The key to disruptive innovation is a A team behind you. How do you do that? Learn from Whitney Johnson, an author, speaker, and coach who wo works with business leaders to retain their top talent and be a boss people love to work for. Her latest book, Disrupt Yourself, has been dubbed as a career guide for the entrepreneurial age. It points out that people, not companies, disrupt, and a disruptive organization is a natural consequence of this. Dr. Rachel MK Headley talks about creating and driving culture from the top down. She discusses that change and innovation has to start with the leaders. Once they get everybody to be on board, the organization can get unstuck and move forward easily.
We have Whitney Johnson and Dr. Rachel MK Headley on the show. Both of them have great TED Talks. You’ve probably seen Whitney Johnson’s work. She’s got a million followers on LinkedIn. She is originally a cohort of Marshall Goldsmith‘s group. She’s got a book and we’re going to talk to her about that. Then we’re going to talk to Rachel MK Headley. She is a Mensa PhD scientist. I’ve seen her speak. She’s smart and she’s very interesting because she’s involved in a lot of personality and behavioral issues that are right up my alley. We’re going to talk to both of these women.
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Disruptive Innovation with Whitney Johnson
I am with Whitney Johnson, who was named one of the world’s 50 Most Influential Management Thinkers by Thinkers 50 in 2017. She is the author of Build an A-Team from Harvard Business Press and a critically acclaimed author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, which was in 2015. Publishers Weekly described it as, “Savvy, often counter-intuitive, and superb,” while the Boston Globe called it the “‘What Color is Your Parachute?’ career guide for the entrepreneurial age.” Through writing, speaking, consulting and coaching, Whitney works with leaders to retain their top talent, to build an A-team, and to help them earn the gold star and be a boss people love. That is a fascinating background that you have, Whitney. Thanks for being on my show.
Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
I’ve watched your TED Talk about disruptive innovations. You were talking about your background. I can relate to being in all-male industries. I was in agricultural chemicals. There were no women in that when I was in it in the ‘80s, and then computers and then subprime lending. It was a little different when you’re the only female and you’re dealing with primarily male-oriented businesses like the Wall Street as an analyst. What was that like for you?
At that time, you don’t even quite realize what’s happening. Getting my first job out of college at a brokerage firm, if you’ve ever seen the movie Working Girl, this captures that. It’s a movie but it still captures the essence of that time. One image that stands out very early in my career is working on Wall Street. I remember working for a broker and most of the brokers were men. There were some women, but every single assistant to the broker were women.
I was sitting there thinking and seeing all the men opening up accounts and becoming stockbrokers and looking at that and saying, “I can do that. I’m as smart as these people and I am going to figure out a way to do it.” When you got in the room you said, “This is unusual, but this is important and I’m going to do this time to figure it out.” To be honest, the harder part of it is to going from being the only woman in the room to having two women in the room.
Why is that?
When you’re the only woman in the room, there are certain things that you can get done because you’re the only woman. You’re able to be special in some form or fashion, whatever that special looks like, depending on your personality, etc. When there becomes two women in the room, because there is a scarce resource, there tends to be this competition where people are not as helpful. I might even say it’s women in general.
It’s any people who are in the minority. They start to compete in a way, which is why it’s so important that whenever you’re trying to not be the only woman in the room or the only minority in the room, you try to get at least three so there’s some critical mass and they’re not somehow representing all women or representing all blacks or representing whatever it is that they’re representing.
It reminds me when I started in pharmaceuticals. There were eight of us in training and the seven of us all looked exactly the same women. There was one guy and he got the special attention in that setting because he was the only guy. I have found that I’ve been the only woman in a lot of settings and I never felt it held me back though. If you watch Mad Men, you get that. I remember it being like that because at the time that was how it was. You didn’t even question it. That was in the ‘70s when I was in agricultural chemicals. What do you think is it? Was it any worse in Wall Street than any other area to be the only woman or one of two women are at that time?
I don’t know because I don’t have a basis for comparison. The thing for me that is interesting, as I reflect, is that there were opportunities that I wasn’t necessarily getting. I thought that if I worked harder or I was smarter or somehow more talented, I would get those opportunities. It took me a while to realize that what I was hitting up against wasn’t that I needed to be smarter. There was a systemic bias going on and that happens to a lot of people. I remember having a conversation with a group of students at the Harvard Business School. They were all probably in their late 20s or early 30s, and I remember talking about the glass ceiling.
They all looked at me like that doesn’t exist, “It won’t exist for me.” I remember saying to them, “When you figure out that the glass ceiling does exist, then here’s what you want to do. You’re going to grieve for a short time, and that’s okay. Then understand that, yes, you’ve got to work hard, and yes, you’ve got to be incredibly capable, but sometimes, when things don’t work the way that you had hoped they would or you think that they would for someone else, recognize that there’s a systemic bias going on.”
I remember when I was an equity analyst, I was having a conversation with one of my friends who was in investment banking. We were both working on Wall Street, and he said to me, “At the end of the year, here’s what I do. I go into my boss three months beforehand and start socializing with him what my bonus should be. Here’s how our year has been, here are the deals I brought in here, here is what I think I should get paid.” So that by the time the end of the year comes, there’s this agreement, this meeting of the minds in terms of what he should get paid. I thought, “That’s great. I’m going to do that.” I go in and I start saying, “Here are my metrics for this year, here’s the data on top cortile, what they’re getting paid, etc., so I expect to get paid in this band.” They’re like, “Fine, that sounds good.”
A month or two later, I go back in and I say, “I wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page. Here are my metrics, here’s what I expect to get paid.” I will never forget this, my boss said to me, “Stop complaining and go back and do your work.” It doesn’t work the same for me as it does for my friend that’s a male. It was like I was asking for something that it wasn’t appropriate for me to ask for, and so I was being needy or inappropriately asking, when in fact, I was saying “Here’s the work I did. I want to get paid.” That was an important learning for me. A thing that I like to pass along to women who are younger is to understand that you have to work hard. Sometimes when things don’t work the way you think that they’re supposed to work, it may not necessarily be about you. You want to be aware of that so that you don’t internalize it and somehow feel that you were less than them in some way.
What do you think would have happened if you’d asked him if it had to do with you being a woman? “Do you think my work’s equal to this guy’s or is it that I’m a woman?” What reaction do you think you could’ve gotten?
I simply was not that self-aware or if I even was that self-aware, I wasn’t courageous enough. I look at the conversations that people are able to have and are willing to have and are aware enough to have now fifteen years later and it’s astonishing. It’s positive because people are much more capable, aware, and able to have those conversations, which is great.
One good thing about getting old is you don’t take the same stuff. You’re like, “No, that’s not going to happen.” People respect it, they do. Men get that easier earlier than women did back then. They just said, “No, you will give me this.” We just didn’t do that back then.
I’ve done a lot of study on this and I remember a few years ago coming across an article in the Harvard Business Review called Do Women Lack Ambition? It was by a psychiatrist, Anna Fels who was at Cornell. She ended up writing a book called Necessary Dreams. How she talked about it was incredibly helpful for me in framing all of this. She said that women are continually in this double bind because whenever a woman asks for something, whether it’s for money, attention, or any resource, she’s perceived as being non-feminine. If we ask for what we want or ask what we need, then we’re not feminine, and that’s a double bind. That was helpful for me to understand what was going on and why there was such a conflict around that.
Then reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I know that some people loved it, some people hated it, but it was research-based and there was so much of her experience that I could relate to. For example, I remember in an elementary school, I would talk out of turn and I would get in trouble. A boy could talk out of turn and he wouldn’t get in trouble. The research says that’s how it works. People do it like that. Hearing all of that research and understanding that this lived experience I was having wasn’t about me, but it was about society and how society plays out. It’s super valuable for us to know the context that we’re living in.
We’ve worked around some pretty interesting people. You’ve probably picked up some great insights and you’re a member of the original cohort of Mr. Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches. What was that group like? What did you learn from working with him?
One of the things that I have learned from working with him is that what women need in order to be able to advance is not more mentors. We have lots of mentors. What we need are sponsors, and that is something that I didn’t quite understand. If I look back at myself earlier in my career, I’m not sure that I was very good at being sponsored or even mentored maybe because I was somewhat prickly. I know I am less prickly now than I was younger. The thing I would say about Marshall Goldsmith, being a part of that original cohort of fifteen of coaches, is that this is a man who is very generous. He also is very good at sponsoring people. He brings you into the room. He had a meeting with a very large prospective client and he invited me to be a part of that conversation.
What women need more than anything is to have men who, in general, have more power than women do to give them, invite them, and insist that they have a seat at the table. It’s incredibly valuable and, incredibly important. The biggest takeaway from working with Marshall is observing how he interacts with me and how he’s willing to sponsor me and put me in rooms. On the face of it, it looks like I would be able to walk into that room, but I don’t necessarily walk in that room. He’s made that possible.
I often have my students listen to some of these shows because it’s helpful for them. How do you differentiate between sponsoring, mentoring, and coaching?
Coaching, the way I generally think of it, is you hire someone to help you navigate through a situation, whether it’s, “How do I navigate inside of a large organization?” That is the one thing that I wished I had done when I first graduated from college. Being able to be successful in the workplace, you need to know what you’re doing. You need to know how to navigate. It’s a very different landscape in school. The rules of the game are completely different in the workplace than they are in school. Michael Bungay Stanier talks about it on how you’re continually approaching, how you interact with people in a coaching fashion, and facilitating their learning as a good way to describe coaching and where you’re already engaging with someone.
Mentoring can be these long-term mentoring relationships. Mentoring is more, “I have a specific question, something I’m trying to figure out and I’m able to, on a short-term period. It could turn out longer term, but I go to that person, had them give me advice, I’m able to act on it and then move forward.” It’s more of an exchange of advice and information. “Here’s how I did it. You might want to think about doing it like this.” To me, that’s what mentoring looks like and there’s lots of mentoring that we can get from reading things that people have written. Generally, you think of it as being a personal one-to-one relationship.
Sponsoring, for me, is when you use your political capital to open the door for someone else. A sponsor is there’s a person who’s not in the room and there they do good work. People aren’t necessarily going to invite them into the room until this person stands up and says, “This person should be in the room and I would like them to be here. Let’s invite them into the room.” That to me is a sponsor. I had this wonderful conversation with a young man about the difference between the two.
He was telling me about a woman at his organization who’s older than he is and she was not getting opportunities. He’s like, “Why aren’t you doing that?” She goes, “I’m not being asked to do it.” He goes to someone who is senior to him and to her and says, “Have you noticed so and so, she’s not that happy. She’s good. She’s valuable. We need to give her a seat at the table.” They’re like, “You’re right. We don’t want to lose her.” As a consequence of his sponsoring her, she now has a seat at the table.
I’ve had great sponsors in my past. Patricia Ryan is a doctor at the school where I work, but she was excellent at doing that. For a lot of women that weren’t getting recognition, she would make sure they were seen. You do a lot of interesting things that overlap with what I’m interested in as far as helping people and becoming a source of information for people who want to go be seen and become entrepreneurs and go to the next level. You have over a million followers on LinkedIn. You have this LinkedIn course that has over a million views, The Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship. Tell me a little bit how you created that course and how can people find that?
When I created that course, it has been three years ago now, with what was then known as Lynda.com. They had approached me about doing a course and they said, “Let’s do a course together.” I had done and have done a lot of investing, worked with a lot of entrepreneurs, been in a couple of startups myself, and so we put together a curriculum and then developed the course together.
Some of those fundamentals are timeless and a lot of what you talk about is so important. To get that recognition from the Boston Globe in different companies like that, to see what you’ve done is impressive. I’m curious what you’re putting into Build an A-Team. What are people going to learn from that book?
My prior book called Disrupt Yourself, the fundamental premise of that was that companies don’t disrupt, it’s the people. When people will disrupt themselves, then you have as a natural consequence, a disruptive organization. People would read that book and say, “I get it. I’m ready to disrupt myself,” but then they would ask me that question, “How do I do that inside of my company? How do I do that inside of an organization?” Build an A-Team was a response to that. The basic premise of Build an A-Team is that every single person inside of your organization is on a learning curve.
They’re either at the low-end of that learning curve where they’re inexperienced, they don’t quite know what they’re doing, they’re in a sweet spot where they’re feeling competent and confident and you can push them and stretch them or they’re at the high-end of the learning curve. Your organization is a collection of those learning curves, and you optimize for innovation. You optimize for being able to disrupt rather than be disrupted by having 70% of your people in the sweet spot of that learning curve, 15% of your people at the low-end, where they’re inexperienced and asking questions, then that 15% at the high-end where they jump to a new assignment.
The book walks through that basic premise. It talks you through how you hire using this framework, how do you manage people at the low-end of the curve, so that you get the most out of them, how do you manage them when they’re on the sweet spot at the high-end, and then what do you do when they get to the top of the curve and it’s time for them to jump to the bottom of the new curve. How do you mechanically do that? It’s a very simple, elegant framework with some tactical steps for a boss to be able to manage their team.
The idea being is that people came to work for you because they bought into the vision. If you want them to continue to work for you, if you want to be a talent magnet, you’ve got to give your people on your team opportunities to continue to learn, to continue to disrupt themselves. If they can disrupt themselves, then they’re going to allow your organization to be innovative and to stay ahead of the competition.
Do you think that Millennials are drawn to disruption any easier than older generations?
I would say yes and no. Everybody is drawn to the idea of disruption. On one hand, X-ers and boomers have all been at some point disrupted. We’ve got a little bit more practice of figuring out and seeing what it’s like to be at the top of the curve and to jump to the bottom of the curve or be pushed off the curve and how to jump to the bottom. We’ve got some experience and some muscle memory of how to do that. When we’re more established in our career or in our life, we tend to like the status quo and cling to it.
Sometimes it’s harder for us to do, even though we know it’s important to do. On the other hand, for a millennial coming out of school, they don’t have the muscle memory of how to do that. Their lives, in many respects, have been pretty programmatic, like you do high school, and college, “This is what you do to win,” etc. At the same time, when they’re able to understand this framework of, “This is what I can use. This can be my playbook for going out into the workforce and to be successful. It’s okay for me to change jobs every couple of years,” that’s the natural cycle of what you do.
They find it both helpful and comforting. When people get hold of this firm framework, they go, “I understand why every few years I’ve needed a change. It’s not that there was something wrong with me. It’s that my brain said” You’re bored, you’ve reached the top of your career, you need to do something new. People have found it to be explanatory for them, whether they’re at the beginning of the career or the or toward the end of their career.
I was in one company for twenty years. You don’t see those same things anymore and we were bored. It’s practically the same thing. It is fascinating how things have changed. I know that there are a lot of challenges for everybody who are dealing with the different generations in the workplace. I was wondering if you get a lot of questions about that.
Everybody’s different. Depending on our demographic, we all have our unique challenges. It’s, in some respect, difficult than others.
You can’t place people in these nice neat little boxes of what a boomer or a millennial acts like. It’s challenging sometimes for people to realize you got to see people on their individual levels. I’d like to see more of that at least. I’m working on my book. It’s about curiosity. Here you are in Wall Street as an analyst and now you’ve switched gears to more of this type of innovative type of thinking, disruptive innovations, and entrepreneurship, different ways of thinking. What drove you? Have you always been a curious person?
I don’t think of myself as being curious, but I suppose I am. I think of myself more as wanting to go from stuck to unstuck, but I suppose my life would suggest that I am curious.
Writing books requires a level of curiosity because that’s hard to do.
I remember when I wrote my first book, someone was like, “Why did you do that?” I thought, “I did it for two reasons. I did it because I felt like I had something to say. There was something that I needed to say that I could say that I could contribute in some unique way, and I wanted to figure out what I did have to say.” As you’re discovering and writing a book, when you write a book, because it’s in type and it gets published if it’s not an eBook, it’s memorialized in some way. There is a rigor around your thought process that has to be there that isn’t what you’re just talking about your ideas. That allows you to figure out what it is you think and to be much more deliberate about stating what you think, and backing it up and supporting it with research, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative.
It’s definitely a tricky process and it takes some time to do all the exploration. You’re curious whether you don’t think of yourself that way. You definitely are because all this stuff that you’ve written is very fascinating to me and it would take a lot of research and a great mind to come up with it. I’m sure a lot of people would love to know how they can find your work, your latest book, and how they can contact you. Can you share your sites?
It’s interesting what you said about curiosity. I hope that in your book, you’ll explore how curiosity manifests because you were like, “Whitney, you are curious,” but I don’t think of myself as being that way. The best place to find me is you can go to WhitneyJohnson.com. If you’re interested in downloading the first chapter of the book, there’s a free download. You can type in WhitneyJohnson.com/ATeam and get a sample of the book, which is the first chapter. That’s probably the best way to find me. Other than that, you can find me on Twitter @JohnsonWhitney. Those are the two best ways.
It was so nice having you on the show, Whitney. Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me.
Driving Culture with Dr. Rachel MK Headley
I am with Dr. Rachel MK Headley who is the Founder and Senior Partner of Rose Group International, a Mensa PhD scientist, and former Operational Science Officer of the Lands at satellite mission, with over two decades of experience leading complex and groundbreaking achievements, managing big projects, uniting diverse international stakeholders, and guiding teams through change. RGI is revolutionizing the way leaders leverage the energy of their people and specializes in providing premium coaching and training to high-tech and high-science organizations. She is a professional keynote speaker who has given a popular TEDx Talk. She is an author whose topics range from technical complexities of satellite systems to change strategy. I cannot think of anybody who I have met lately who is as smart as you are. It’s amazing to have this conversation, so welcome.
Thank you so much.
I appreciate how intelligent you are because I was watching you speak at an event and the type of things that you deal with are complex, but yet you can talk to people in a way that makes it easy for them to understand. I loved your Ted Talk. That was good. It was interesting, all the different aspects. You were talking about how the earth has got to deal with us being on the planet and the things that we do that we don’t even realize they’re happening. You’re looking at the earth in these satellites and you’ve seen things that nobody else has seen. What’s your background that got you interested in all that?
It’s a mix of accident and design. When I was young, it was clear that I was curious. I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and we spent all of our time growing up in this very ideal environment of exploring, entertaining ourselves, and keeping busy with the large family. I loved what was going on outside and maps. It became very clear early that I’m a geographer, which is understanding how things change on the landscape.
One of the interesting things about the science of geography is taking a lot of these totally different ideas from all the other sciences and trying to put them together in a way that explains these complicated processes. That’s what drew me to the science. Ironically, that’s the same thing I do in business, which is trying to take pieces from everybody I hear and all the analysis and the conversation. Then we start putting a picture together of what needs changing and how to explain and how to modify. Although I’m not doing science anymore in the traditional way, I certainly use those same skills in the day-to-day of business.
I love that you started off saying that you were curious because what I’m writing about in my next book, curiosity, and your background and being on a farm explains you’re casually mentioning jumping over a deadly snake in your talk. You have amazingly interesting things you’ve done. I’ve seen the shtick done by George Carlin in the past where he says man is arrogant to think that we can hurt the earth, that we’re going to kill ourselves but we can’t hurt the earth. What do you say to that?
It’s interesting because humans have a very small time-window on the planet. If we manage to destroy ourselves, the earth will carry on, but the trick is that the earth might carry on in a totally different way than it has before. If we change the climate permanently or in a continual direction that starts the feedback loop on itself, and the world gets hotter and hotter, the earth will be here. It will be in a different form than when humans started impacting it. It’s not the debate.
It’s that do we want to be the agents of that change and how do we want to live on this earth in a sense that if we want to be selfish about it, do we want to live on earth where we are disrupting the way that the crops that that can be raised in California or do we want to be more independent of those huge global systems, or do we want to encourage those? How do we do a famine, and all the things that may come from how we impact the earth? It’s not that the earth won’t be around. It’s to what degree do we want to have the influence over it.
I listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole and I love his work. When you read what he says, eventually everything’s going to blow up, so what’s the point? It’s certainly awful when you think about it, but I was thinking about how you said you can argue both sides of any argument. What is your take on how we have such a divide on the global warming debate? Is there a magic place between the two sides?
It depends on which side. If you’re talking about, “It’s not happening” or “It is happening,” that’s pretty settled. The climate is changing. There’s a lot of debate in the space around what it’s changing to and what the drivers are. Part of that challenge is that scientists aren’t politicians, so they’re not going to say things that they don’t know to be true. There’s nothing in it for them to overstate or to say, “This is absolutely going to happen.” Scientists don’t talk that way. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the sense of the oceans, for example. The oceans are 70% of the globe. The way the oceans handle carbon and being heated up and that the Arctic ice is at its smallest been in our collective human memory, thousand years at least. What does that do to the oceans and how does that change circulation patterns?
Those things, we have some idea about but we don’t know for sure. Scientists will always say there’s some uncertainty in what’s happening because of some of those things. That’s where you can start saying, “It might be this, it might be that,” but the fact that is it happening or not, that’s undisputed. What’s happening, and is it totally man-made. Feedback loops in the natural cycles. There’s some uncertainty about that. Clearly, man is having a role. We can get super deep in science, but the problem is that we can’t isolate one or the other. There’s always going to be this give and take debate on, “Is man 50% of the problem or 90%?” That’s up for debate and you can argue both sides of that.
The science is there. There’re a few mistakes that they made. Remember they had water on Mars, but it was just ice that Lowell was seeing.
There are always these hopeful things, but the cycles are what you hear a lot in this. You hear a lot about, “Maybe this is just an earth cycle, but on one of those big long planetary cycles,” but we understand those cycles well. We understand there are about three major ones and that are 100,000 years and about a million years old. Science understands those, and this is going to counter those big long cycles, so that’s one of those, “How do you get the word out to people in a way that’s not polarizing?” How do you explain to people so that they don’t feel like you have an agenda? There’s a lot of weird stuff about how to translate that science through that political filter too, which is always a challenge.
Some of the things you addressed were fascinating as far as the things that we don’t even know about, like suppressing fires being a bad thing, that we don’t know what we’re doing. You think when you’re suppressing fires, that’s good. How do we know when we’re doing something that’s detrimental?
We don’t know because this is the thing that we believe, even in business. People don’t do things with a nefarious intent very often. Mostly, we do things out of a place of what we think we understand and this is what we think is best. The important thing is to be able to course correct. A lot of the examples I spoke of in my TED Talk are the ability to say, “This doesn’t seem to be working,” and how do we turn the corner or how do we see the result. A lot of times, if there’s something happening that we don’t want to admit or the decision we’ve made is leading down the wrong path, it takes a lot of self-reflection and to acknowledge that, “That didn’t work the way we thought and now what do we do?” We see that in business where it’s impressive that leaders, whether you’re dealing with the earth or with an IT solution, can pivot and say, “It’s time to try something new.” That’s the power and the excitement of not being so stuck in a corner of “I have to believe this way,” because when you back yourself into a corner, you have an inability to see other options.
The exciting and the dynamic way to run a business or to make decisions is by taking other people’s ideas and knowing that you’re not the smartest one. I always like to say, “I like to be the dumbest person in the room.” Everyone has the thing that they’re smart about. I certainly am not the smartest person about branding or finances or taxes or all the things. There are so many people that have their zone of genius. I love to have people all around me that know way more about things than me. I get to grow my way of thinking by being around those people. I’m so focused on team and being members of teams and growing unstoppable teams. That’s what I love and passionate about.
I’m very interested in the topics you said you weren’t crazy about. It helps when you’re working with high intellects, CEOs, leaders, entrepreneurs, people you’re dealing with. A lot of them think they have to know it all and they feel insecure sometimes that they don’t know it all. Did you have to deal with explaining that to them? Or does that ever come out?
A lot of times, it’s more that I go into an organization that feels like something needs to be unstuck and they’re not sure what it is. A big mistake that a lot of people make is thinking that they have to have figured it out or they want to do something new and they’re not sure how to tackle it, so they do it and hope it works. I love that coming in and being able to have an outside perspective. From an outsider’s perspective, a lot of times that stuckness feeling is pretty obvious because we don’t have any previous conceptions about it. It’s much fun to uncover what that stuckness is and get rid of it for people. It is like this huge floodgate.
I worked with a Board of Directors and we all sat down for a couple of hours and talked about the things that people were frustrated about or they felt weren’t working quite right, and literally the next day it was like a different group. All it was, was for people to talk about it, which we all dread. Conflict is the thing that we all hate, but no one is there to cause trouble. Everyone wants the best. When you get people in that headspace, usually the leaders want the same thing that everyone else wants, so when you get everyone in the room and say, “We’re all on board,” then all of a sudden, those stuck places can get unstuck quickly and easily.
A lot of leaders feel like they have to know and get everything, but most leaders I work with recognize that they can’t possibly know everything. They love being in a team. People that want to be that entrepreneurial CEO on their own aren’t usually the ones that reach out for support on their corporate culture. I don’t interact with those folks very often. Most of the people I work with are pretty self-aware about, “I’m good. This is my zone of genius and I need help with figuring out what these other things might be.”
I gave a talk to a technology group and I thought, “Nobody’s going to come into this. It was all soft skills and stuff.” I figured they were all looking at the technology events, and the room was packed. I totally agree that the culture has to come from the top. If they don’t buy in, it’s very difficult to have any changes in the company.
The interesting thing about the IT world, the tech world, is that a lot of those engineering-minded people are trained in being very specifically focused. Maybe they are a software engineer that does a specific coding language, maybe they’re a networking engineer, or a security engineer and they know that they have to be one piece of a huge team. What I find with engineers, even though they get a bad rep about not being very social creatures, they do recognize that they’re part of a team and the team has to work together. They’re even more acutely aware of the challenges of working in a team and how important it is than even some other kinds of industries because I work in IT all the time.
I taught a lot of engineers and teams and we gave them like Myers-Briggs. Everybody’s an introvert, but not all the other parts were the same. It was helpful for people to see what their preferences were, but I thought it was even more helpful for them to see what other people’s preferences were because we always think of what we like. We don’t think about why somebody else would want something until you hear about it.
We’ve taken the big Meyers-Briggs sixteen personalities, which is hard to get your head around sometimes. We looked at it in a culture. The two things that seem to drive team and culture and change in an organization are, “Are you comfortable? Do you want order or do you mind a bit of chaos in your day-to-day? Are you self-driven or are you socially driven?” We try to stay away from the introvert/extrovert thing because there’s this immediate good or bad about introvert/extrovert. We looked at how they’re driven in a team environment very specifically instead of the Myers-Briggs as an individualized analysis. We looked at how you work in a team and so we have people that are what we call independent, who are very self driven and loved chaos. Those tend to be probably you and I, entrepreneurs.
They like to try something new and they take the bull by the horns. They drive their teams crazy because they’re the guys that come in everyday and have a new idea. “It’s the best idea I’ve ever had,” and the team has to figure out how to implement this new thing that they just heard about. Our connectors are the people that are social. They love social stability. They’re the people that carry the culture because they don’t like changes. When you look at change in a culture, you have to get them comfortable and onboard and excited about what the new thing is. Once they’re moving, they’re going to maintain that culture because they’re comfortable in that space.
It’s been a useful tool for us to break it down a little bit into being more manageable because we have four personality types that we look at and how they deal with on a team. That’s been helpful for us to figure out how you get things done because 70% of all implementation and changes in an organizations fail to some degree. The magic is always, “How do you pull it off?” Everyone knows you have to communicate and everyone knows you got to tell everybody, but how do you do it?
What information do people want? Organizers want to understand the intellectual back story of why we’re doing it and what the benefit is. Connectors don’t care at all about that. Connectors care that everyone’s going to do it and that everyone that they’re working with is going to do it. It’s useful to understand how you can help your team move forward on a new project or change how you do things. The personality piece has been helpful.
I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and I’ve been a personality expert for awhile, but with your background, that’s very fascinating. You’ve traveled the globe doing these talks and different things. I saw that you said you get in ridiculous travel situations. My brother was a fisherman. I have a half brother in Hawaii. When I was thinking about you traveling, it made me think of this. He used to say that they’re getting so many shark attacks because they’re fishing so much that the sharks are coming closer to shore because they’re looking for food. Is that true or is he pulling one over on me?
I tell you to take his personal witnessing way higher than me. What happens is in science, we have to make generalizations because we don’t understand where every shark might be in the ocean. In his area, it may be that fishing stocks are so depleted, they’re looking for food beyond where they normally are. As a witness to that, he’s probably right. It doesn’t mean that 150 years ago, those sharks go near the shore too, but from his personal life experience, he’s vastly more accurate than any hand-waving general model might provide, so you got to give him the credit.
Is he Mensa too? Has he got your level, and does he know all these things?
The interesting thing about the Mensa is that there’s a lot of people that are smart that aren’t in Mensa. The Mensa thing came about because when I was younger, as a female scientist trying to navigate the male-dominated world, there were times where I felt like I wasn’t good enough to play the game right or I was being treated shabbily by a senior male counterpart. A lot of times I would look beyond it. I am really smart. I am good enough to do the things I’m trying to do. Mensa was almost like a validation for me when I was young.
I refused to believe that the senior level guys that are treating me like I’m not smart enough, they’re wrong. That was for me a way to validate myself when I was young. Now I love it because I love hanging out with smart people. The people that I hang out with tend to be people that are on the same boat that I was, normal, sweet, lovely people. Some of them have a little harder time interacting with humans. They can be a little strange but they’re all the biggest hearted people.
I enjoyed having you on this show and your talk was amazing. I’m sure a lot of people would love to have you come out and talk to their teams and find out more about you. Can you share how they can reach you?
I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. Our website is a RoseGroupIntl.com for Rose Group International. We work in US and Canada primarily. For consulting work, we commit to quite a long time with organizations. I love to come in and talk, but I also love to come in and embed myself in your organization to help sort out all those crazy people that you’ve got to figure out how to make it work together.
This has been great. It was so nice having you on the show. It was fun, Rachel. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having me.
I want to thank both with Whitney and Rachel. I want to make sure that you know about Whitney’s podcast. It’s the Disrupt Yourself Podcast and you can get to that on her website. Also, I wanted to make sure that if you’ve missed any past episodes, you go to DrDianeHamilton.com/Radio. If you’re interested in hiring me as a moderator for your event, please contact me. I hope that anybody that has missed the past episodes, please listen to them. Please subscribe. We’d love to hear what you think. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Whitney Johnson
Whitney Johnson was named one of the world’s fifty most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 in 2017. She is the author of the forthcoming Build an A Team (Harvard Business Press, 2018) and the critically-acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work (2015). Publisher’s Weekly described it as “savvy…often counter-intuitive…superb” while the Boston Globe called it the “‘What Color is Your Parachute?’ career guide for the entrepreneurial age.” Through writing, speaking, consulting and coaching, Whitney works with leaders to retain their top talent, to build an A team, and to help them earn the gold star–be a boss people love.
About Dr. Rachel MK Headley
Dr. Rachel MK Headley is the Founder and Senior Partner of Rose Group International, a Mensa PhD scientist, and former Operational Science Officer of the Landsat satellite mission, with over two decades of experience leading complex and groundbreaking achievements, managing big projects, uniting diverse international stakeholders, and guiding teams through change. RGI is revolutionizing the way leaders leverage the energy of their people and specializes in providing premium coaching and training to high-tech and high-science organizations. She is a professional keynote speaker who has given a popular TEDx talk. She is an author whose topics range from technical complexities of satellite systems to change strategy.
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