Change Proof | Joe Caldwell | Leadership Resilience


Get ready to dive into a compelling conversation on leadership resilience with Joe Caldwell. Known for his dedication to fostering deep relationships, Joe has a knack for helping others succeed. In this interview, you’ll see his commitment shine through both his thoughtful answers and the wisdom he shares. Despite not being a regular on podcasts, Joe’s insights, drawn from over three decades at Bartlett & West, where he’s emphasized the importance of people and relationships, are invaluable. Join us as we explore his journey, the culture of his company, and the lessons he’s learned about effective communication, personal investment, and resiliency in leadership.


Show Notes:

  • 02:10 – People And Relationships
  • 07:41 – Challenges With Communication
  • 12:17 – Resiliency And Recovery
  • 16:09 – Tangible Behavioral Changes
  • 31:18 – Profit Vs People

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Leadership Resilience And People-First Approach With Joe Caldwell

You’re going to love my guest. His name is Joe Caldwell. I met him at an event that we were at together. He is the CEO of Bartlett & West, a 100% employee-owned S-Corp, ESOP, engineering, architecture, and construction company that focuses on leading communities to better tomorrows. His tenure with Bartlett & West has been a 30-year journey. He’s held a variety of roles including project engineer, project manager, division director, market leader, marketing director, and now the CEO.

Being focused on creating and developing deep relationships has been his focus at every stop along his career and he is committed to helping others succeed. You’re going to read that from his own way of answering questions in addition to the things that he says. This is a guy you’re going to learn a lot from. I know I have a quality human and somebody we’re going to enjoy having a conversation with. Sit back and get ready for my discussion of leadership resilience with Joe Caldwell.

Joe, I know this is not typically your bag to be on podcasts or what have you. It’s not what you do day to day. It’s fun to hear your bio be read by somebody else. I think it’s cool to be introduced to whatever, but I’m not even talking about your CV at the moment. What I want to know is what’s one thing that wouldn’t be a part of your history as a leader that you would love for people to know about you at the outset of our conversation?

It’s About People And Relationships

I think about engineers and you think technically trained people, a lot of math and science, we get zero soft skills. I got very fortunate when I got out of school to take a job with Bartlett & West, which I’m still with to this day 30 years later, and learned quickly that it’s about people and relationships. We have a phrase we use around here. We talk about investing in people both professionally and personally. In our business, there is a lot of skill training around the technical aspects of the job, making sure that you can do your job effectively. You can get licensed, which is important in our world. The piece that appealed to me right out of the gate, was the personal investment, building life skills, and teaching people how to interact with others in an effective manner.

How to have an effective conflict with people, how to even have conflict, quite frankly because engineers and technical people, a lot of times, aren’t very good at that. I love the investment piece and not being from Kansas. I thought I might be here for 3 or 4 years. I fell in love with the culture of, “We’re going to invest in you as an individual.” That’s one of the things I’m proud of about Bartlett & West, is we spend a ton of time investment, and money in building, whether it’s one-off training opportunities or development programs for people. It’s important to our business.

We tell people all the time who are new to the company that if we get shortlisted to interview for a project, all 3 or 5 of the companies, however many who get shortlisted can all do the work from a technical standpoint. The differentiator is in how you handle the people skill part of that, what you’re offering them, how you’re connecting with them, and understanding what they need out of this as an individual. I could go on and on, but the people part of it that has been appealing to me about our company and why I’ve been here for as long as I have.

I got that firsthand. When I came out to visit with you and your folks, I got that sense. In a lot of what you said, I want to dig into a few of them. Hopefully, I’ll remember everything I wanted to ask you. The first thing is to establish a little sort of time context. You’ve been with this organization for 30 years, three decades, and you got there and that’s the way the culture was. How long has this organization been around? What does that look like?

It’s going to be 75 years coming up here in a couple of years. We’ve been around since 1951. One of the things that appealed to me right out the gate, as you mentioned in the bio is we are 100% S-Corp ESOP, which means every employee in the business owns a piece of the company, and the company funds that ownership, which is a cool model. You are not investing your own money per se in that, but certainly, the culture has changed over those 30 years. It’s evolved for the better. Back in the beginning it was a little bit more partnership-oriented from a mentality standpoint, and then we had some leadership changes that occurred a couple of different times and each one of those leaders added an element of the people-first mentality and continued to build on that.

From my perspective, I had lots of experiences at this point. I am a huge believer that if the people in the business are happy, satisfied, challenged, and want to come to work, virtually, everything else takes care of itself. Your clients are going to be happy, you’re going to make money. You’re going to have lots of opportunities. If you start with the individuals in the business first, I think it naturally leads itself to success.

Do you have any sense of the reason why this has been a cultural, almost like a gene in the DNA of this organization? It’s an engineering firm, engineering, architectural, and construction ecosystem. Engineers are pretty buttoned up. I went to school with a bunch of engineers and was on a swim team. I was on a collegiate swim team with a bunch of engineers, electrical engineers, and mechanical engineers. I remember that about them. These guys were left brain.

There’s no doubt about that. We all can be stereotyped into that, but I think the answer to your question, is somebody way smarter than me and with a lot more people skills than I will ever have decided, “We know that we need to differentiate ourselves in some way, shape, or form.” They quickly started adopting programs and bringing them to the company. One of them we call Mandeville. It’s a very old system. It’s a way of communicating. Listening is the key skill set there, hearing what’s important to people, and understanding why it’s important to them.

Listening is a key skill set, hearing what's important to people and understanding why it's important to them. Share on X

We all go through what we call Mandeville training within the business. You can certainly use it for your clients or with your coworkers. We tell people you can even use it outside, whether you work in a social services organization. It might be helpful at home with your friends. To connect with people is important. Somebody many years ago said, “This is an important part of our business. We need to be good at it. We’re going to be different from all the other engineers that are out there.” That’s foundational for us.

That’s a differentiator for sure. It’s funny because I was a lawyer for about two decades myself. One of the things that I would always say at a certain point in my career, and certainly since then is that the client management side of the legal profession is lacking and missing. Missing certainly when we were getting our formal education, primarily through three years of law school. There was nothing that I can recall that was devoted to that.

Communication Challenges

I imagine for engineers, it’s not a lot different. I don’t call it a soft skill because I think it’s not pejorative, but it’s diluting the value of what it truly is. What could be more important than managing clients, managing their expectations, and the process? What I see, and I’m going to ask you about this too, and maybe this is not what you see in your organization, but observe it in others. I’ve detected that communication has gotten worse and worse over time. What are your thoughts on that?

If I’ve got a hot button, it’s only communicating through email. I struggle with it. I think an email is a great tool for certain things, but it’s not going to deepen relationships. It’s not going to get the other person to know you and you to know them. It’s not for you to understand what the client wants from their need. It’s a factual, “Here’s what you needed to know. I’m recapping our meeting. Here’s our next meeting.” When you have a conflict, you have something you need to debate with somebody.

You’re not doing it through email and we’re guilty of it too. I think by and large people are guilty of the screen kind of communication. I prefer to be sitting in your office with you and having this conversation. The next best thing is to do it by video. The third would be to pick up the phone, and my very last is, “Let’s email about it.”

Not to sort of morph into putting on our social scientist hat or anything, but working with a lot of people, dealing with a lot of people as we both do. It feels like sometimes people are hiding that there’s this convenient way to hide behind that form of communication. Whereas like you say, when you’re doing it this way or in some way face-to-face or then beyond out from there, you have to listen. That’s a tough skill for sure. You need to be able to think on your feet, which is not intelligence. It’s emotional acumen if anything.

In doing that, helps you to grow because when your world is from behind some safety of a platform like email, text, or some other form like that, the kind of skills that we’ve adapted over God knows how many years we care to say as a species to continue to evolve and still be around. Our company researches and trains on resiliency. The human species is very resilient because we’ve had to adapt. That’s the true nature of it. Darwin wasn’t “misquoted” frequently. It’s not the survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of those adapted. Those that adapt to change are the ones that survive. I suspect that when we lose our capacity to communicate in the way that you said in a more personal and intimate way, our capacity to adapt is also not being positively impacted in that process.

The one thing I’d add to that is I think about email and I can read your message on the screen, but I can’t see you. It’s important. If you’re going to be successful with the other person, you have to care about them. One of the best ways that you can figure out whether somebody is struggling through this conversation or if they are agreeing with you in this conversation is to be able to see them, read their body language, and ask them specifically, “It looks like you’re uncomfortable. Tell me more about what you’re thinking. What do you disagree with me on?” I can’t do that through an email unless you specifically say I disagree with you. I think that’s an element of meeting with people and communicating with them. It’s important to be able to see them and react to how they’re reacting, not just their words.

I see this too. I’m not sure if you do as well with Millennial-age employees, folks in the workforce that are Gen Z or Millennials that I’ve heard talk about passive-aggressive behavior that they see so that somebody that will only communicate by email or text or that’s what they do more often than not, there’s one tone. That’s a very different tone than when that same person, a team member, let’s say, is on a Zoom meeting or in a Teams meeting or something of the sort and that they’re all amenable, flexible, and approachable, but then the communication that follows by email or text or something is sharp, abrupt and is different. It’s passive-aggressive. That’s the term I’ve heard those folks in that demographic use to describe that. I think they’re feeling it as well that people will retreat to that safer, what seems like a safe space, oddly enough to then be aggressive. Things don’t seem to make sense.

It’s easy for me to be brave and opinionated, but I don’t have to look at you. When I have to look at you, I have to respect who you are. I have to think about, “If I was on the other side of this table, how would I receive the message I’m getting ready to send?” All those kinds of things. That’s why it’s like me. If it’s even remotely contentious, you ought to be picking up the phone at a minimum.

Resiliency And Recovery

Bartlett & West values training is how you and I even got to meet. It was because you guys valued the employee development component. I would love to scratch a little under the surface or go as deep as you want to go in terms of why was bringing me in to facilitate a workshop that was based on our research and theories around resiliency, and also give it to those folks, those senior leaders that I had the privilege to spend time with, to use a bit of process we provided to dig into the resilience of the organization, resiliency of the teams and what people were identifying as things that could improve, areas for growth or even their own personal commitments to what it is that they’re modeling to others by their own habits, for example. I’d like to get your sense because I’m sure you were integral in the decision to have that topic brought to life. Can you shed some light on what was the catalyst for that?

That’s a long conversation unto itself. I want to give credit where credit’s due. I have very little to do with you coming to the table. The marketing team and the folks who were on the planning committee did a great job of selecting you. I want to make sure to give credit where credit is due on that. Throughout the organization, we are very supportive of our employee-owners. We’ve all been through COVID in the pandemic and we’re coming out of that. In our industry, in particular, the workload is extremely high. The ability to find people is extremely difficult. Our backlog is pushing four times what it was in July 2020.

We’re coming up on four years and have quadrupled the backlog. You can imagine the mentality that some people might have around that in terms of, “This workload’s never going to go away. I’m stressed out, I’m feeling burnout.” This is the first time that we met in person for this event since early 2020. We thought what a better topic for the team that put it together than to talk about resiliency.

To be honest with you, we did not think about it in terms of recovery. We all had the hood popped open and we’re like, “That’s a totally different way to look at what resiliency means in terms of recovery.” I’m thankful for that. It has to do with taking care of people. We have committed our company to a flexible work environment. What that means in our space is we hear companies saying, “Come back to the office. You’re going to sit here from 8:00 to 5:00. You can leave for a lunch break, but you got to be in the office.”

There are a few companies that are being more remote about it and we’ve said, “We hire professionals. We trust you to do your job. We are trying to help you succeed in this new life that we’re all experiencing, quite frankly. Expectations are changing in the work world for sure.” We’re trying to be responsive to that and even be leading in that we committed to this flexible work environment. We also understand that that creates its own stresses. One of the common things you hear from people who work from home is, “I’m having a hard time determining when my work life starts and ends and it is ongoing all the time.” That creates stress for people. This topic was very natural for us to explore some more and it was great how you presented it to us.

Change Proof | Joe Caldwell | Leadership Resilience

Leadership Resilience: Expectations are changing in the work world for sure. You need to be responsive to that.


I’ll say for me selfishly, I never used the term recovery with resilience. I always thought resilience was you’re tough. Get up off the mat. Get punched and get back up again. That plowed-through mentality. That’s very typical of people, especially in the Midwest. It’s pride in how hard you work the hours you put in and the blood you get as you’re wiping off your face at the end of the day. I never thought about it from a recovery standpoint, but what a powerful message that was timely for our folks to hear. I’ve seen some changes for the better

Behavioral Changes

You’re anticipating my next question. It may sound self-serving. I’m happy to hear it from a selfish standpoint. I’m curious, what do you think resonated with people? Given permission to think about it differently the way you said, do you see people taking the invitation to think about it differently or do we get back to that status quo bias that is more prevalent and is prevalent everywhere anyway, but it’s how humans are baked into? Behavioral changes especially can be tough. What do we see so far a few months later?

I think back to that concept of Mandeville. We teach our people Mandeville, talk to people, ask them open-ended questions, listen to them, and ask follow-up questions, but get to the understanding of what they’re trying to tell you. I feel like our culture was already down the path. I think what this has helped us do is talk about it with different terminology and think about it in a different way. It has certainly given people permission to go, “Here’s what’s going on. I’m dealing with this. I need some time to do X, Y, and Z.” I won’t say that I feel like everybody has come forward and said, “I’m doing these things. Can I do this?”

We’ve always been a very permissive and flexible environment, but I think people have more confidence to say, “I found a spot. I need to spend a little time in recovery and doing things that help me get there.” We’re attempting, trying, and reminding ourselves to provide ourselves time between meetings is a simple thing. Don’t start the next meeting right at 4:00 as you’re coming up to that point in time. Give yourself some breathing space and some time to recover a little bit. I’m seeing more and more of that. I see things. I hear people talk about legs up on the wall.

I was going to ask you about that.

Admittedly, I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve done some other things. People are trying stuff, which is good.

If I could say the hardest part for folks on the implementation side, after they’ve got it, they understand it, it’s not super hard to get and then there’s this level of buy-in saying, “I’m willing to look at that more carefully and even try some stuff,” the next hurdle is understanding that these do not have to be long breaks. Often, when people hear recovery, they think, “This is like a sabbatical you’re talking about. It’s strictly PTO.” The statistics are pretty clear and there’s stark as well, which is that in the United States, on average an employee leaves ten days of PTO unused. That’s what it looks like. Ten days of unused PTO sits on the shelf. There’s that for sure.

These short breaks are the research we’ve also got of others that have told us the same thing, which is that these real incremental breaks that are more consciously established throughout the day can make this massive difference even five minutes. One basic thing is it can become more than just like “Don’t do this,” but, “This is not how we operate around here. That one meeting runs right up against another.” It takes some artfulness to create a meeting that’s 40 or 50 minutes long and land the plane on time. You guys are in a precise space. Your occupation is about precision.

We’re also about charging our time to projects that get charged to clients. If we have downtime that doesn’t get charged to projects, that impacts the business as well, and not in a positive way. Dollars and cents-wise, it could impact the business very positively if people are fresher, more productive, and ready to work when it’s time to work.

Having come out of the legal profession, I understand the billing process so well. Lawyers are not different than engineers in this respect. The idea of going, “Our meetings are going to go up to a point where it allows for somebody to have that 5 or 10-minute break,” and you go, not dissimilar from a therapist. Those meetings if you’re in therapy. You pay for an hour, you get 50 minutes. You go to a massage therapist. You pay for an hour and you get 50 minutes because they understand that to go from client to client or patient to patient, by the third patient, you’d have no patience. You are finished.

Being creative in the what to do. The way that you construct a meeting becomes its own little micro-training and how you meet differently. We talked about this. Doing a walk and talking is good for certain things. These meetings where there’s some element of it can be done standing like a standing desk or a standing meeting. Those meetings always go on time or shorter when people are standing for them, etc.

It’s what you do in between. People lean toward that multitask. It’s like, “I am done doing this meeting. The next thing I’m going to do is jump into another area that needs my attention. I might check my emails in between the meetings.” If you’re working from home, it might mean, “This is a perfect time for me to put up the laundry. It’s a great time to check in with my kids or whatever it might be.” What we see is that’s the real issue. When the brain doesn’t get the break, even when it supposedly has break time, but doesn’t utilize that time for something restorative, then it’s no different than if you went meeting right after the meeting. That’s the behavioral change that’s on the table.

I’ll admit something very simple and embarrassing and dumb. I never realized what I was doing at the time, but there are times when I would drive and it could be for 2 or 3 hours. I would have the radio off. I’m driving in silence. Fortunately, where I live, when you’re talking about driving, you’re not in stop-and-go traffic. You’re able to move. There’s no stress to the drive. What I realized after seeing you speak was in the back of my head, not knowing what I was doing, I was in my recovery period sometimes to get in my car. I’ve got a 30-minute drive to where I’m going, turn off the radio and it’s just silence.

I’m letting go of things and decompressing and I was telling somebody because I work typically about 30 minutes from my home, people are like, “That’s a long way to go.” I said, “It is, but it’s also good for me because when I get home I am decompressed.” I’m ready to focus on what’s in front of me next, my family and be into that,” whereas sometimes I work in an office that’s closer to home about five minutes and it’s not uncommon for me to walk through the door still on my phone thinking about what happened. I come in talking about what happened. I’m realizing I’m not separating, I’m not giving myself time to essentially let that go. I can move on and be present in the next space.

It’s developing of consciousness around it, the idea that pride in the grind is a Midwest thing for sure, but it’s no different in many other places where they might call it something different, but that idea of, “If there’s no pain, there’s no gain.” On an ideological level, that’s the impediment because ultimately, if you were an athlete training for an Olympic event or something, you would want to work yourself hard. You’d practice hard and work on all the skills, etc., but you would never think of starting that all-important event, whatever it might be, that competition-depleted, tired, distracted. You certainly wouldn’t succeed if that was your approach. It’s an interesting thing.

You would never think of starting an important event depleted, tired, or distracted. Swimming is a great example of that. What do you do before the biggest meets of the year? You rest and taper. Share on X

Swimming is a great example of that. What do you do before the biggest meets of the year? You rest and taper. Our daughter was a swimmer. I don’t know anything about it, but I remember those periods of time where they would work and then there’d be these lulls before the big races and the big meets. It’s like, “How’s things going?” “We’re resting right now.” “The race is coming up. What are you doing? You’re going to get out of shape.” “No, it’s very purposeful.”

I swam in college and we called that in high school taper, “This was the taper time.” It’s interesting because I had a guy for a good fortune to meet somebody at the YMCA that I swim at and this is just coming out of COVID. This guy was swimming in the lane next to me. Only he was swimming about twice as fast as me. It was experiencing what it would be like to have a dolphin next to you because I don’t swim slowly. I got out of the water at a certain point because he was continuing to go.

I was finished. I was toast. I got my workout and I got out. I’m looking at this other man who seemed about to be my age walking up and down the pool and said, “I got to go talk.” He’s the guy’s coach. It turns out it’s not just this coach, it’s his dad. The young man in the pool, which at the time I think I met him maybe he was 21, 22, or something like that. His name is Michael Andrew.

I know Michael.

Do you know him personally?

I do. His father is Peter. His mother is Tina. We know them. My daughter and he swam together for quite some time. He is a phenomenal athlete.

What was interesting in a short while talking to his dad, talking to Peter, I realized we had the exact same philosophy. We did an interview with him and his dad together right before his first Olympic event where he was a gold medalist in the 400 meter IM. I said to him, “I got to understand a little bit about this training method. Are you part of the Olympic training apparatus?” He says “No. I’m like persona non grata there, They don’t want to talk to me. They’re pissed,” because he is not training in Colorado Springs and doing any of that. His whole methodology was that you create recovery while the training process is going on.

The way we used to do it was we would train like sled dogs with the whip for four months which meant double, morning practice, afternoon practice, you swim 8,000 to 10,000 yards a day. What would happen is you would get to that place where you’d hit a peak of your practice and then they would slowly taper you off to the time when you would swim in the meet and then you would have these great results.

This guy doesn’t do that with his son because what we also see is that there’s a lot of injury in swimming. Shoulders and knees get blown out. What I saw in college, because I started late and a lot of them had been swimming since they were 5 or 6 years old in organized swimming, they were burnt out mentally. They were finished. They were toast by that point in time. With Michael, his dad doesn’t grind him with the yardage or the meterage. Instead, he gives him sufficient rest and recovery so that he’s always strong. His practices are strong, his meet performances are strong and he’s proof to this day that that process works, at least in the swimming arena.

It’s a great story and it’s a great family. Neat people.

I wish him luck. He’s going to be swimming in Paris this summer. It’s super exciting. Is your daughter still swimming?

No, she’s graduated, but she is coaching. She’s coaching at the University of Virginia. The head coach there, Todd DeSorbo is very much like Peter Andrew in terms of quality training over quantity training. He’s going to be the head Olympic coach for the US team this year. He’s won four women’s NCA titles in a row. He’s pretty accomplished.

Cavaliers. That’s good to know. I did not know that. What’s wonderful is that I think what’s happening is that people are coming around to this new understanding. I started out with your group talking about my lifeguard experience and that story. I didn’t talk about competitive swimming in that. Did you connect the dots between the recovery, our theory about recovery, and resilience? Did you connect it to swimming?

Not until after. I’m viewing the physical take on swimming or any other athletic thing as different from what I’m going to call mental recovery. Right, wrong or indifferent, but as you think about it, you start to talk through it. It’s a no-brainer. You think back to your example, if you are swimming thousands of yards a day, at some point in your practice, the way you’re practicing is you’re sloppy. You’re not paying attention to technique and all those things that are important, especially if you’re a sprinter in swimming. You start to introduce or develop bad habits because I’m trying to trudge through all of this, and then you think about the mental impact of that and how you feel as you get out of the pool.

It’s no different at work. Maybe we’re taxing ourselves more mentally, but then it wears you out physically. You are not getting the proper amount of rest. You’re not sleeping well because “I got to get up at 4:30 to accomplish this before the workday starts. I’m not going to bed on time. I’m not eating right because I’m running through from one thing to another.” It makes complete sense, whether it’s athletic training or it’s working, that those paths are very similar in terms of how it wears on you as an individual, both mentally and physically.

Change Proof | Joe Caldwell | Leadership Resilience

Leadership Resilience: When you’re taxing yourself more mentally, it wears you out physically.


I want to get your thoughts on this now. Is there a conflict between the concept as you understand it, meaning place of recovery for recovery in the creation of longevity, capacity, or performance, and the idea that a business is based on numbers and it’s just math on a certain level, especially if the business creates revenue by a certain number of hours being applied to a certain project, etc. Are those two things opposed in some way? If so, I’m putting you squarely under the heat lamp here to say this, but is there a way you can see to reconcile those two things? If you don’t know, please say whatever’s true for you.

Profit Vs. People

I think it makes sense. Certainly as business people, we typically all are business people. At the end of the day, we need to and want to make money for the success of our business. At the same time though and this is one of the things I’ve always loved about Bartlett & West, and it’s that investment in people piece is, “First and foremost, I’m concerned about you Adam, as a person, and I want you to be successful at your job. I want you to be successful in life outside of your work life.” The whole person is important. If the whole person’s in a good spot, you’re going to come here and you’re going to do your best work. You may be able to do your best work in 6 or 7 hours and be way better than somebody who’s working 12-hour days.

I see a connection. That’s why I love the place that I’ve worked at for 30 years. I feel like that connection’s always been there to go, “We want to work hard, but we’re also going to ‘play hard.’” Part of playing hard might mean the recovery piece and putting yourself in a good spot mentally, physically, but make sure you’re taking care of the whole person. For us, that connects well. We talk about bringing your whole self to work and how important it is that we want you to be healthy, mentally, and physically so you can be the best version of yourself. The best version of you is going to do the best work, which in the end is a good outcome for our clients and our company.

You want to be healthy mentally and physically so you can be the best version of yourself. The best version of you is going to do the best work, which, in the end, is a good outcome for your clients and your company. Share on X

I’m thinking back to my days in the law and the fact that at many firms to this day, in fact I think the majority, if not some very high percentage of them, there’s a quota for hours. You justify your salary and then beyond that, how your bonus might look based on 2,200, 2,500, 3,000 like a lot of hours in a year.

We have that in our space too. I know that I could go out or anybody in our company could go out and probably make more money from a salary and bonus standpoint if you want to. You have to evaluate what that means to me as an individual. How hard am I willing to drive myself to make an extra 15% or whatever the number is? Ultimately, you have to make a decision as an individual about what kind of balance do I want. I’m a competitive person. I love to win, but I also love that I can see people be happy.

If I feel like all you’re doing is working from sun up to sundown and you’re spending six hours in bed, maybe you’re not going to be happy. It’s not going to be fun for you and you’re not going to do your best work. We have people who quit occasionally. They’ll come to me and we’ll talk about it. I say, “I want you to be happy at Bartlett & West, but if you can’t be happy here, I want you to go find somewhere you can be happy because at the end of the day, what’s most important to me is that you are a happy and healthy individual. I hope it’s here, but if it’s not, go find your spot where you fit.”

I don’t want to say you’re atypical. I think in my experience you’re atypical.

It’s the only lens I know, fortunately.

It’s the place you began. How beautiful it is that you didn’t have to first get into the meat grinder and then have to figure out, “This doesn’t work for the kind of life I want to lead.” I had to get out. I chose to get out of the legal profession because I felt like it was a maze I couldn’t figure my way out of. At the time, I couldn’t have because that was the level of my consciousness. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve been able to apply perhaps that then and done it differently. I wasn’t resourced at the time, but at least what I had going then was an awareness that that was not sustainable. I meet a lot of people who don’t recognize their limitations.

In many ways, they put themselves in and it’s kind of “I’m being selfless,” but life will teach you stuff. My father-in-law was a worker bee. He’s not around anymore. I miss him every day. He didn’t take care of himself. He used to think that because he put everything family and all those responsibilities before himself, that was the equivalent of being selfless. I said to him that then, “No. I think it is selfish for you to not take care of yourself,” and then sure enough, he left before he needed to. The loss was ours because he wasn’t around. I appreciate how committed your organization and you are to people as a priority. You hear people use those terms, people first, and then I work in those organizations, whether it’s on that side of doing a keynote or we do consulting work with some of them.

What I’ll see is you dig down deeper, you look more closely and people don’t come first. The bottom line comes first. If it’s a happy coincidence that people are also happy, then so be it, but that’s different. I have been looking forward to the conversation. I knew it would be the case and it was everything I would’ve wanted. Thank you so much for making the time. I want to ask you, is there one thing that yourself changing now or looking at changing when it comes to your own resiliency?

I’ll tell you two. 1) I’m no longer embarrassed to tell my family that I rode home without the radio on. I feel good about that, but I am being more purposeful about waking up in the morning, putting my feet on the floor, and gathering my thoughts and I go drink 20 ounces of water. I’m not a coffee guy anyway, but I purposefully go out and say, “I’m going to have my 20 ounces right now.” I’m trying to do some of the breathing stuff, pausing and mentally gathering where am I right now, and trying to end meetings 5 or 10 minutes early so we can have some space. All of those things are still on my mind and haven’t left, which I will say for you is unique because by now this far away. Generally speaking, I’ve probably said, “I tried. I’ve forgotten some of the stuff I picked up from that conversation. I haven’t done that in this case. I’m enjoying it.” I appreciate you having me. It’s a lot of fun.

I appreciate you. I appreciate the fact that these folks are being led by somebody like you

We’re a team.

Wrap Up

I love that conversation with Joe. He is such a quality person. Probably you’re sitting there, if you’re being led by somebody right now, meaning you’re not in the top spot, you probably might be thinking, “I would love to work for a guy like Joe Caldwell.” That’s the kind of leader I think we all enjoy being led by. If you are in fact in that top spot and leading other people in any role whatsoever, you can take Joe’s model. It’s possible for all of us to be truly thinking about people being our priority, not just in words or as part of our offsites or the times of the year when we’re focused on our values, but each and every day. That’s what Joe exudes. He gives the credit to Bartlett & West itself as an organization, as a culture, a group of folks that started this long before he got there.

The organization has now been around for many years or soon to celebrate its 75th anniversary in the engineering space. The culture has continued to evolve to use Joe’s words. When he got there, they were focused on taking care of their people. To this day, that has remained a priority and perhaps even an increased focus on that given the fact that our world is as stressed out in many ways. People are feeling greater levels of anxiety and the signs of their depletion are showing as burnout is on the rise. We all know that this is real. This is not a the sky is falling. Nobody is making this up. This is the actual state of affairs across many demographics, but we’re seeing it in the Gen Z and Millennial groups even at higher rates than with some other people.

Having that conversation with Joe, focusing on what that looks like? How do you deploy that? How do you implement in a world where results are the first and last focus and priority? Business runs on results and numbers. We get that. Joe gets that, certainly. Yet to integrate these two things and not see them as mutually exclusive, how do you take care of your workplace well-being and focus your culture on people at the same time that you drive results for the bottom line?

This is the masterwork. This is the part that requires if you’re not an expert at this and most leaders that I’ve met are not experts at that, then this is an area where you want to show your willingness to learn, humility, and vulnerability even in bringing in people or resources that can assist you in bringing those two things together, reconciling these two things that seem to be at odds and not simply having pride in the grind, which I think many of us were raised to believe that this is the only realistic way to ensure that you will meet the demands and that you’ll also be resilient.

That’s an archaic way to look at it. Based on our research, it’s clear that paradigm is not sustainable. This is the paradigm that will lead us forward We got to unpack a lot of that and even discover that we had some things in common that we didn’t even realize. Out of my history as a competitive swimmer and Joe’s daughter who is very a highly accredited swimmer, right now a coach and working with the person who’s going to lead and head up the Olympics for swimming and a different philosophy, a philosophy that is based in the research that we have been creating ourselves in the research that we’ve relied upon ourselves. This idea that resilience is baked out of recovery, rituals, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritual even, rituals for our recovery and not about how it is that we are able to grind it out better or grit better than others.

I love the conversation. Joe is such a solid guy. I learned a lot. I hope you did as well. If this is something you think would benefit others, whether there are people that you are leading, people that you are being led by colleagues, friends, family, etc., please share this episode with those that you think would enjoy it. That is always helpful to us to see this community expand. If you wouldn’t mind taking that 30 seconds perhaps that it takes to provide a rating of the show on the platform that you consume this show, five stars are always great. Whatever the rating is that you would take the time to provide is valuable feedback for us we value you in many ways. We thank you for your time.

If you’re checking in on yourself, wanting to find out how resilient you are in this very moment, is our way for you to do that. It is a huge data set now of information we’ve collected over many years. Almost 8,000 resilient leader assessments conducted so far. This is a free tool for you. Three minutes later, you’re going to get a score in those four important realms of resilience, as well as some resources that may help you to create the kind of rituals that Joe and I were talking about today. Thank you so much and have a beautiful rest of your day or evening wherever you are. Chao for now.


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About Joe Caldwell

Change Proof | Joe Caldwell | Leadership ResilienceBartlett & West is a 100% employee-owned S-Corp ESOP engineering, architecture, and construction company who focuses on leading our communities to a better tomorrow. My tenure with Bartlett & West has been my entire 30-year career, and I’ve held a variety of roles including Project Engineer, Project Manager, Division Director, Market Leader, Marketing Director, and now CEO. Being focused on creating and developing deep relationships has been a focus on every stop in my career, and I’m committed to helping others succeed.