Speaking on stage in front of a crowd is can be a fun experience, because you get to share your ideas to inspire and educate your audience. But public speaking is one of the top fears people have. Matt Abrahams will help you speak out without freaking out in front of a lot people. The key is to first deal with the symptoms and sources of anxiety so you can get a clear vision of the message that you want to send across. Bob Daugherty and Dr. Wendy Borlabi believe that personal awareness is accentuating the things that you are good at but at the same time putting a lot of focus into the things that you are bad at. This is how confidence builds up whether you are an entrepreneur or athlete or both. Learn how confidence plays a big role in leadership and investment decision making.
We have Matt Abrahams, Bob Dougherty and Dr. Wendy Borlabi. Matt Abrahams is the guy that’s going to help you learn how to speak without freaking out. He lectures at Stanford. Bob Dougherty is the Executive Dean at the Forbes School of Business and Technology and along with Dr. Wendy Borlabi who’s a performance coach for the Chicago Bulls. They’re looking at personal mastery and decision making in leadership and in sports.
Listen to the podcast here:
Inspired Performances in Leadership, Sports and Speaking with Matt Abrahams
I am with Matt Abrahams, who is a Co-Founder and Principal of BoldEcho. Matt is a dedicated, collaborative coach who is a former senior leader in learning and development at several software companies. Matt understands the importance of continuing education, especially around communication skills to help employees at all levels of an organization succeed. In service to this goal, Matt published Speaking Up without Freaking Out, a book written to help people present and communicate in a more confident manner. Matt also lectures at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business where he teaches strategic communication and effective virtual presenting. He also has a pretty amazing TEDx Talk. I’m looking forward to talking to you, Matt. How are you?
I am doing great.
You and I know each other because we serve as board of advisors for a company called LeaderKid Academy.
It’s been a lot of fun to see what they do and to try to help them do that. It’s been great to get to know you through that.
It is a great thing that Rishi and Preeti Dixit do. We have a lot of things in common based on that. We’ve talked before and I’m fascinated by your virtual communications and all the things that you do. You have this course that you teach at Stanford, which is got to be rough having to go to Stanford every day. How long have you been doing that?
I’ve been at the business school for about seven years. I’ve been affiliated with Stanford in different capacities for a number of years. You’re right, I am a bit spoiled. It’s a gorgeous campus with wonderful people doing really good, important work.
What you’re doing is interesting because so many people have difficulty with communication and speaking. I love the ‘freaking out’ part because people do freak out, right?
Absolutely. Consistently, the fear of public speaking is rated as one of the top fears in lots of different studies that have looked at it. Anything I can do to help people feel more comfortable and confident is really important to me.
It’s funny because when I was at ASU, I’m taking my first business courses. Almost every course they made you to give a talk and I can remember thinking, “I’m going to pass out,” every time I got up there.
I’ve never lost a student yet. Nobody’s gone down even though people feel that way. We get them through it.
I don’t know if kids are much more used to it. They have FaceTime where people see you in front of other people a lot more. That’s a tough age for getting up and presenting. I loved your TEDx Talk. I love your first line of how you started your talk with, “People hate me.” Why would they hate you?
In that talk, I start by saying that one of the skills or one of the tools that professors have is the ability to cold call on people. A cold call is where you just point at somebody and ask a question or ask them to respond to something you say. While I am not a big fan of that and I never use it, I start to talk that way to help people appreciate how being put on the spot in the moment can be very challenging and anxiety provoking. My whole talk is designed to give tools to people to handle those situations, where be it planned or spontaneous. They have to respond and their anxiety perhaps gets in the way.
Introverts particularly love to be cold called. It’s the worst thing you could do to introvert, isn’t it?
It’s pretty much the worst thing you can do to anybody in a classroom. Yes, introverts and those who are shy very much a struggle with that.
You talked about a lot of struggles in your TED talk. I love the toothpaste thing. I’m a squeezer and my husband’s a roller so I’m on your team.
The biggest fight my wife and I have ever had, and we’ve been married almost twenty years, is over toothpaste. I am a squeezer and she is a roller. I use that story to talk about how you have to get to the underlying causes of things. The fight we were having was not over toothpaste. It was over respect and how each other does things. When I talk about anxiety management, I talk about having to manage the symptoms but also the sources. If you don’t get to the sources, you can only mask enough symptoms. Others will always creep up. It’s definitely a true story, but it leads to a discussion of a deeper understanding of what’s going on with the anxiety we feel around speaking.
How do we manage that anxiety?
The short answer is first and foremost, it’s something you can manage. I don’t believe it’s something you can never truly overcome. I do think it is something you can manage, and I don’t think we ever would want to overcome our anxiety around speaking. It actually gives us energy. It helps us focus. In order to manage it, you need to take a two-pronged approach. You have to deal with the symptoms. It’s the perspiration, the shaky hands. We also have to deal with the sources. What is motivating the anxiety? There are a few primary motivations or sources. If you take that two-pronged approach, you can begin to feel less anxious and as if you’re on a path where you can control how you respond to that anxiety. That’s the ultimate goal.
You gave some great tips in your talk about how to be prepared. Some of the anxiety comes about from feeling like you don’t know what you need to say. Some people want to memorize things. How bad is it to memorize?
The problem with memorization is two-fold. First, you create for yourself the right way to say it by having the script. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to say it that right way. You’re adding to your anxiety. Second, it serves as a barrier from you and your audience. You lose connection. You are speaking to your audience through your script and that barrier prevents you from being able to connect. The speakers we find most engaging, most compelling are those who in the moment are connecting to us. I strongly encourage people not to script out word for word what they say. I’m a big proponent of outlines where you write down key ideas and phrases that you’d like to say. Better still, instead of having declarative sentences in your outline, I am a huge proponent of what I call a question-based outline. On the outline, rather than having bullet points of key words or phrases, you list questions that you will answer for your audience. What’s so powerful about this is if I am simply answering your unasked questions, I am in conversation and dialogue with you. I am not simply reciting. Outlines are powerful. If you can make those outlines question based, they have a tremendous benefit to the way in which you connect.
Did you have a script for your TED Talk? Everybody has structured things they tell you to do with the TED Talks.
I’ve coached a number of TED speakers in TEDx speakers. It was a privilege to get to do one myself. I had an outline and my outline was questioned based as I discussed. If you listened to the talk or other talks I’ve given, you can almost think to yourself, “What question is he answering at this point?” That’s exactly what I was doing. The other thing I like about question-based outlines is the questions themselves can become transitions as you move from one point to the next. You’ll hear in that talk in particular there are a couple points where I’ll ask a question to bridge from one point to my next point, and that’s, if you look at my outline, the very question that’s on it.
How did that affect your timing?
When you have an outline, you still have to practice, and you still have to get very comfortable with the timing. TED is very strict on their timing. You practice with the timing and what I do is I make sure when I prepare a speech that I know where I need to be, timing-wise, at certain points. I’m never playing catch up. I’m never looking up and saying, “There’s two minutes left. I have ten minutes more content.” I know it’s three minutes where I need to be in the talk. I know it’s six minutes where I need to be on the talk. I can make micro adjustments rather than major adjustments at the end. There are some really cool presentation timer apps that will vibrate at certain timing, so you can be giving the speech with a timer in your back pocket. It will help you know where you are time-wise relative to your content. That’s all what I recommend people do when they have strict timing on their presentations. Often in big keynote presentations, they will have a timer next to a confidence monitor that you can see.
I’ve had a lot of Hall of Fame speakers on my show and they give the same talk. They’re so used to giving it that it’s no big deal. I go back to my college days. I had to give a talk on why the Korean won devalued. Sometimes we have to give talks about stuff one time that we’ll never have to give again. Isn’t that the worst thing? How hard is that?
If the topic isn’t something you’re familiar with or you know it’s a one-hit wonder for you, it could add extra pressure. Simultaneously, it could be a bit easier because you know that you’re not going to have to do it again or you know that you can take some risks or do some experimenting in it because there won’t be a follow on. In any case it, whenever it’s a high-stakes presentation and anxiety comes up, what I encourage people to do is one, focus on managing the anxiety itself, symptoms and sources, but also spend time thinking about how you’re planning your talk. I recommend to the students I teach and the folks I coach a process of creating talks. Once you can deploy that process, it doesn’t matter if it’s for a talk you repeat several times or just a one-hit wonder. That process can help you feel more comfortable in the preparation as well as in the delivery.
Are those the four areas: approach, audience, context and structure?
You’re exactly right.
Can you go over those?
To me, we always have to start with our audience in mind. An effective communicator, a compelling, engaging communicator, is one who’s audience centric. The very first thing you have to do is think about, “Who is my audience? What is it they need from me?” It’s not, “What is it I, as a communicator, want to say?” It’s, “What does my audience need to hear?” I have to do reflection and reconnaissance on my audience. That might mean I’m searching LinkedIn to understand their histories. That might mean I’m surveilling their company website to get an idea of their attitudes, who they tend to partner with, etc. After I do that, I have to think about the context in which I’m speaking. Sometimes we’re speaking virtually where the audience isn’t in front of us. It’s via a webinar or teleconference. Other times, it’s in a room crowded with people. That influences what I say and how I say it. From there, once I know about my audience and my context, I then create a speaking goal. That speaking goal has three parts at the end of what I’m saying, “What do I want my audience to know, what is it I want them to feel and what is it I want them to do?” It’s about information, emotion and action. That goal then serves as the North Star for everything I navigate the rest of my presentation through. The last thing that it leads to is a structure, a framework. We don’t just speak randomly. We don’t just speak in bullet points. We put a structure that is a logical narrative from beginning to end that fulfills the speaking goal which came from my audience and my context. Those four elements are critical to effective communication. I don’t care if it’s an email, a keynote address, a meeting. That process will make your communication more focused, sound more confident, and be more connected and compelling.
I like how you say structure sets expectations. Can you share your MacGyver of all structures?
There are two foundational skills that everybody in business needs to have. One is the ability to paraphrase. Paraphrasing is an amazing tool that can help you get out of sticky situations. Second is the MacGyver structure. I call it MacGyver because it can be used in so many different ways to help you with so many tricky situations. The structure is quite simple. It’s called “What? So What? Now What?” In this structure, you start by talking about what it is you’re discussing. It could be a new product, could be a process. It even could be a person you’re introducing. You then explain ‘so what?’ Why is that product, process, person important? The ‘now what?’ is what do you want the person to do with the information you’ve given them. Do you want them to buy the product, implement the process, applaud for the person as they walk up on stage?It is an incredibly useful structure that once you train yourself to use it helps you be more concise. It helps what you’re saying flow. Having that structure helps your audience remember. In fact, I am describing this process “What? So What? Now What?” using “What? So What? Now What?” I didn’t mean to get meta on you in this conversation, but it is so useful in explaining things. That, to me, along with paraphrasing, are the two foundational skills people need to survive difficult situations in the workplace.
I need to play this in all my classes because I don’t let students do direct quotes. I make them paraphrase because that’s how you can show you’ve digested content. Otherwise, you’re repeating exactly what somebody else has said.
The cool thing about paraphrasing is that it’s a polite way to move things forward. If you’re in the midst of a conversation or running a meeting and somebody is dominating the meeting, and what you need to do is say, “Shut up. We need to get moving.” That’s not going to be good for your career or your relationship with the people in the room. What you can do is you can say, “That point you just made about X is important. Let’s see how that applies to Y.” What I’ve just done is politely taken the floor away from you. I’ve acknowledged your contribution. I moved it forward, gotten us back on track, and nobody feels as if you’ve been rude or dominating. A paraphrase can be useful.
This is all fascinating because it’s so helpful to so many people. I could see how having this, the four tips and techniques that you mentioned to help you with structure, can give you confidence. How do you make your talk compelling? What’s the best way to make it compelling?
First and foremost is to start by saying, “I do want to get my audience engaged.” When I ask my students, when I ask the people I coach, “What’s the goal of your presentation or meeting?” the most common answer I get is, “To get through it.” That’s not a satisfactory answer. Part of what you should be answering that question with is, “I want people engaged. I want them thinking about what I’m saying. I want them motivated to act.” If those are your goals, that compelling outcome, then there are things you need to do to build into your meetings and presentations, ways of doing that. You need to invite people in. I can’t tell you the number of speakers I hear who start by saying, “I want this to be interactive and engaging,” and then they talk at their audience for 30 minutes or an hour without giving them any opportunity.
I had a boss once who said, “My door is always open. Come in and I’m there to help you.” He was right. His door was always open, but he was never in the office. We make these false promises. How do you engage? There are a few things you can do. One is invite physical participation. Take a poll where people are raising their hands. If you’re virtual, have people type something into a chat or go to a shared document like a Google Doc and have them write something in it. It could be, “Turn to the person next to you and share how this can be implemented in your team or how you can apply this in your life.” Get them physically doing something. If it’s a meeting you’re running on the agenda, start the meeting with two questions. You send the agenda out in advance. Write two questions you want people to come with answers to, to the meeting, so you immediately start with that.
One way to get engagement is to give people opportunities to physically do something. Another way is to get the mentally involved using words like, ‘picture this’, ‘what if’, ‘imagine’, ‘think back to when’. When I use language like that, we know from cognitive neuroscience, your brain thinks and acts differently. When I use words like imagine or what if, think back to when, picture this, the areas of your brain associated with attention and retention are activated in a very different way than if I just read bullet points off of a slide. Another way to get people engaged is linguistically using terms that pull people in.
I try to incorporate games. I do a Family Feud type of thing sometimes. It makes it more fun. It’s fun to watch what other people do, but sometimes you look at other people and you go, “That’s great. That motivated me,” but I can’t be like a preacher on stage and act over the top or whatever it is that makes them be dynamic. Do we all have to be super loud, all over and walking around and all that to be a good speaker?
Absolutely not. My whole goal is to help people be authentic and true to themselves and find the tools that work for them. Fundamentally, what I’m about is helping people find tools that work for them so they can make conscious choice to use them or not. Most of us communicate out of habit. We do what is habitual and not purposeful. Giving people lots of tools and then helping them figure out what choices to make is what I’m all about. You need not be an extreme extrovert who is just oozing passion as they are up on stage. In fact, some of the most effective speakers are very thoughtful and introverted. You have to find the tools that work for you. Given that though, the foundational principles you need to follow are simple and similar regardless. You need to appear confident. You need to act in a way that is connected with your audience and make the content relevant for them. Finally, invite them in. You don’t have to be playing Family Feud. You could simply ask a rhetorical question. You could tell a story that’s very vivid that draws people in. You absolutely don’t have to be bouncing around the stage loudly emoting to be effective. You do need to apply these fundamental principles with some conscious choice to it.
You mentioned introverts. I saw Susan Cain speak, who wrote Quiet. She was great and it was very compelling. That’s a great resource for introverts who want to see more about what they can provide. What other resources do you think people can look at for how to improve their communication? Do you have a suggested list or anything like that?
There are lots of things that I recommend to people. I personally curate a website called NoFreakingSpeaking.com that has some information that I’ve written, but also information others have. No Freaking Speaking is a great place to go to get some additional resources. There are some useful books that I suggest people check out. One that I love is called Made to Stick. It’s a book by Dan and Chip Heath. Chip Heath teaches at Stanford Business School with me. It’s a useful book on how to be compelling and engaging in your communication. For those who are in need of feeling more in the moment and confronting their barriers that get in the way of effective communication, there’s a great book called Improv Wisdom. It applies improvisation skills to life. It’s by Patricia Ryan Madson and it’s a wonderful book. Those two books are go-to books that I refer people to. I’d like to hope that the book I wrote, Speaking Up without Freaking Out, can help people too. Those are places people can start. I encourage people to look for courses and coaches in their area that can help them. You’re not alone when you want to become a better communicator. There are courses, there are coaches. There’s even Toastmasters as an organization that can help people begin to develop these skills.
Can you tell me more about BoldEcho?
BoldEcho is the consulting practice that I and my co-founder founded. We’re both academics by nature. We are what I call reluctant consultants. Our students, after graduating our courses, would go out and they would invite us into their companies, into their organizations to help them. From that, we created BoldEcho. BoldEcho is designed to help organizations and individuals within organizations deal with high stakes communication situations, be it running meetings, giving keynote addresses, speaking at South by Southwest or CES, the TED Talks even, to help people hone their individual skills, leveraging many of the things you and I have talked about.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to do a TEDx Talk? I have a lot of people who would like to do that. Do you have any advice for them?
First and foremost, figure out what your message is. What is it that you want to bring to the table? Then think about, “How can I communicate that message in a way that will be useful and compelling to people?” It’s about making relationships and socializing that message to make sure it resonates. When you get on the stage, have fun. A lot of people put themselves under so much pressure. The opportunity to give a TED Talk or a TEDx Talk or talks like that is exciting and fun. That’s what motivates a lot of us to do it. When we get close to the event or on that red dot, that red circle, we end up putting a lot of stress on ourselves. Fundamentally, have a very powerful motivating idea and then enjoy doing it. It’s a great opportunity.
Do you think it’s a good idea to have a talk that’s contrary to popular opinion, an overall message?
I don’t think so. I’m biased because mine aren’t that way. Something that you’re passionate about is more important. Something that gets people thinking or provides people with tools that they can use, that’s most powerful. If you reflect on the talks that we all like, some are challenging common ideas, but some are in line with what we think and give us different ways of approaching life or having a-ha moments. I don’t think it always has to be contrary. That puts a lot of pressure on us. To me, it’s about finding your passion and then making sure that it will resonate with others, and then having fun while you do it.
Can you share how people can reach you and find out more?
First and foremost, BoldEcho is a great place to go. We have some resources there. If you’re interested in coaching, we’re happy to help. For resources on more confident, compelling and connected presenting, check out NoFreakingSpeaking.com. You’ll find some of my stuff as well as stuff from other people, some of whom have been on your show before, to help people feel more comfortable and confident presenting.
Thank you so much, Matt. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.
We look forward to having you here too. Thank you so much.
Inspired Performances in Leadership, Sports and Speaking with Bob Daugherty and Dr. Wendy Borlabi
I am with Bob Daugherty, who is the Executive Dean of the Forbes School of Business and Technology. His research areas of interest include leadership, economics and investment decision-making. Previously, he served as the CEO of the Jack Welch Management Institute and holds degrees from Harvard, Columbia and the University of Cambridge. He serves on multiple companies, boards and charitable foundations. We also have Dr. Wendy Borlabi, who is a performance coach for the Chicago Bulls and Founder of the Borlabi Consulting, a performance psychology firm. She has done extensive work with the United States Olympic Committee and co-founded Acumen Performance Group along with six current and ex-Navy SEALs. Together, Bob and Wendy conduct research regarding personal mastery and decision-making that provides insight regarding how lessons and sports are applicable to business and vice versa. Welcome, Bob and Wendy.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
Bob, who are you researching and what are you going to do with this data? I like to have some background on how you started to work together and some foundation for all this.
I’ve spent a lot of time working with successful leaders of Fortune 500 companies, but also entrepreneurs and CEOs of tech companies in Silicon Valley. We’re always trying to find what makes a leader more successful, and how he’s able to convince an organization and share a vision and provide the resources for the teams to execute. As I got to know Wendy over the last half a dozen years or so, it became very clear that the work that she does with athletes and coaches in professional sports and with the Olympics has a lot of common ground in terms of the methodologies and the thinking that goes into high performance. We’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years looking at different organizations and different people to find those common traits that lead to success.
You and I have worked together and I know you pretty well. I’ve heard that you are quite the basketball fan, so I can see why you and Wendy would be a good match for this. I’m interested in what you do, Wendy, because I’ve watched some of your talks, including The Coach Forum where you discussed the importance of self-awareness. I’m fascinated with how you deal with that because self-awareness is a huge part of emotional intelligence. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and its relationship to sales performance. How is personal mastery and self-awareness tied into sports performance?
They’re one and the same. As an athlete, one of the things that you want them to be able to do is to be able to say or know what it is that they do well and then be able to execute that. When you’re looking on the side of self-awareness and personal mastery, if we were to take basketball, if you know that you’ve got a good jump shot and you know that your set shot is not that good or maybe that you’re drive into the lane in the left side is not that good, you want to focus on the things that you are not that great at but you want to accentuate the things that you do well, that you don’t have to think about. If you learn through performance, through coaches or even a couple of reinforcement of making the basket that your jump shot is well, that becomes one of those nuggets that you put into your personal mastery piece or that self-awareness box. You put it in that box, and then you start to want to accentuate the other pieces that you can also add back into the personal mastery pieces. When they become something that you master, then you’re not thinking about it. You hear all the time people talk about someone was playing in the zone or in the flow. You get to those aspects of your game where you’re not thinking about it. You’re not concentrating on it. You’re just performing. That’s what you want to be able to do when you’re on the court or on the field and even in the board room. You want to be able to not have to stop and concentrate on little aspects of what’s going on with your team. You want to be able to focus on you, what you do well, and what your team does well, and then bring all those things to the forefront and then be able to execute it.
You’re saying that confidence has an impact on your decision-making then?
It’s important to look at that because a lot of people get nervous of their decision-making ability. I’ve had people on my show, Lolly Daskal, for example, who interviews a lot of leaders. A lot of leaders feel like they’re going to be found out that they don’t know as much as people think they know. Do you find that’s the case with this, Wendy?
Absolutely. It makes you look better to know what your limitations are as opposed to looking worse. When you can say this is something that you do well and this is something that you need help at, people flock to that. They want to be a part of those. They want to be a part of that piece. It’s funny to hear that it’s a negative when in my world, it’s a positive because people flock to that. The decision-making piece, it’s one of those things that when you look at the whole when you make decisions, oftentimes we look at the outcome to decide whether if it was a good decision or not as opposed to the process. You get stuck in that because it’s not necessarily the outcome that makes it a good decision. The process is what makes it a good decision.
Bob, you’ve made some good decisions. Going to Harvard and Columbia and Cambridge might fall into that category. What does it take to make good decisions?
Before we jump into that, I want to share two perspectives on what you and Wendy were talking about. I can’t agree more with what Wendy said, which is a lot of people look at success and failure and, “Why did I fail?” They look at the outcome and not the process to get there. I’ve learned that failure is by and large due to not accepting or successfully dealing with the realities of life and that achieving success is simply a matter of accepting your realities. Some truth and some reality can be scary. For example, you get a deadly disease, but knowing them allows us to deal with them better. Being truthful and letting others be completely truthful allows us to explore our own thoughts and expose feedback to each other that’s essential for learning. If you drill into the process of how people find out what they’re successful at, find out what you’re good at and keep doing that, it’s oftentimes by trial and error. the number of great people that I’ve had the good fortune to meet were not born great. They all made a lot of mistakes. They had a lot of weaknesses, but they all looked at those very candidly and with a lot of clear reality.
It is challenging to look at ourselves sometimes. We don’t know what we don’t know. There are a lot of mistakes that leaders make because they don’t know what they don’t know. How do we get that perception?
Age and wisdom. It’s all about self-reflection. It’s what in the military they call After Action Reviews. One thing I admire about professional sports is they’ll have a game, and then they will actually study that game which may have lasted two hours of elapsed time. They’ll spend the next four to five days working with coaches, assistant coaches, the team in figuring out what did we do right, what did we do wrong, what can we do better in the future.
They involve them in the decisions, the team. Is that a big factor involving the team members?
I think so. What do you think, Wendy?
If it’s one person’s point of view, you’re losing so many other perspectives.
Wendy, there’s a lot of subjectivity whether something’s a good decision or not. How can a decision be judged as good or bad? How do you do that?
Going back to looking at the process and even working with athletes, I try not to focus on the outcome and I try to help them not focus on the outcome. If we’re going to look at basketball, if you’re looking at changing or increasing your free throw percentage, the outcome obviously is to make the basket. When we’re working on that process and making those changes, decisions, we’re not looking at making the changes so that way you can make the basket. We’re making the changes that fit who you are and your perspective and how you fit, how you want to work, your mindset. We’re making those adjustments and how you view things in order to change your process to shoot the basket. Once you get that process down and it fits and it’s locked in, and it comes from the part of that piece of your brain where you’re not thinking about it, then you get the outcome that you want.
When I’m thinking about decisions, it’s in that same realm. I want you to focus on the process, the pieces that gets you into that outcome that you want, not thinking that the outcome is going to determine whether it was a good decision or not, but thinking about how you can make those changes and adjustments. That way you can get to the outcome that you would like, and knowing that it will come. It will come but you got to focus on how all those pieces fit with who you are and the team and the decisions and who your teammates are and who’s going to be on the court or the field with you at the time. All those things come into play and those decisions of being able to shift. One of the important things in decision-making is that just because you make a decision doesn’t mean it needs to be the end-all be-all. You can change it and you can adjust. That’s what good leaders do is you adjust. Maybe you know what you’re going to do, but then something else will come into play and you’re able to adjust. Knowing yourself and knowing your team, you make those adjustments along the way, and then it gets you to the outcome that you want. If you get stuck on only, “This is the plan we’re going to go,” and then something happens, if you can’t adjust to it, you get into those problems. Bob, you can see that in the business world as well.
Absolutely. Diane, you said something about the importance of confidence. What Wendy was saying was trust the process and trust your teammates. The great leaders that I’ve studied and got to know focused on confidence and they want to instill it in the people around them. It’s not only confidence in the individual, and you got to be careful there because you don’t want self-confidence to lead to hubris and big egos and too much pride, but you want them to have confidence in the process. If you look at the great companies, their ability to innovate, they trust the process that their engineering team and their sales and marketing teams will work together to satisfy market needs. The same thing goes with great athletes and great sports team.
I know you worked with Jack Welch. I’m sure you saw a lot of great decision-making and pivoting and trusting the process. What did you learn from working there that’s impacted how you make decisions now?
The two things, especially as it relates to this topic, one is not muzzling voices. That’s so important for a leader to get everybody’s input. No single person, no matter how smart they are in a business, even if you’re the top guy, knows everything. You need to create a culture and an environment where people feel confident and are able to share their ideas. The leader may not always agree with those ideas but you got to be open to them. The second thing is be real. Don’t act phony. It’s amazing the number of leaders that spend time creating personas and put up a wall between themselves and their employees. Even where they sit in an organization on top of a building or closed off are two things that Jack would say that leads to under performance.
Having worked for you, I can say that I was a confident to share ideas with you. You were very open to that. How do you know when you’ve made a bad decision? How does that come through?
I would love to get Wendy’s intake on this as well. There are two results of any goal or objective. You make a series of decisions to win the NBA championship or you make a series of decisions to be the number one provider in your market. At some point, you might run into a competitor that has better resources for whatever reason, and they beat you in the market or they beat you in a game. There’s that absolute results of, “Did the company make money this year? Did the company gain market share or lose market share?” Those are very clearly defined. The second, which is even more important because it leads to long term success and it gives you the ability to compete again and be successful the next time you face that competitor, is being very clear about the values that support your process. Did our team, did our employees follow and live the values? Did we trust the trust process, trust the system to achieve the result? Those are the two big categories that you need to look at. There’s a moment in time, certainly in a sporting event or for that matter in a business, “Did we achieve the outcome or not?” More importantly, that’s the role of the leader and the individual. Each and every day when you hit the court or hit the office, are you doing what needs to be done to be successful?
What you’re looking at is correlations with the business world and sports. I want to bring it back Wendy to the sporting aspect. What are some of the mistakes leaders make that prevent a team from winning championships?
There are so many moving pieces. Coming from a sports perspective, one of the big things is, in my opinion, is not looking at the whole team. In my experience, especially when I was at the Olympics, one of the things that happened is that the teams would look at the players that they have and want to bring in a coach that didn’t fit the players that they have or have a coach that wanted to change the whole dynamic of the team but had these players that didn’t fit that dynamic. That came into play. The team may have been a great team. I saw that very often, especially in the Olympics. We had lots of great teams but coaches came in with a different perspective but didn’t coach to the team. You have to know who you’re coaching to. That comes into play about diverting the championship or delaying it.
People oftentimes aren’t patient with the process, as Bob was saying. We’re not patient with the process for leaders. It takes time for leadership to come in and develop reverence. Oftentimes with sports, we feel like that time is five months. You bring in somebody and they should be able to develop that reverence in their players in that five-month time. When there hasn’t been a shift, then we fire that coach and moved on to somebody else. We don’t allow those pieces to develop. If you think about it, we’re still human. Although they’re players, they’re still human. There’s still that emotional piece that needs to happen with their coaches and with their leaders. If you don’t allow those pieces to develop, that’s where you divert the championship.
Those are some of the things that happens with leaders. You’re not looking at the whole team, maybe you’re not coaching to the players that you have, and then you’re not allowing the coach to have the time to develop that reverence, to develop that trust to where the team will do whatever it takes to be successful or to win games. In the experiences that I’ve had with sports, I go back to Olympics. It happens every four years. Especially with the world looking so quickly how we can turn that over, so in the course of four years, I’ve been with teams that have had three coaches.
How are we going to win a championship when the players don’t even know who they’re playing for or even the new game plan yet? We need to have that patience to be able to let the leaders be able to foster that reverence. That’s important.
The one that I would add to that, advice or coaching to individuals on those teams and in those companies is what Wendy’s getting at, especially if you’re seeing the leader change over in a short period of time, there are a lot of other decisions that are going on, whether from shareholders or boards of directors or general managers. Independent of that, for the player or the employee, that gets to self-image. Oftentimes, an employee or a player will drive some of their self-image from the leader. It makes perfect sense. It’s how we all interact. It can’t be stressed strongly enough that the self-image is the key to the human personality and performance. If you change your self-image, you will change your personality and you will change your behavior. People need to have the courage to do that.
It sounds corny, but the most important sale in your life is to yourself. To change a habit, you need to make a conscious decision. You’ve got to act on the new habit and so forth. For those people that are joining a team that may have a history of not being successful or joining a company that may have gone through some recent troubles, it’s important for those athletes, for those folks, to think about their self-image in the context of the process and how they can be a positive force to achieving the goal and helping the team win or the company win.
Wendy, I’m curious about your work with the Navy SEALs. What did you do with them?
That started when I was with the Olympics. I wanted to connect with them to take our players or athletes through the SEAL Experience. When we think of mental toughness, I was thinking about Navy SEALs if you think about military. I thought that’d be a good aspect for us to be able to help develop that piece that they were missing as a growth process of trying to become Olympian. Just in that time as I was taking our players through there, I got to know these guys well and they are wanting to develop a company. In that process, this is what we did. We started APG. We took the Navy SEALs. The way that they use what they use in order to develop mental toughness, we use those aspects and changed it into language that would fit businesses and sports world. Put sport psychology pieces and marketed what we had as, “This is how you can develop mental toughness. This is how you can develop team cohesion and team dynamics.” It started with working with athletes, trying to connect them and then it evolved into this company.
Did you learn more mental toughness from them or from having twins?
One thing I did learn from them, which is funny but it’s so on point with what they try to stress is that they talk about how athletes are not in pain. They’ll put athletes through something as, “You have to do these push-ups and you have to hold the position.“ “Who’s in pain?” and everybody raises their hand and they’re in pain. They explain to them, “You’re not in pain. You’re just in discomfort.” Unless you’ve had a baby, you don’t know what pain is. They try to put it in perspective. You’re uncomfortable and being uncomfortable is okay. That’s one of the things that I definitely learned from them but I try to push that being uncomfortable is okay.
Are you planning on publishing this anytime soon or are you still in the research phase?
We’re still in the research phase but we publish every so often via our LinkedIn. Both Wendy and I are on LinkedIn. You can find me at Bob Dougherty at Forbes School of Business and Technology on LinkedIn. Wendy and I deliver some of our research as we start to publish it through that forum.
Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you for having us.
Thank you so much to Matt, to Bob and to Wendy. It was nice to have three people I know pretty well on the show. That makes it a little more fun. I learned so much. I hope you show up for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Matt Abrahams
Matt Abrahams is co-founder and principal of BoldEcho. Matt is a dedicated, collaborative coach. As a former senior leader in Learning and Development at several software companies, Matt understands the importance of continuing education, especially around communication skills, to help employees at all levels of an organization succeed. In service of this goal, Matt published Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, a book written to help people present and communicate in a more confident manner. In addition, Matt also lecturers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business where he teaches Strategic Communication and Effective Virtual Presenting.
About Bob Daugherty and Dr. Wendy Borlabi
Bob Daugherty is the Executive Dean of the Forbes School of Business and Technology. His research areas of interest include leadership, economics, and investment decision making. Previously he served as the CEO of the Jack Welch Management Institute and holds degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Cambridge. He serves on multiple companies’ boards and charitable foundations.
Dr. Wendy Borlabi is the performance coach for the Chicago Bulls and is founder of Borlabi Consulting, a performance psychology firm. She has done extensive work with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and co-founded Acumen Performance Group (APG) along with six current and ex-Navy SEALs. Together Bob and Wendy conduct research regarding personal mastery and decision making that provides insight regarding how lessons in sports are applicable to business and vice versa.
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