Nia Thomas [00:00:00]:
Hi listeners. Welcome to year two of the knowing selfknowing others podcast where we discuss selfaware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. Remember that in year two we’re going to be doing things a little differently. Our conversations are going to be more fluid and we’re going to be exploring more topics to help us understand selfaware leadership in practice. Join me on my learning journey as we talk to today’s guest. I’m joined by Stephen Shed Ledsky and Shed, as he’s known to his friends, is a speaker, coach, facilitator, and advises humble leaders on how to put their people and purpose first and nurture the voice of others. After being inspired by Simon Sinek’s head talk how great leaders inspire others. Shed worked very hard in networking and eventually he became the fourth person to join Simon Sinek’s team in 2011. And he worked with the team for many years, holding a number of different roles, rising up to the ranks of chief of staff to the CEO and head of training and product development. He led a global team of world class speakers and facilitators and shared hundreds of keynotes and workshops on purpose leadership and culture over the years. And that’s where I first came across Shed, was in one of the training sessions that Shed was leading during one of the lockdowns and was so inspired that I have followed him ever since. Bit of a groupie. His book, Speak up culture when leaders truly Listen, people step up is coming out later this month and it will be in audio and e reader in October and then in paperback in November. But without further ado, shed, it’s lovely to have you here.
It’s such a treat to be here with you. Thank you so much.
Nia Thomas [00:01:42]:
Amazing. We’re going to dive straight in to having a conversation about Speak up. And I’m going to pose my very first question to you, which really is diving into the deep end. What were you seeing in the world or what are you seeing in the world that’s made you decide to focus on speak and why now?
We’re living in quite an interesting time. When COVID began, there was this great mix up and I think as we were sort of a year into COVID, I saw the dynamic, sort of the power dynamic shift to where employees actually had more power and say and people were voting with their feet virtually or otherwise, especially as back to office mandates happened. And there was this sort of great awakening with great resignation and quiet quitting and all these things of human beings want certain things from their employment, regardless of who we are, regardless of age, regardless of where we’re from, regardless of the work that we do. I think we all want to be treated with respect as the human beings that we are, with dignity. We all want to be paid fairly and I think we want to be offered some degree of flexibility or agency. And I know some jobs can be more flexible in terms of where they’re performed from than others for the time being, but hard to be a nurse in hospital remotely. Hard to drive a bus remotely for now, but I’m sure buses soon enough will be driven by AI, robot, whatever. It might be self driving, but for the time being, if you’re driving a bus, you’re in that front left or right seat. We know that there’s a tie to our happiness with our degree of agency, the degree of control we have in the decisions that we make. So I saw that happening. And then there were two very pivotal things that happened in my life and career that caused me to write this book. And it’s a semi autobiographical book. And what’s the quote is, it kierkegaard who know life makes sense looking backward, but it must be lived forward. So as I finished this book and I’m like, oh, that’s why I wrote it. One, I grew up with a stutter, and I know what it feels like to be voiceless. I know what it feels like to have something to say, but to choose not to or try to say, and it just doesn’t come out. I later married a speech therapist. Good choice for me and for my kids. And then the other NIA is I’ve been parts of many teams in my 15 plus year career. Some teams where there is a speak up culture, and it’s marvelous what we can share. The better results that happen for the organization, innovation, creativity, cooperation, trust, and also the relationships that we have. I’ve been on teams where there’s a speak up culture and I have people that are still best friends to this day, even though we’re not on the same team anymore. And then similarly, or quite contrastly, I’ve been parts of teams, witnessed teams, studied teams where there isn’t a speak up culture, and it’s destructive, it’s wasteful, it can be toxic, where we spend inordinate amount of time and energy hiding truth from each other. It’s not good for the firm and it’s not good for the health and well being of the people in it.
Nia Thomas [00:04:53]:
What impact do you think COVID has had? And I asked that because different people have talked to me about that COVID changed the world and we now expect different things. And other people have said that actually COVID has accelerated what we were wanting anyway. Where do you sit on that?
I think yes, all of the above. I think what comes to mind with COVID right now is no one was unscathed from the trauma of COVID Some of us experienced more trauma than others. But it was all a stressful period, an uncertain period for an elongated amount of time. And I lean into my dear friend and colleague Rich Devini’s work on the attributes that the greatest time for our true colors to show is when we’re exposed to stress, uncertainty and challenge. We all had an elongated crash course on our true colors because we were all exposed to stress, uncertainty and challenge, loneliness, fear. And so I think COVID put our leadership, our humanity in a pressure cooker for a long time, and I think it showed the true colors of people. The number of video clips I’ve seen of CEOs and senior leaders freaking out and losing it on their people. Now, granted, they were under a lot of stress as well, but I think a lot of people, not everyone, but a lot of people learned a lot about themselves and voted with their feet again, physically or virtually, which I think is a good thing. Now, what’s interesting is because of recession and market conditions and layoffs and all these things, the dynamic I think has shifted yet again to there being more power back in the hands of employers where there are more people unemployed or underemployed. And I don’t know the specific stats, but I know some personal friends in forty s and fifty s who are very well qualified but are having a hard time finding employment. So now I think there’s a shift back. But here’s the thing. Treating people as the human beings they are, compensating people fairly and offering people flexibility and agency will never go out of style. And I think COVID heightened the importance of that.
Nia Thomas [00:07:10]:
Listeners, I’m very privileged to have had a sneak peek at Shed’s book, so I’ve had a read through. And something Shed you talk about in your book is how past experiences influence individuals willingness to speak up. Talk to us more about that.
Yeah, I mean, it’s very pavlovian. We’re conditioned by our previous experiences. There’s a nature and a nurture component to this, that there are some folks who have more of a personality or a propensity to speak up or challenge in their personality. But we know from the research that environment and culture matters more and further impacts. You can have someone who has a personality and propensity to speak up, but put them inside of a I like to use Pickle Brine as an analogy for culture. Put them in an environment where it’s not safe and it’s not worth it to speak up, and they’re unlikely to, or they’ll go to that well a couple of times until they realize it’s dry and it’s not worth it, and then they go into resignation, apathy, quiet, quitting. And I can’t blame them when it comes to speak up culture and psychological safety, we all have sort of an emotional backpack or a psychological safety backpack of what’s a relationship to authority, what’s a relationship to previous leaders or bosses. And so I think leaders need to know that when they enter into a new environment or folks are joining a team, they’re coming with their previous experiences. And if they previously worked for a quite tyrannic leader or worked for a leader that didn’t cultivate an environment where it’s safer, worth it to speak up and share ideas, concerns, feedback, disagreements, even admit mistake if that wasn’t okay. Even if it is okay, where you are now, there is still a conditioning or a rewiring or sort of an inculcation that leaders have to do, knowing that everyone has their own backpack, their own emotional backpack.
Nia Thomas [00:09:12]:
And I think I read in your book you were talking about that a culture of an organization is the behavior that we tolerate or the behavior we reward. And if you have new people coming with their own experienced backpacks on, you have to be mindful of the behaviors that you’re modeling, demonstrating, rewarding, et cetera.
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I’ll say it again. I think I attempted to write that sentence at least four times in the book, and my editors were like, let’s limit it. But yes, in our cultures, we get the behavior we reward, and we get the behavior we tolerate. Tolerating behavior is a passive form of rewarding. It so for any leader, but especially as you’re really trying to form a different or a new culture, you really have to be clear on what are the values that make this organization healthiest or team healthiest. And at its best, how will we see you behave those values? What are the behaviors that live underneath those values? And I’m a fan as well as articulating values as verbs or action phrases like we have a value of excellence. Do me a favor, Dr. Thomas. More excellence this afternoon, please. Okay. Or weekly could say do more of your best work. EW. That means I should be aware of my strengths and cultivate and amplify my strengths, be aware of my limitations, and work on those and or delegate and be vulnerable with, like, now we’re getting somewhere. And so, yeah, I think we need to be aware of what are those values? What do they look like in our behaviors? And the strength of a culture is the degree to which the values are clear, understood, and behaved. And the more influence you have in an organization or team, the more weight you bear on the culture. Because as leaders, whether capital L or lowercase L, you don’t have to have title. But if you behave as a leader, you have influence. The behavior and the values of those who have influence, your whispers, a shout, and your tiptoes are indeed stomps.
Nia Thomas [00:11:06]:
I think that’s really good advice for anybody who’s leading an organization. If you have values in your organizations, go back and take a look at how you state them. Are they passive, or are they active? And maybe it’s time for a bit of a refresh.
Yeah. A perfect example of this is Enron. So, Enron, which is the American company famously known for an accounting scandal. I use lead and air quotes by you know, they had values, and they were they’re hilarious. They were communication, respect, integrity, and excellence essentially meaningless. And if you actually articulated the values as to what they could mean in behavior, I’m not saying that we would avoided the scandal, but maybe it would have been different.
Nia Thomas [00:11:49]:
Talk to us about the leadership approach that we really need to experience more of if we want to foster an environment where employees feel safe enough to speak up and they feel empowered to speak up.
I think leaders really need to embrace curiosity and patience and empathy. As you know, I put together sort of a trifecta of chapters in the heart of the book, which is define Leadership, select Better Leaders. Essentially select leaders against that definition and then help leaders lead, give them opportunity to train, to try to develop not just the skills, but especially the human attributes of what it means to be a leader. So I think a, as society, I think we need a better definition of leader and leadership. The fact that we have the term servant leader means that the definition of leadership is broken. Like, we shouldn’t need to put servant in front of leadership. To lead means that you have a service orientation. Otherwise you’re just in charge. So there are certain behaviors and attributes that I think great leaders have. They’re authentic, you know, where you stand with them, they’re consistent. Again, they have a service orientation. They’re decisive and they’re accountable. When things go well, they give credit to others. When things don’t go well, they take responsibility themselves. High on empathy. Right? And so I think leaders really need to know that their perspective is but one perspective. I put the word truly in front of listening in the subtitle because listening, it’s a skill that can be used as a manipulative atom bomb. Right? We’ve all come across really good listeners and then they use what you share against you. And that’s not authentic, compassionate listening. That’s manipulative listening. And so I think leaders need to flex that curiosity, that patience, that empathy to truly listen. Truly listening to me is a combination of the skill of listening with the attribute of compassion. So yeah, I think it is never easy to lead. It is not an easy time to lead with AI and cancel culture and all these things that just make it hard and sure. Will there be people who take advantage of your humanity and empathy? Yeah, they’re not great fits for your team. We get the behavior we reward and we get the behavior that we tolerate. So, yeah, I think leaders really need to lean into how do you define leadership? And I attempt to sort of cast a bit of a standardized definition of leadership, though it’s always nuanced and looks different where you are both organizationally and where you’re from, what culture you’re in in this world. But I think there are certain leadership behaviors. We need to select leaders against that definition and then help leaders lead. There’s a stat that I saw from Zenger that says there’s a ten year gap between when people typically get their first management job age 29 and when they get their first management training age 39. That’s like, what are we doing? What are we doing? I think we need to figure out what are the behaviors? Who are the people that have the propensity for those behaviors, invest and support them and help them lead.
Nia Thomas [00:15:04]:
One thing I’ve seen in a few organizations that I’ve worked in that they describe some of the behaviors that they expect to see that link to those values. Is that something that you’re seeing in organizations? Because I think that really does help with the description of what is leadership, what is management, what behaviors to expect in an organization, and therefore what creates our culture.
Yes, and by the way, I think there’s room for both management and leadership. I think there’s so much out in the zeitgeist of like, management bad, leadership good. And I’m like, well, hold on a second. How many people have manager in their freaking title? And you’re just saying that they’re bad. That’s not useful or fair. Things need to be managed. And managers are the only folks in organizations that have multidirectional influence. They’re actually the key to any organizational change. And senior leaders are envious of managers because they can influence up, they can influence side to side to their peer group, and they influence down. And so organizational change lives and dies in the middle with managers. So I think we need to help highlight that. We need managers, of course we need more managers who aren’t just good at their jobs, but also lead, who display leadership behaviors. But yeah, I’m a big fan of we need to not tarnish but glorify the role.
Nia Thomas [00:16:25]:
I agree with you that leadership and management are different things. But I think the memes that you see saying management is bad and leadership is good, I don’t think it’s helpful because individuals, we often have to do both of those roles. So for me, I often talk about management is about looking down and in and leadership is up and out. But sometimes we have to do both.
Yeah, management isn’t bad. Management is needed, and we need more managers who behave as leaders. And by the way, you don’t need to be visionary to be a leader. And there is such a thing as being a visionary, but not being a leader. And there is such a thing as being a leader and not being visionary. Leadership is in the behavior. Now, there are some people who are both visionary and behave as leaders, but vision, I think, is just but one thing that some people do, whether they we need vision to create and propel better futures. But just because you have vision doesn’t mean you’re automatically a leader. You still need to display the behaviors.
Nia Thomas [00:17:28]:
In a landscape where poor leadership seems all too prevalent, what kind of challenges are leaders facing really upholding that ethical standards and that people first approach in their organizations?
Yeah. So I mentioned pickle brine before.
Nia Thomas [00:17:43]:
It’s a brilliant analogy. I really like that. I often go back to that part.
In the book and I just like pickles. So let’s give pickles some more spotlight. So, I mean, we can take the world’s best cucumber, put it in some awful pickle Brine, and what do we have? An awful pickle. And we cannot blame the cucumber for it. You have to examine the environment. Similarly, you can take a not so great cucumber, put it in excellent pickle brine, you have a great pickle. You can take talented, ethical people, put them in a broken system or environment, and they will behave unethically. Look at all the scandals from Boeing 737 Max to the Wells Fargo scandal, where good, earnest, community based sales folks were selling people four, six, eight different accounts that they didn’t need because of a sales quota that was being pushed down from senior leaders. So I think we need to examine the very brine that we’re in. I think public companies and the pressures of Wall Street or public markets aren’t necessarily doing a service to good business. It’s causing more and more businesses and leaders to act, to take from Simon Sinek, a more finite mindset than an infinite mindset. And so I think we need courageous leaders who, especially if they’re in public organizations or have any external and even internal pressure to rise above that pressure and to do what’s right. And I think we need more systems, more leaders who reward people for doing the right thing, not the expedient thing. And I’m talking about the quality of ingredients we put in our food and in our products. I’m talking about the ways in which we treat people and compensate people. We live in an environment where, unfortunately, poor leadership, or what I call leadership, is tolerated. And I think we should expect better. And I think the change always, always begins with us. Are we willing to behave in a way that is more akin to the behavior that we wish to see?
Nia Thomas [00:19:40]:
Listeners, I’m going to pose this question to you. What kind of pickle are you? What pickle brine is around you, and how is that facilitating how you’re showing up in work? Shed and I are on LinkedIn, so maybe you can drop us a line underneath the promotion for this podcast and you can talk to us about what kind of pickle Brine you’re in at the moment.
And I’ll even know leadership and leader shit trickles down. So I have great empathy for leaders of leaders or anyone who has a poor leader. I’ve been there. And it impacts your health, your mood, your well being. It impacts the way that you treat your friends or your kids or your colleagues or your life partner. So I have empathy for those who don’t have a great leader. And I think it’s the opportunity to try to behave better, try to find a brine that matches the pickle that you want to become.
Nia Thomas [00:20:38]:
Brilliant. So we’ve talked earlier about leadership should be the definition that we try and work to. I’m interested in self aware leadership, but I almost feel guilty now because I’ve put self aware in front of it because actually we should all just be talking about good leadership. But nevertheless, we are where we are.
Nia Thomas [00:20:58]:
How can self aware leadership really contribute to fostering a speak up culture?
In the dozens and dozens and dozens of leadership development programs that I’ve participated in or facilitated, I’ve noticed a theme. And the theme is every single leadership development program I’ve seen all starts with a module on leading self awareness. And it makes sense. The insecure leader is a dangerous and ineffective leader. I’m a big proponent that if you wish to be a good leader, do the work to figure out your own instrument, which, by the way, is a never ending job, you will still be learning things about yourself and others until your dying day. And it’s part of the brilliant experience of being human, this thing called growth and learning and knowledge never done. How amazing, right? And what a challenge. And so the work of leadership is to figure out what are you working with and then what are your lanes and how can you amplify your strengths, be aware of your limitations or weaknesses and be vulnerable with them and safeguard for those? It’s the value of team. As individuals, we’re okay, we are remarkable in some respects. But it’s only together as teams that we truly complement and can help one another because you have strengths and experiences that I’ve never had and vice versa. So together we can be stronger and better. So the work of leadership is to figure out your own instrument such that you have the security and confidence to help others figure out their instrument because it is never the same as yours. I once had a leader said to me, you can be the next me. And I realized, upon reflection, I don’t want to be the next you. I want to be the next me. Right. The goal of leadership is not to have people do as you would. It’s to help people do as they would. So to help people figure out their instrument and where they can harmonize with you and others. The work of leadership is not catching more fish that’s micromanagement. The work of leadership is helping others catch more fish in their own right and in their own way. And the other thing we were talking about, because you were mentioning around organizations that sort of have articulated, this is our culture and our leadership behaviors and our value. Great. And I’ve seen these cards and these scorecards and these definitions fantastic. If they stop there, meaningless. In fact, they can do more harm, you actually have to use them. And again, we get the behavior in our cultures that we reward and we tolerate. So if it’s like, yeah, we use those behaviors, except for our toxic top performers, they get a hall pass. That’s a broken culture. So define culture as much as you want, define leadership behaviors as much as you want. But a value isn’t a value until it costs you something. And so are you willing to make hard decisions, provide tough feedback, coach people if necessary, if they might be performing or maybe they’re underperforming, but they’re behaving in a way that is outside of the value set and the behavior set of the organization. That’s where those scorecards and those little cue card culture on a card. If it stays on the card, bravo. You wasted money and paper if you actually live and breathe it. Now we’re going somewhere and make decisions, hard decisions on it. Now we’re getting somewhere. That’s traction.
Nia Thomas [00:24:23]:
In your book, you talk about an encourage and reward cycle. How do you think that that contributes to building a psychological safety that we need in organisations to really foster this SpeakUp culture?
Yeah. So what’s fun is, as I began writing this book, I fully thought and admit that I was just rebranding psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, who’s a scholar that I have great and deep respect for, both as a professional and a human being. She’s lovely. She endorsed the book. Thank you, Amy. I had a bit of beef, though, with psychological safety. My colleagues, minette, Norman and Carolyn Helbig, helped to solve some of this. They wrote The Psychological Safety Playbook, which is a very practical behavior guide. It highlights 25 moves that leaders can make to create more psychological safety. Brilliant. My beef with psychological safety, a couple of things. One, I don’t love the term. It feels like we put a white vanilla lab coat on top of a very human topic and experience. So I was never a fan of the term. Fan of the concept, not a fan of the term. The other issue I had is most of the work is highly academic. And so when I wrote this book, I fully thought I was just rebranding psychological safety. Good old Zig Ziglar quote, people don’t buy drills, they buy holes. So I thought, psychological safety is the drill, and a SpeakUp culture is what you get. It’s the hole. It’s the result. Now, as I delved into the work and the phenomena, my own experience with it, research on it, I realized that psychological safety is but one of the drills. There’s another one, a less known body of work called Perception of Impact. The way I summarize it is, is it safe? Is it psychologically safe to speak up? And is it worth it? Because it can be safe, but it’s not worth it. That might look like a friend who has four alcoholic beverages a night, and you feel safe to intervene and say, I don’t think that’s the healthiest choice. Do you feel confident that your intervention is going to lead to any meaningful change in behavior? I hope so. But after two, three repeated interventions, you might slip into apathy and be like, all right, I just got to let you make your bed and sit in it. Similarly, there might be bureaucracy, red tape, systemic issues that you might feel safe speaking up, perhaps, but you don’t feel that it’ll lead to any meaningful change. So I dived into this and it’s more than psychological safety. It’s also, Is it worth it? And there’s three other quadrants. Obviously, we want it to feel safe, we want it to feel worth it. Both are perceptions. We don’t want it to feel both unsafe and not worth it. That’s an unhappy marriage between fear and apathy. I’ve been there. No fun. But another really interesting quadrant is it isn’t safe, but it’s worth it. This is where you get courageous leadership or even whistleblowing. We saw this with Ed Pearson at Boeing, with the 737 Max, where he went, this is not a safe plane. And he spoke up to his own detriment and risk, to his reputation, his job, his relationships. We Also Saw this with Kimberly Young McLear, who’s An Openly gay, Black PhD in The US. Coast Guard. And she spoke up about a culture of harassment, which we’ve now seen in the news has been, or had been quite prevalent in the Coast Guard. So A, this speak up culture is more than psychological safety. It’s also the perception of impact. Is it safe? Is it worth it? The encourage and reward cycle, these are the two behaviors that leaders must display on repeat and it ripples. In order to create a speak up culture, first we have to establish a precedence. Your voice matters. I want to hear it, especially if it’s a dissenting view, and do everything in your power to create the condition that people are willing to take the risk to step into that speak up ring. Because there’s no such thing as fearlessness. In fact, if you come across a fearless leader, they’re the one that’s going to get you killed. Right? Fear is important. It’s a risk modulator. If it weren’t for fear, we wouldn’t have courage. So leaders inside of speak up cultures don’t obliterate fear. That’s not possible. But they create less fear such that people are encouraged to step in and share their ideas, share their feedback, share their concerns, their disagreements, especially with senior leaders, and even admit mistake, believing it will lead to improvement, not being ignored and not punished, then it’s the reward piece. So if you set this condition with everything, the emails you write, the questions you ask in meetings, the way you design meetings, ensuring that you’re hearing voice through chat and breakout rooms and polls, and not just actual voice, but giving plenty of opportunities for people to voice. Their ideas and their concerns. And then when people finally do, do you reward them or do you ignore them or punish them? And there are people who will speak up, but it maybe isn’t the right time or the right way. And leaders need to still reward the intent while coaching on the behavior. I think it’s the comedian Craig Ferguson who’s quoted with what has become one of my favorite Venn diagrams for speaking up, which is, does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? And does it need to be said by me? If the answer is yes to all three, go for it. But if there’s a no anywhere, there you’ve got different plays and different moves. And if you truly have a speaker culture, if it needs to be said now, but not by you, you should have an environment where you can say, hey, Dr. Thomas, can you go to that appendix that you created? I really think what you have to share here is going to fundamentally shift the decision that we make. Hate to put you on the spot, but I know what you have to share is valuable. Please. Right. And though that’s hard, it’s right and it’s welcome and it’s rewarded and it ripples. It ripples because if I report into you and I take the risk to speak up and it goes, well, guess what I do? I tell my friends and I walk out feeling pretty valued and heard. If I go into your office or we have a meeting or a phone call and it doesn’t go well, guess what I do? I’m deflated and I tell my friends. And so it ripples.
Nia Thomas [00:30:39]:
How are organizations are finding out from their people whether there is a psychological safety, whether it is worth it for them to speak up? I’m interested in not just what we do in organizations, but how we do things. And I’m interested in whether organizations are having conversations about how do we do what we do. There’s a two by two matrix in your books, which I really liked, which anything with a picture and I’m happy. And it really helped to describe that. What I’m wondering is, are organizations doing anything that actually tells them where they are in this matrix?
So yes, and there’s a challenge. And the challenge is that everyone’s truth is their own perception, and they’re always right. This is the value of a survey, but I don’t think we can only stop it at a survey. So again, the two by two matrix is, is it safe and is it worth it? But here’s the thing. You and I could report into the same leader and I could say, they’re the best leader I’ve ever had. They make me feel so safe. My voice and opinion matters. And you could say, do we work for the same leader? That’s not my experience. And we’re both right and we both have psychological safety. And emotional backpacks that influence our perception. But there is a value on looking at an overarching employee survey if a good percentage of the employee population actually filled it out and answered honestly. But you can ask questions like my voice and opinion matters here, right? How are you doing on a likert scale there? So there’s definitely survey data that can help, but it’s questions like, what’s your relationship like with your leader on a scale of one to seven? Seven being healthy. And we know, as you said, we don’t quit companies, we quit leaders, we quit managers, and we stay for managers and leaders as well. So there’s definitely things we can do from a survey perspective. And I’m a fan of doing micro surveys as well, not just once a year, because great, there’s a data point. But especially for organizations that are large and complex. I think it’s the role of leaders and the most senior leader to create an expectation that we as a species are living outside of our comfort zone. We’re not designed the fact that we’re doing this and having a live conversation. You’re in the UK. I’m in Canada, like, wow, right? This is well beyond our primitive origins. Right? And you look to our primitive origins. We lived in groups of 100 to 150. If you looked to Robin Dunbar’s research, as soon as you grew beyond that number, you would split off into a couple of tribes. So we’re not designed to be living in this abstract world with thousands upon millions of people around us. And so for a CEO who leads an organization with anything more than 150 people, now people start walking the halls virtually or physically, and you’re like, who are you? They know you, but you don’t know them. So the only way for a culture to scale is one leader and one team at a time. And so leaders need to create this condition of, hey, organization. I’m very serious about leadership here. This is what it looks like from a values and behavior standpoint, I don’t get it right every day, vulnerability and truth. But I strive to and I strive to live these for my team. And here’s the thing. I do it for my team, not for free. I do it so that they do it for their team and so on and so forth. And even if there’s 250, 20,000, however many people there are, the expectation is pay it forward and pass it on, because every single person in this organization has a leader. And my commitment or my obligation, my responsibility is to ensure that you have an effective leader. So that’s the only way for this stuff to scale as one leader and one team at a time.
Nia Thomas [00:34:52]:
I really like that description of behavior. The way you behave towards somebody is paying it forward because you hope that they will behave like that towards somebody else.
Yeah. Which is why I have a few direct reports. Two of them are my kids. And when I behave in a way that kids trigger kids, I thought I was patient until I had children. And have there been moments, many moments, where I’ve behaved in a way that either immediately following the behavior or upon reflection sometime after? I’m like, as I look in the mirror, I didn’t behave in the way that I’m asking and wanting them to behave. So you know what I do? I clean it up and I apologize and I strive to be better. There was one time that my daughter, she must have been four, and she said, Daddy, you’re a liar. I went whoa. And she said, you said you would never raise your voice at me ever again. And I said, oh. I said, I’m very sorry. I said, I’m going to work, not to. But sometimes Addie gets impatient, and I might use a tone of voice that you don’t like, and I’m working on that, but I can’t promise you that I’m never going to raise my voice. But I’ll promise you that I’m always going to work on it to be kind and patient and respectful. And I think that’s the work that we can try to do, leadership in being a human being is not about perfection. That’s impossible. It’s about owning our fallibility. And we always err and out of.
Nia Thomas [00:36:24]:
The mouth of babes.
Nia Thomas [00:36:30]:
You have a background as a trainer, so tell us your thoughts on providing leadership development opportunities before people step into formal roles. And in asking this question, I should say that I’ll declare an interest. But when I did my research, we led to the conclusion that actually leadership has to come from an innate ability that you can’t learn to be a leader like you can learn to fix a bicycle. So what are your thoughts around providing leadership development opportunities?
My favorite quote on leadership comes from my dear friend Rich Devini. And when I speak about attributes, I’m referencing his work. And I view Rich as a great leader, and there were stakes in his leadership as a US seal, life and death, foreign affairs stakes. And so my favorite quote on leadership that’s from him is leaders aren’t born. Leaders aren’t even made. Leaders are chosen based upon the way that they behave. And so there are some folks who are born with some of the innate qualities that are more likely to make them a leader. But just because they have the qualities or just because they have the title, doesn’t give them the license of being leader. I do think leaders can be developed, but what it takes to develop as a leader is a an awareness of what it takes, b, a willingness to do that work and putting yourself in situations where you’re tested. So if you know that empathy is really important for leadership, and maybe your medium on empathy, I mean, there is such a thing as having too much empathy, it actually can get in the way. But I think effective leaders have empathy. And so if, you know you want to work on your empathy because maybe it’s at a self reported three or four out of ten and you want it to get to a six or seven, you can deliberately put yourself into experiences that flex that muscle of empathy. You can volunteer with a certain at risk population, or you can work really hard to ask more questions to connect with the people around you. So, yeah, I do believe that leadership is a choice. Leadership is a practice, and we can identify what are the behaviors and the attributes of leadership. But you’re right, it isn’t fixing a bike that’s technical. It’s far more adaptive in its nature.
Nia Thomas [00:38:58]:
So tell us, what do you do in your practice to develop self awareness?
I have done lots, and I continue to strive to do lots. I have taken a number of assessments which I’m a fan of, which is inclusive of strengths, finder and Spark Type, which is a newer one from Jonathan Fields and Disk and Insights and Hogan and Berkman and my conflict reactions. And there are so many assessments that I’ve taken which are valuable. Now I’m 36 and 15 years into my career. There are some things that I know about myself that are strengths and things that I know about myself that get in the way and our weaknesses or limitations. And I’m always down for a good assessment or a psychometric, especially if I think that I can learn something new or look at it a different way. Then no matter how many times I try to understand Myers, Briggs just doesn’t work for me. I’d rather disc or insights personally, but different ways to slice the Carl Jung pie works better for some than others. The other thing that I strive to do. There’s a brilliant article that came out of The Atlantic in 2017 or so called Power Causes Brain Damage, which shows through MRI scans that the more power one has, the very behaviors around discernment, empathy, decision making that allowed people to gain into the roles of power, they lose those very things as they get into that role. The antidote to it is what I call candor with care. So it highlights Winston Churchill, and his wife actually wrote him a letter saying that she feared that he was losing touch with his constituents of Barack Obama. Michelle is a grounding force to him, and anytime he’s glorified, whether he’s present or not, he will remind everyone around him that his feet also stink just to humanize him and for him to not believe all of his own press as well. And so something that I strive to do is I’m very selective and very intentional around the people that I surround myself with and the people that I seek counsel from. And I work really hard to have them dish me their truth, not just what they think I want to hear. Because around every narcissist is a group of yes people. And I do not want to be a narcissist. We all have narcissism, like narcissistic tendencies, but it’s those of us who have too many of them all the time that slip into the disorder. But narcissism, which is a healthy view of oneself, can be effective to a you know, there are people that I have contracts with. One is my wife, two others are my kids and my teammate and business partner and employee, Alejandro. Anytime I deliver feedback, especially to Alejandro, because we have a very feedback rich relationship. Same with my wife, even with my kids. I say, this is my feedback. It’s not fact, it’s opinion. I want to hear your experience as well. And so I work really hard to surround myself with people who dish me, what their truth is. And then I work really hard that when that truth stings, hurts or is not what I want to hear, that it means that it’s probably true. And I add in probably just to be nice. It’s true. So those are a few things that I constantly work on. Anything that you do that’s different that you would add?
Nia Thomas [00:42:23]:
I like written things. So I will often journal. I will sometimes write down a couple of words to reflect on how I may have operated or behaved in a particular presentation. And then sometimes I’ll ask other people who maybe I work with closely or maybe I don’t work closely with to say, what three words would you give me in feedback? I really like what you said about giving feedback and saying, this isn’t fact, it’s my opinion. And I think that really helps to level that playing field when you’re in conversation with somebody else and you’re just giving them feedback, not fact.
Yeah. And my favorite equation for feedback, and I highlight this in the book, is FBI Feeling Behavior Impact. So how do you feel own your own feeling? What was the observable behavior in another that caused you to feel that way? And then what’s the impact? And hopefully done within a reasonable time after the behavior, not six months later. What uses is that? But when you see and it’s both for positive as well as constructive feedback. I felt supported when you had all the materials and appendices prepared for that client. The impact is I only want to keep partnering and working with you. I felt frustrated and let down when you were late to three client meetings last week. The impact is, I’m not sure I can trust you with what’s on your plate, what’s going on? This isn’t like you. What’s up? Open dialogue. And I love as well NIA the vulnerability and truth and even sort of like nakedness of writing down self reflection or feedback. And when you see it tangibly in front of you, it’s like, do I believe that is that really how I feel? And anytime I’m about to give someone feedback, I will typically write it down first, just to examine it and be like, is that how I feel? Am I being fair? In my view, they’ll have their own view. But yeah, there’s something really honest about writing it down and looking at it and being like, I’m not buying what I’m selling, or yeah, that’s how I feel.
Nia Thomas [00:44:24]:
That’s really interesting. So maybe we do need to think more about our senses and if maybe listeners, you’re more visual or you’re more auditory, sometimes it’s good to try the other version just so that you can see what it feels like and you can see it from a different perspective. Before you go, I’ve got two more questions. The first one is, how did you enjoy writing the book? How did it feel? What kind of process was it? Was it painful? Was it enjoyable? Maybe it was all those things.
Yeah, that’s a great question. So working with a well known, prolific author like Simon Sinek for over a, you know, being one of his trainers and speakers and coaches, there have been many times that I’ve been asked over the years, when are you going to write your own book? And my response was always the same if and when I ever come across something worth writing about. Because I never wanted to write a book, because that’s what keynote speakers do. That’s the definition of a book that is likely pretty crud when a book is written for the purpose of it being sold in the back of the room. Yikes. And so a couple of years ago, it would have been this early summer of 2021, I said yes to a friend of mine asking me to speak at a human resources conference. And they didn’t have a ton of budget, and I said I would do it and I’d bring my own content, even though I didn’t really have much content. And my real plan was just to ask my friend Rich Davini if he wanted to do it together and he’d bring the content. But Rich wasn’t available, and so it was just me. And it was fine when I said yes to it in February, but when I got notification from the team planning the event in June or July saying, Hi, Steven, we’re looking forward to your talk in October 2021, please click this link and fill out your talk title and description. And I went, oh, no. And it was that sort of pressure cooker of, wait a second, what is my point of view? What is content and ideas that I have and my own intellectual property? And that sort of pressure began to form the beginnings of an idea. At first, I started calling it Listen Down, as in great leaders, listen down. I didn’t love that because it felt a little authoritative and pedantic and talking down too. But I do still think that leaders work hard to go levels below them to understand the reality of what’s going on in their organization in a myriad of different ways. But we later called it speak up. Thanks to Sue Barlow, who helped Jim Collins with good to great. She said, hey, call it. Speak up. And I went, that’s way better. So I came to the party with my publisher with about 30 pages of notes that were somewhat coherent. And I had a great experience working with a developmental editor and taking 30 pages of notes and putting it into their process. My publisher’s, page two, and putting it into their process. It was about a ten to twelve week process. We started in October and just after Christmas we had a book outline. And it was fantastic because we took these 30 pages of notes and transported them into I think at the time, it was 13 chapters, which later became a preface. And eleven chapters, we cut one chapter and then I got help with the first draft. For me, a blank page totally intimidates me and I knew that if I wanted to get something done, period, done as well as done well, I wanted to work with a writing partner. And so the first draft, I worked with a writing partner to just get it out. That first draft was 33,000 words. I edited and worked very closely on the first five chapters and then the last seven not as closely. And then I edited the heck out of that book and took the first draft, which was 33,000 words, and took it to 46,000 words. And then it was just a series of finishing writing the book many times over and over and over again, because you submit, you do an edit. And so there was sort of a running joke with a number of times in the evening I would look over to my wife and say, I finished writing the book again. So on the whole, it was hard, it was a lot. But I had a very pleasant and good experience because I surrounded myself with an amazing team, very lucky to have an amazing team around me, both in my publisher page two and the writing support I had with my friend Ariel.
Nia Thomas [00:48:57]:
So maybe we will see a book two, who knows?
Yeah, I already have book two planned. It’ll be very different. It’ll be my grandfather’s a Holocaust survivor and he was a big influence in my life. And so I intend to write The Book of Ben, which will be his life story, told from my perspective.
Nia Thomas [00:49:13]:
I look forward to reading that.
Nia Thomas [00:49:16]:
So now you have your book about to be launched, what are you going to do next to spread the word about Speak Up culture?
OOH, fun question. Thank you. Yes. And if you’re in North America, October 3 is release. October 3 in the UK is for audio and, ereader, the paperback is November 13. I believe what’s next is a book is but one thing. And if I’m really serious about creating more environments in which people feel that it is both safe and worth it to speak up and give their best and give their all, we got to find a myriad of ways to do that. So, absolutely, the book, absolutely more keynotes and fireside chats and workshops and trainings and coaching, but also tools that can scale online courses that we’re working on right now as well. Digital downloads and guides and finding and supporting the leaders who have the humility to strive to practice this and know that they’re not getting it perfect every moment, every day because no leader does. So, yeah, I’m so pumped for the book to be out there and for people to get their hands and hearts into it and on it, and then yeah, we’re finding as many ways as we possibly can to help leaders actually do something with us and change the way that they lead or enhance the way that they lead.
Nia Thomas [00:50:38]:
Well, huge congratulations on pulling together a really good book. I really enjoyed reading it. And listeners, I’m sure you will as well. But for today, thank you so much for joining me. Stephen Shedletsky it’s been a really interesting conversation, listeners. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Shed thank you.
Thank you so much. This has been a long time coming and I’m glad that we did this. Thank you.
Nia Thomas [00:51:00]:
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. Remember to rate and review the podcast on your favorite podcast player. Remember to sign up to my newsletter on Knowingselfknowingothers co UK and remember to join me on my learning journey in next week’s episode so that we can develop more self aware leaders around the globe and generate kinder, more respectful and creative working relationships through reflection, recognition, and regulation. The knowing self knowing others podcast is available on Goodpods Spotify. Google Podcasts. Goodpods Pod chaser amazon Music podcast. Podcast it’s.