The best leaders are often those that care about their people, seeing them as humans who seek growth in their personal and professional lives just as much as we want it for our business. Tom Peters, the co-author of the bestselling book, In Search of Excellence, believes this is one of the great foundations of creating excellence in business. In this episode, Tom reminds us of the value of managing people effectively in a way that facilitates their professional and personal growth. How do we do that? What kind of leadership style can help us lead our people? Tom answers this and more. At the end of the day, it’s 100% people’s business. Tune in and become a leader desperate for your people’s growth.
Show Notes: (RAW AUDIO with blog markers)
06:57 – Understanding The Bureaucrats – One thing I learned incidentally and liked to get noisy about is this
11:06 – Captain Day And Captain Night – You mentioned Captain Day and Captain Night
17:45 – A Leader Is Desperate To Help People Grow – Tom, let’s see if it fits. I don’t want to repeat this
30:06 – Power Of Humanizing – Leadership is not a thing that is easily taught
33:54 – Fabulous Design And Women Leaders – We’re wrapping up here, Tom. Maybe this will
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Creating Excellence In Business Through Leaders Who Desperately Care With Tom Peters – Replay
How do you become a true leader in a way that’s genuine and caring? In this episode, I speak with Tom Peters, who honorably served in the Navy and is the bestselling co-author of In Search of Excellence, the book that changed the way the world does business and is often tagged as the best business book ever. In November 2017, Tom received the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award.
In this episode, Tom shares that a leader’s role is to make every living human being better and more successful in the way that they work. You need to connect with others as individual human beings, Tom says. Not as job categories. Being decent, caring, and thoughtful when getting your job done, despite all of the roadblocks is essential. We also discussed how to show your team that you truly care and the role of a leader in the new landscape of digital work. Sit back and enjoy this conversation of my discussion with Tom Peters.
I have a great honor to have, as my guest, the one, the only, and the unique, Tom Peters. If you are someone who has studied business management, excellence in business, the authors of pretty much the most cutting edge thought and thinking about what it means to succeed or how it is that we can create successful enterprises and how it is that we manage people effectively, this is the guy who is at the forefront of so much of that. He has been an innovator for a very long time.
I will share a little bit about his bio and his background, and then we are going to invite Tom into the conversation. He is a graduate of Cornell University as an undergrad, and graduate school at Stanford. Served honorably in the US Military in the Navy, worked in government, and worked for McKinsey & Company, that storied consulting firm for many years.
He then struck out on his own and changed the landscape with a seminal book called, In Search of Excellence. A book that sold millions of copies, I imagine. It’s been quoted. It’s been used. Tom has been speaking about what it means to be excellent, how you create excellence in business and management in particular, and how you manage other people effectively so that they can grow as a result of your management. Something that we are in such great need of now. Our models for how it is that we can lead and manage other people. Not just effectively or productively, but in a way that facilitates their professional growth and personal growth.
Tom has been talking and teaching about this. He has shared things about how it is that we do this tangibly for so long now. I’m so thrilled to have Tom on the show. I’m going to welcome you once again, Tom. It’s great to have you on the show. I can’t wait to hear what we have got to chat about. You probably have heard your introduction a time or two. For me, it’s always a little surreal standing in the wings, waiting to be brought up on stage, listening to the introduction. On some level, I feel a little uncomfortable listening to the way that thing unfolds. Now you have heard me introduce you. What’s something that’s not stated in your bio or introduction that you would love for people to know about you?
No jail time. I’m delighted to say. If you are my age, driving sober was not all that common if you did overdo it a little bit. I was in Maryland. The policeman would stop you and I’d had this happen a couple of times. He would say, “I’m not going to give you a ticket. You are going to pull over on the side of the road. You are going to stay on the side of the road. I’m coming back in an hour. If your car is moved, you get a DUI.” It’s a different era.
On that topic, I know I’m digressing, I want the statue in Washington at some point to be built to that woman who started Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I’m not an expert, but I think literally from what I have read, she has saved tens of thousands of lives. That is fantastic. I should never be talking lightly about over-the-limit driving. I’m trying to figure out the answer to the question.
One thing that sometimes is in the introduction, but not much is that I went to wonderful places to school like Cornell, but the one block of time I would never trade is my four years in the Navy. Not because of military discipline or anything like that, but because my first two years were in Vietnam. I was a civil engineer. There’s a group called The CBs, they are combat engineers. I was in a combat engineering battalion in the northern part of Vietnam. My commanding officer was, God bless my father, the most important mentor in my life and the most important teacher about the topic of leadership.
He was tough as nails. He wanted us to get things built. He was an ornery old soul. It’s an exaggeration, but it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that he was truly loved by his sailors. Not the junior officers like me who thought the world of him. There were 900 people in the battalion, and I swear to God, he cared about each one of them. I’m not sure he knew all 900 names, but he would run into a sailor, and the sailor was 19 years old or something. He always stopped and chatted for 30 seconds and asked him how he was doing. There’s a way to ask people how they are doing if you are some big CEO type and you know that they could give two craps less, but he wanted and he’s there.
I was blind lucky because I had two deployments to Vietnam. I had two commanding officers. In my books, I have written a little bit about them. I call them Captain Day and Captain Night. Captain Day was the 1st one, and Captain Night was the 2nd one. I said to somebody, all the things I have done professionally have been cheesy. Any question that needs to be answered, “What would Captain Day have done? Do it. What would Captain Night have done? Avoid it like the plague.”
What sounds weird perhaps is my first two years were in Vietnam effectively and incidentally given where this conversation is coming from, in Southern California, I was in a place which you may or may not know, called Port Hueneme. It’s near Ventura. It’s within rock-throwing distance of Ventura. For my troubles, as I said to somebody, it may even be in my bio, I then went to the real war zone called the Pentagon for two years.
Given what you do for a living and what I do for a living, what could be a better experience in learning what bureaucracy is all about? One thing I learned incidentally and I like to get noisy about this a little bit. We talk about the bureaucrats. The bureaucrats in Washington, Sacramento, and wherever. The mid-level bureaucrats in the Pentagon may have had an infinite amount of crap to have to put up with because of the bureaucracy of the federal government.
They cared as much about the outcome as somebody working for Elon Musk or somebody working at Starbucks for Howard Schultz. Just a set of decent, caring, and thoughtful people going about their job and trying to get it done despite all the roadblocks. When people talk to me about government bureaucrats, they are jerks, but by and large, they are your next-door neighbor for God’s sake.
I’m hearing you say bureaucrats on some level have gotten a bad rap or at least it’s half the story.
You have to deal with a bunch of crap. Welcome to the real world. The translation of the term is, they are trying to get in your way. The ones I worked with in Washington were trying to get the job done and they had to stumble over 80,000 pages. I got to know this guy, Bob Stone. He was the number two guy in the Assistant Secretary of Defense’s Office for Installations. He was responsible for all military construction.
The first thing he did when he sat down at his desk on the job was he called in some captain, admiral, or commander. He said, “I looked at the construction guidance manual. It’s 375 pages long. I want a draft from you by the end of next week with a maximum length of three pages.” They took the Holy Bible of defense contracting and cut it from 400 pages to 3 pages. The whole world did not flip on its axis or anything. The bureaucrat, in 9 out of 10 cases is trying to do its best in a not-easy situation.The bureaucrat, in 9 out of 10 cases, is trying to do its best in a not-easy situation. Click To Tweet
We probably will cut the cord on that a little at the moment. In the world that we are living in right now, it’s so easy to scapegoat. Scapegoating is not something new. To cast blame and to create an easy way to judge. The bureaucrat has that word or the way government and people that are in ministerial positions are seen. It’s pejorative. It’s a negative thing.
We could spend the next day on the topic. Social media has made it incredibly easy to do it in ways that can be instantly truly poisonous.
Yes, and divisive. I can’t imagine, honestly, people wanting to go into that work when it’s so easy to have them be under the bus for pretty much anything. I want to go back to what you said in your work. Many people will be familiar with the books you have written. In Search of Excellence is one of the many books. No quiz here, but how many books have you written at this point?
Twenty. Here’s what’s important about that. Twenty as a former engineer.
I’m not sure I’m getting the connection.
The most unlikely thing on Earth.
That you’d go into a more creative pursuit, you mean like right brainy and all that?
What I mean is that Engineering at Cornell was brutal technical stuff. There wasn’t any room for all that fizzy, frizzy stuff.
You couldn’t read between the lines, in other words. You mentioned Captain Day and Captain Night. My work is primarily about change and resilience as a way to navigate change. I tell a story about my days as a nineteen-year-old lifeguard on a beach. We had a lifeguard corps. It wasn’t the military, but there were military people there. It was a system similar in some respects. We had a captain. Our captain is very influential. Captain Day and Captain Night is a tale of two leadership styles, I’m assuming.
Yeah. As I said, Captain Day was tougher about getting things done, but he cared about the people who did them and he made it entirely clear that he did care about them. Even though he was your commanding officer, when he gave you a hard time, it was usually with a smile on his face. He would call me in and he would say something that I had screwed up. He would say, “You and I both know it could have been a little bit better than that.” He would say it with a smile, but it was a smile that devastated you in the best sense of the word.
I know we haven’t got one million years but with the second commanding officer. I will remember this until my deathbed, which I’d like to be a little while from now anyway. I was responsible. I was in the operations group writing what was called the deployment report about what we had done for the last several months. The commanding officer called me in one time. He looked me in the eye and said, “Mr. Peters.” Mister is what you call a junior officer in the Navy. You don’t say lieutenant or anything like that.
He said, “Mr. Peters, do you not know the difference between the word tangible and palpable?” I did the one thing I shouldn’t have done, and that is, I burst into laughter. I should have used the right word, I suppose, but that was his level of concern. The other commanding officer would have said, “Come on. We got to get that bulldozer fixed. I’m coming out to help you.”
This is so poignant at the moment. To meet the moment is The Great Resignation. I don’t know if you have seen a time in history, an illustrious history of advising business leaders. Have you seen a time when more people have voluntarily decided to leave the ranks of the employed? If you could, I want you to tie it back to what you shared with us about those two styles of leadership. I have a theory about it, but nobody cares about my theory at this moment. We want to hear from you.
Given the new technology, the pandemic, the power of Zoom, and so on, I understand that there are significant differences in how we get work done. A leader has one role. It is not to have the best technology. It is not to have the best whatever. The role of the leader is to make every living human being with whom she or he comes in contact successful and growing. I don’t care whether it’s a 2-week temp or a 22-year employee.
I had this wonderful thing happen. I was giving a speech in Mumbai. Sitting in front of me was a four-star Indian General who ran the army, which scared the hell out of me as a young junior officer. I was standing there saluting. At any rate, I don’t know how we got into it. He said, “When I’m looking at promoting X or Y into this next role, there’s only one thing I’m interested in. I want to go back and find the people who worked for him and find out the degree to which they became more successful because of the two years they spent with Tom Peters. That’s the measure. I’m not interested in their P&L. Did they do this and do that, but what was their record of growing their fellow human beings?”
That’s what a leader does. It’s difficult, particularly in technical areas. I’m a case in point, engineers solve technical problems. Unless you or I are incompetent, wherever we have gone to work, by the 3rd year or 2nd year, we will be leading some type of a project team. Maybe part of another team, but 7 or 8 people will be reporting to it. You will be the person in charge.
At that point, and this is what I particularly talk to young people about, your life changes. The entire measurement of your outcomes is the people stuff. If you want to deal with technical stuff, fine. Hire the best technical human being on earth. That’s your job. It is no longer your job to add up 1 and 1 and try to get 2. You are in the people business incidentally.
There’s some wonderful research reported by a Canadian by the name of Henry Mintzberg. It is wonderful that it says, “A liberal arts graduate gets half as many job offers at roughly half the salary of the technical person.” The engineer like me or what have you. “By year twenty, the liberal arts graduates are many levels above the engineers and scientists, and being paid significantly more.” It is mainly what I said, the liberal arts graduates and their background, they deal with people. It’s all about people, whether you learn it from Plato or what have you. It’s a 100% people business. I wish we had more time because there’s one other little story.
Let’s see if it fits. I’m hearing you say, and I want to repeat this for myself, but I want to repeat this for everybody out there who’s reading this now. Leadership is about being in the caring-about-people business. It’s a people business. It’s something you said earlier about your Captain Day caring. You used the word care.
There’s another word in my book. I used the word desperate. I said, “A leader is desperate that every person who reports to her or him grow and develop during the 6 weeks or 6 years that they are working for me.” I also said, “Becoming a manager or a boss is the highest human achievement, well above brain surgeons, because your life is helping people grow.”
One of my favorite things in the world, it isn’t a digression, but it’s so wonderful that it has to be talked about anyway. The great New York Times columnist, David Brooks wrote a piece years ago and he contrasted what he called resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are, that you went to Cornell, worked for McKinsey, and was promoted seven times. The eulogy virtues are what they say about you at your funeral. As somebody else said in another thing of the same sort, “At the funeral, they talk about how she or he treats people.” It no longer matters whether you were the valedictorian or last in your class in Engineering at Cornell, the University of Michigan, or wherever.
Whereas Maya Angelou might have said, it’s how people feel in response to you and to your leadership. How do you make them feel? How do they feel in response? The word desperate is wonderful to use in that context. Desperate people, meaning that there’s an urgency to the idea that you are helping people to grow and there’s a responsibility.
If you aren’t growing, you have got two issues. A) You don’t know how to hire, which is entirely possible. B) You said this in a different context, “I haven’t learned to connect with you and connect with you as an individual human being, not as somebody who’s in a particular job category or what have you.”
In speaking with organizations on a routine basis, almost daily for me these days, and listening to leaders, everything from CEOs to mid-level managers that are asking our company to speak to resilience or how it is we manage change, and how we deal with the future that’s completely uncertain. I’m hearing a lot of things and I want to put one of those things to you and get your perspective. If we get the time, I might say how it is that I respond to this.
This senior-level leader is saying that he is noticing this exhaustion, which we are seeing across the board. People are exhausted. He sees that people would love to care at a deeper level about the people around them. He wants them to connect at a deeper level, but he’s hearing something. He shared this with us. I was like, “This is such transparency.” I was leaning in to hear it.
He said when they are having conversations with people. They are asking, “How are you doing?” The response is, “Are you asking me,” or is this the usual perfunctory, “How are you doing?” “All good. How are you doing?” Everybody goes, “We asked. We ticked that box. Are you okay, everybody? You are good, right?” Everybody goes, “Yeah, we are good.” They say, “Okay, good. I checked in with my team and my people.” We know that’s BS because if you ask that next question, instead of, “How are you doing? What are you doing?” You ask that question, “Share a little bit more. You say you are doing okay. I want to know.” Then they say, “No, in all honesty, if we are being honest now, I’m struggling.”
He said his people don’t know how to handle that response. They are not therapists, counselors, or ministers. What do they do at that moment? As you said, let’s say they have been an engineer, and 2 to 3 years later, they are leading a team of 7. Now, somebody says to them, “I’m struggling.” They are at a complete loss for what to do. I want to put that potato in your lap and get your thoughts on where it is that we can support that junior leader or manager who’s going to handle that serious conversation.
The first thing I’m going to say is rude and crude. The rude and crude thing is, we are now going up a level, you should never have promoted the jerk into a managerial job. There are people who get along with people. There are people who give a crap about people. There are people who do so to a lesser degree.
I quoted this guy who was a biotech CEO in my book. Two things I want to tell you. He said, “We only hire nice people. This is biotech for God’s sake.” He said, “You have got some job category. Tom, you are a smart guy, but you don’t even know how the name of the degree is so sophisticated. I found something out though. Whatever it is and no matter how narrow it is, there are a lot of people who have that degree. Don’t hire the jerks.”
“Now, I’m Tom, you have just had an interview with me. You are drooling. I am so incredible at the skills that are needed. You can drool all you want, Mr. CEO, but when I leave your office, I now have to run the gauntlet.” Running the gauntlet is 6 or 7 interviews with a receptionist, a junior research person, and somebody in the finance department. Despite the fact that you are in love with me, any of those six people can say, “Don’t hire Peter.” That is bloody brilliant.
The second one, I almost want to say it slowly and I hope people pay attention to it. In every list that comes out, the best medical group is always the Mayo Clinic for God’s sake. There was a book that came out several years ago called Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic. The one thing that I remember in 400 pages, it was an excellent book is, “I am now interviewing you for a senior position in thoracic cardiac or whatever it is.”
We have a twenty-minute conversation. You are the famous doctor who I will or won’t hire. What you don’t know, whether I’m doing it on my iPhone or with a pencil in my hand, is during our conversation, and this is a literal thing, I am counting the number of times that you use the word we versus the number of times that you used the word I. If the I beats we, I don’t care how many lives you have saved on the operating table, you ain’t coming to work here.
It sounds simple, but there’s a wonderful quote later on in the book by a woman who was a pretty famous surgeon who came to work for Mayo. People in those positions don’t tend to exaggerate. She said, “I am 100 times more effective here than I was in my prior hospital because we practice team medicine and not ego medicine. Nobody ought to be in that crap leadership position unless they know. You are going back to think you started it with. It’s the phony conversation versus the real conversation. The, “How are you?” In which it’s obvious that I don’t give a crap about you.
It reminds me, that I was writing something about that. It was in a tweet. I did a TV show for PBS. One of the people who we featured was a woman by the name of Pat Carrigan, who had been the first woman to run a GM auto parts plant. She had done well somewhere in the south. She then was called up to do it in a 2,000 or 3,000-person plant in Michigan.
It’s a complex technical job to run a plant with 2,000 people, but she lived on the shop floor. I remember they were shooting for 2 or 3 days, but there was a shift change that must have been 6:00 AM. I have eight people sitting around the table talking with me, tough old UAW birds from the plant floor. I went around and asked each one.
Nobody is going to believe what I’m about to say. I’m sorry. It is the truth, but I understand if you don’t believe what I’m about to say. None of them, mainly, mostly in twenty years of career had ever seen the plant manager out on the floor, ever. I then talked to the union boss. In a big plant, there will be a full-time person, Mr. UAW for Plant X.
I talked to the union boss. He said, “Pat comes to the plant on the first day, and I get a call.” On the other end of the line is Pat. We will call this guy, Dick. She said, “Dick, I want to talk to you first thing. Can I come down to your office and chat with you?” He said, “In my entire career, no plant manager had ever come down to my office. I was always summoned to be at Mr. Big’s office at 10:00 AM or whatever it was.”
I don’t know how tough you are, but this jerk is ten times tougher than both of us put together. He said, “I teared up when she came in the door.” I incidentally put the icing on the cake for Ms. Carrigan. She performed so well in that GM part plant that the legislature of the state of Michigan sent her a letter of congratulations when she retired.
The theme is care. Genuine.
If not, don’t hire them and don’t promote them. The military always says it. I was in the Navy. The sergeants run the army. The Chief Petty Officers run the Navy. It’s the first-line supervisors. They are the ones who run the joint. Either way, I put it in my books, as I said, your collection of first-line supervisors, 4 of them in a car dealership, and 47 of them somewhere else. That collection is the number one asset of the organization.Your collection of first-line supervisors is the number one asset of the organization. Click To Tweet
They have got to be desperate that people grow. That’s the through line here.
I’m proud of myself for having plucked the word desperate out of the sky.
I know. It’s a wonderful use of the word in that context.
The week that we are talking. Coach K finished his first game at Duke. He lost and he was such a gentleman and such a wonderful human being.
Leadership is not a thing that is easily taught. It’s something you experience. Everything you are sharing about leadership isn’t something you learned in your management class at graduate school at Stanford or wherever. It’s like you learned it out in the field with people that were modeling it for you. That’s how I think we learn our values anyway. You learn as they are modeled to you as a child. Whether it’s parents, grandparents, or others that have influenced you. Do you agree with that?
I want to tell you one other little story that sounds not connected, but it was something that was triggered by what you said. This is about as far away as you can get in a way, but it’s spot on if I tell it right. You have got some problem. You have a CAT scan. Later that day or the next day, 200 yards away or 200 miles away, a radiologist is going to read your CAT scan. There are two groups. Group A, the data from your CAT scan, I’m the radiologist, is going to come across a screen. It’s going to be a bunch of numbers. It may be a bunch of graphs. It may be whatever the hell it is. It’s going to be all tech data.
In this one experiment, your data is coming, but before the data comes, because when you came in for the CAT scan, I said, “This is something we are doing with record keeping. Would you mind if I took my iPhone out and took a photo of you?” In case one, before the radiologist starts his work, I see your photo. The other group didn’t see a photo. In that world, I’m not technically schooled, so I will probably use the language wrong. What we are looking for in your CAT scan picture is anomalies. Things that are a little bit off. If I didn’t see your picture, I discovered 80% less anomalies than the radiologist who started it out. It’s a simple iPhone photo of you taken. It was humanized, the whole thing.
You and I are talking about it in terms of managing in the military, managing in the Pentagon, or what have you. All that’s true, but to see the power of humanizing, I see a photo of a real human being, and then all this data comes across and you come alive. I hate to use this language and keep using salty language. It was a dumb picture taken from a dumb iPhone that shows up before the charts and the graphs come along. It’s crazy, but it’s exactly what you and I have been talking about in a slightly different language.
You could call it soft. You could call it a lot of things, but the word care. There are lots of words to use. We could pick any number of words. We talk about how it is that we create resilience, but in essence, it’s the basis of it.
I might sell the word to you. I love the idea so much that you are having a conversation with the owner of GiveADamn.com. That’s my analog to care.
No matter the words we choose, there’s a thing there that means that you are not on a perfunctory level interested in another. You genuinely have some vested interest in their success, growth, and how they are doing in the world. We are wrapping up here. In your professional life right now, what’s one thing that you are jazzed up about?
I will give you two instead of one. They are both long-term interests, but they have gotten higher on my list. One of them is a fabulous design. To me, the company that lives to take another penny out of cost makes me want to go, “Oh,” like that. Products and services that Jony Ive who was the former Chief of Design at Apple said, “Make the world a teeny bit better.” Design is about caring. Design is about the soul. As I said, it can be demonstrated in a ball gown or it can be demonstrated equally in a block of coat. It’s about thoughtfulness, caring, inspiring, and so on. To me, fabulous design is the number one differentiator.
The second thing I would talk about, which I would refer to as so many things you and I didn’t have time for. I won’t say we are better than in the past. We are worse. The research is clear. On average, women are better leaders than men. If you have got less than 50% of your board of directors as women. If you have got less than 50% of your executive team is women, you are crap.
I feel so good at this moment because more than 2/3 of the leaders on our team are women. You just made my day. Most days, I feel at some point like crap and now I do not at this moment.
One little thing, which is the photograph of the radiology. There’s a wonderful book I read years ago, the author’s a woman by the name of Louann Brizendine, who’s a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. She wrote a book called, The Female Brain. One tiny indicator by the age after the birth of three days, female or whatever you want to call them at that age, baby girls are making three times more eye contact with their fellow human beings than baby boys are.
The wonderful thing, incidentally, and came out of a fantastic book called Compassionomics. Darwin never said, “Survival of the fittest.” Darwin said, “Survival of the best communities.” Some other guy, Spencer said, “Survival of the fittest.” If you have a great community, you produce more kids, and the kids live longer. Back there 80,000 years ago, that was incredibly important.
Whereas I might say the most resilient communities.
As I meant to say, and was on the tip of my tongue. Gazillion community. There’s no issue with that. If you make it to my age, you have taken a lot of crap. I should be wearing your shirt. We can’t do this because this is a family audience. My shirt would say “Resilient MF,” except we would spell it all out.
Now, in the language people know, Resilient AF. This is a shirt for you. Understatement, a pleasure to spend time chatting and catching up with you.
The feeling is mutual. It’s been a terrific conversation.
Thank you so much. Everybody, we welcome your feedback and love your questions. If you know somebody who would salivate to be tuning in on this, go ahead and share it. Share this episode, and leave us a comment. We look forward to serving you further in the future. Thanks so much.
What an interesting interview. What an interesting guy Tom Peters is. He’s got so many stories. He’s so rich with information, insight, and ways to bring dry topics at times to life. I loved hearing about Captain Day and Captain Night. A wonderful way to tea up the conversation about leadership styles and the effective way that we can be leading people now and not leaning into an old paradigm, the way things were done in the past. There’s no question that the way things were done in the past is not entirely effective at the moment. I would venture to say it, maybe entirely ineffective and even obsolete going forward. That’s key. We have got to develop leadership that is more like Captain Day, as in we truly care about people.
Tom said in his book, In Search for Excellence, and in a lot of what he’s been talking about as a keynote speaker, as someone who leads in thought leadership circles, and as an author. He’s been talking about being desperate. I thought that was a curious use of the word desperate. Desperate people grow, meaning that leaders have to be desperate. That others in their circle, the people that they are modeling for, the people that they are leading, the people they are managing, the people that they are lording over, the old way of thinking and seeing things. In that role of supervisor or boss, they have got to care so desperately about the growth of their people. I thought that was quite amazing.
I asked Tom about a specific situation in this environment, managers may be faced with helping the people that they are leading and managing to solve significant problems in their lives. Meaning, when you ask somebody how they are doing and they say something like, “I’m struggling.” That manager has to be equipped and prepared to meet that moment authentically and effectively.
Tom answered the question in a unique way. He took the position that someone who’s in that role as a manager, who doesn’t know how to meet that moment right now, when someone says, “I’m struggling.” Maybe they are struggling mentally. They have been experiencing anxiety or depression. They are exhausted physically or emotionally from all of the ups and downs of this pandemic and from the endless uncertainty that seems to be with us every day. Also, the wave after wave of new challenges or new disruptions.
I don’t agree with Tom’s assessment that perhaps that person isn’t meant to be a leader and shouldn’t have been put in a leadership role to begin with. That is new and different. It’s not something that typically leaders are trained for. I know in my years being a leader in any schooling that I have had about it, whether it was in law school, in business, or any other area or arena of my life, there’s never been any training for that. The concept of how it is that you help a person who is dealing with something for the very first time. Something we have all never had any practice at, which is navigating a pandemic, endless unknowns, endless uncertainty, and endless disruption.
I don’t think that has been a scenario that’s been planned for that we are dealing with right now. I have a little bit more looking at that situation and saying, that the manager may not have been equipped or is not equipped to be that therapist or counselor to be able to help somebody in that moment and deal with their struggle.
What that shows us is that there’s a profound opportunity to help that manager, not only to develop greater resilience themselves and to be able to become change-proof themselves by becoming more resilient mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. They can then model and assist the people that they are leading to be able to navigate the changes, the unknowns, and the future even in a way that’s a lot more elegant.
To have that meaningful conversation with somebody doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers for them. It doesn’t mean that you have to solve their problem. This is something that I have learned as a daddy having 4 kids, 3 daughters, and 1 son. In particular with our youngest daughter, with my other kids, I tended to be more well-received when I was offering up a solution to a problem or something like that. Maybe they were being kinder to me. I don’t know.
With my younger daughter, I got a pretty good lesson when she was in her mid-teens that she didn’t want me to try to solve the problem. Frankly, all she wanted to do was share it. If I was going to actively participate at all, it was actively listening that she was after and nothing else. Having done my fair share of listening has it been the case that she’s come to me with her problems to ask me directly what I think about something or how I would approach something, get my guidance or my counsel, or whatever it might be.
For people who are in that place of struggle, it may well be that a manager’s role is to be there to support, to listen, to hold space for them, to ask further clarifying questions, and to help them to see what’s the next step. Whatever that might be. It might be that they do have to see a counselor or therapist because they have some things that they are not able to resolve and they want to be able to talk about them more regularly or in a way where someone would get actively engaged in giving them feedback.
What we do now is we have got to re-examine the role of that manager, leader, senior-level leader, or junior-level leader to say, “How do you deal with a person on your team who is struggling, who’s been courageous enough to answer that question?” Frankly, that’s the first duty of the manager. To ask the questions, then ask the next, and care enough to go deeper, to want to know more, and to do that active listening. Also, to ultimately be able to hold that space for someone coming through things as we all go through things. We have to work through things. Often it is that we are going to work through them.
To not work through those things alone is the key. We have got to let people know by our caring. This is something that Tom and I did discuss quite a bit. Through our actions, we show caring and we are showing the people on our teams that we have their back, we are with them, we support them, and we are desperate for their growth, as Tom said. That’s certainly where the two roads crossover. I so agree with Tom in that arena.
We have got to be looking at how we train leaders a little bit differently now to meet the moment. This is a very new moment and a very new time. The future is going to demand more compassion, not less. It’s going to demand more empathy, not less. It’s going to demand more emotional intelligence, not less. It’s going to demand more holistic resilience, not less going forward.
I’d love to get your comments, thoughts, and feelings. Things that you agree with or disagree with. I love to hear them, so please feel free to leave a comment. You can email [email protected]. You can leave us a rating. We’d love to get your thoughts about the show. We’d love you to subscribe. We’d love you to share this episode with other people in your arena.
If you have not yet taken your resilience assessment, you can go to RankMyResilience.com and take that assessment. You can get it on the website at AdamMarkel.com as well and find out where are you right now, mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually when it comes to your resilience zone. It’s been a blast as always. I hope you loved this episode and I can’t wait to serve you further in the future. We will say ciao for now.
About Tom Peters
Tom Peters is coauthor of In Search of Excellence—the book that changed the way the world does business and is often tagged as the best business book ever. Twenty books and forty years later, Tom is still at the forefront of the “management guru industry” he single-handedly invented. What’s new? A lot. As CNN said, “While most business gurus milk the same mantra for all it’s worth, the one-man brand called Tom Peters is still reinventing himself.” His most recent effort with coauthor Nancye Green is Tom Peters’ Compact Guide to Excellence (Ideapress Publishing, Nov 2022). Tom’s tireless focus is on putting people first and developing leaders who stay in intimate touch with the front-liners who do the real work. In November 2017, Tom received the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award.