Oh man, I don’t know.

Mark: Right? I know.

Tom: In the previous book I was careful to stay to the business scope. But it’s clear that this material has a much broader application.

Mark: Yeah, cause we’re talking about developing next generation of leaders. Who can be more emotionally connected? And I think that disconnection from self, led to disconnection from others, led to disconnection from nature, led to the storm that we have today.

Tom: I agree with you and being stuck in the partisan dialogue without finding solutions together… is just about idealized fantasy and power positions.

Mark: Right.

Tom: And so it’s the I think… when I started the book, I was talking to a publisher he said, “what do you want to do with this book?”

I said – not entirely tongue-in-cheek – “start a revolution.” And it turns out that was underway already there’s a book talks about intimations of the new leadership model, which is way outside of just business.

And one author estimates that 13% of leaders now actually use the open system. 87% don’t, and so the 87% is going to have a much higher failure rate.

This movement towards this is inexorable, but it’s going to take time. And that applies to how we deal with the global issues today. It’s not just running a better business.

Mark: Right. I agree. Yeah, people are demanding social impact, environmental sustainability, conscious capitalism… and employees are demanding to feel more engaged, and to be part of the team, and to be respected. And diversity, and inclusiveness, and all this…

And so that all can’t be prescribed as a structural band-aid. It has to be felt and experienced from within the mindset and the culture.

So we got to change the people. Like Gandhi said, you want to see the change you got to be the change.

I love what you’re doing. We have a similar vision to bring a hundred million to this path that we call Unbeatable Mind. Which is a path of character development at physical, mental, emotional, intuitional and spiritual levels.

Tom: I love it. I love it.

Mark: So I think that our work is very aligned. I’d love to continue the conversation.

Tom: Oh absolutely.

Mark: You’re doing great work.

Tom: That would be great. I really appreciate it… appreciate the time and really enjoyed the conversation.

Mark: Likewise. I did too.

So thank you and hopefully we’ll get to talk again and meet in person. Maybe we’ll see you on the slopes up in Northwood…

Tom: Come visit.

Mark: I love it. All right, Tom. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Tom: You bet. Thank you very much.

Mark: All right folks. That was Tom Steding. Go check out his work “Real Teams Win: What Smart Leaders Need to Know Now About Achieving Peak Performance.” And also “Built on Trust,” which is his original book. “Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization.”

But this the conversation we had is really important. So listen to this… share this episode with your peers, go buy his book.

How can listeners connect to you beyond the book, Tom?

Tom: You can reach me at Tom(at) anytime.

Mark: Do you have any social media or…?

Tom: Yeah, I’m on LinkedIn. LinkedIn and I’m gonna have to learn how to use social media…

Mark: Yeah, you know what? Just wait for a little bit, because maybe Facebook, Twitter and Instagram won’t be such a force in a few years.

Tom: Exactly. It’ll be something else…

Mark: People are kind of ticked at those guys…

Tom: Sure are.

Mark: All right, Tom. Thanks again.

All right thanks every everybody else for listening. I really appreciate your time and energy and thanks for supporting the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Like I said earlier, if you value this work, then please rate it. Hopefully with the far right click… start with the fifth star – all the rest of them light up when you do that. Love that. Saves you time.

And pay it forward.

Divine out.


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