Driving Change with Mark C. Thompson and Humble Leadership with Edgar and Peter Schein

Change is all around us. Bestselling author Mark C. Thompson says the only way we grow is when we start to be willing to embrace those changes, and that usually creates a little bit of struggle. When we think about change, we have the resources and we have the means to change within our hearts and souls and our own experience. Mark talks about the growth mindset, team engagement, and driving change in order to accelerate the leadership journey and grow faster.
Leadership has always been integrally related with culture in that leaders create cultures, but then cultures are what determine what kinds of leadership are acceptable. That leads to why Edgar and Peter Schein wrote Humble Leadership. Edgar is a former professor at MIT and he created a model of organizational culture that identifies distinct levels of culture. Peter is the Co-Founder and COO for Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute providing OD and leadership consulting and coaching services. They discuss how leadership has to change as the world has changed towards complexity, more teamwork, and more collaboration.

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership

I’m glad you joined us because we have Mark C. Thompson and Edgar and Peter Schein on the show. Mark is the New York Times bestselling author of multiple books. He’s part of Marshall Goldsmith’s MG100 group. AMA named him number one leadership transformational growth coach. He’s one in a million. Edgar and Peter Schein are Cofounders of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute. They are authors of Humble Leadership. Edgar has done a lot of work that has been in a lot of the courses for which I’ve taught. He’s a leadership guru in a way because he did a lot of work on what we used to call culture. The work they’re doing now with leadership is fascinating. This is going to be a great show.

Listen to the podcast here

Driving Change with Mark C. Thompson

I am here with Mark C. Thompson who is the world’s number one leadership coach for transformational growth, team engagement and driving change according to the American Management Association. He’s a New York Times bestselling author of multiple books. He’s been an adjunct faculty at Harvard, Stanford, World Economic Forum, World Business Forum and USC. It’s so nice to have you here, Mark. I’ve taught more than 1,000 business courses through my adjunct world. Everything you deal with is interesting to me because that’s what I deal with, engagement, transformational versus transactional leadership. You bring up some of the things that I’m trying to change with how we deal with leaders and leaving the door open for people to be curious and to not fear ramifications if they ask questions. We’re all trying to innovate but it takes change. We have to learn to embrace change. What got you interested in discussing that particular topic?

It’s wonderful that you are leading this revolution of the people embracing change and have the curiosity to crack the code of their greater human potential. I want to start off by giving you a shout-out for the wonderful work you’re doing to make a difference in people’s lives and giving people the tools to do that. Inviting people like those of us who were in that same world trying to help people build their childlike sense of offer. Making a difference at home, in the office and trying to build organizations and teams around that. I have been running businesses and building businesses. I’m the Silicon Valley guy. I share my time on both coasts in the US in communities where there are reinvention and disruption and trying to find a better way to serve customers and serve the humanity that serves those customers within organizations, the leaders and the employees of those organizations.

As a business builder and as an executive coach around the world, I found that the secret is to look deeper into how to unlock human potential and how to help people scale as fast as the organizations they’re trying to grow. We’re over a little bit in the process of growing, which is a good thing. People just need help with an executive coach or others who can support them and help mentor them. They might be an individual professional who’s trying to grow or they might be building an organization. They might be scaling a unicorn. I’ve had the honor of working with both, whether it’s an individual contributor who’s being proposed for the Nobel Prize or someone who is building a big organization like unicorns, Pinterest and Lyft and others.

It’s all about finding a way to embrace a sense of change and curiosity to grow as quickly as we possibly can, recruit other people around us who are going to be co-conspirators in that journey of growth and then make you vulnerable enough to learn. Be able to embrace that ambiguity that comes with trying to create something better and build a business or build a career. Change is all around us and that we’re tasked with driving change as opposed to having a sense of bracing for that change. “Be the change we wish to see,” as Gandhi said. They call it a growth mindset at Stanford where I’ve been on the faculty, and it’s something that ends up being the life journey we’re all learning lifelong. That’s why they come to you and they come to this great show.

[bctt tweet=”The only way we grow is when we start to embrace change.” username=””]

You brought up about growth requiring innovation, some of the things that we’re talking about what you do and what I do. You interviewed some of the more interesting people like Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Dalai Lama, Richard Branson, the everyday run of the mill people out there. I was listening to the talk you gave. You were talking about Sir Richard Branson and the tragedy of his house burning down. What would you do if your house burned down at work? Would you build it exactly the same way? What does that do to help people talk like that? Would you build your company the same way? Should we be thinking that our house is burning down? Should we think that we should do that in our minds?

It’s healthy to have a little bit of a creative self-destruction to the point where we think about it, not in a depressing way or so much in a therapeutic way but as not getting stuck in our old ways. We realize that there’s a lot of inertia in life and work that we do things because we’re busy. We have to get stuff done for ourselves, for our organizations, for our roles, our teams, our families. We have lots of obligations so we get stuck in this sense of inertia in moving forward. The only way we grow is when we start to be willing to embrace some changes and that usually creates a little bit of struggle. When we think about change, we have the resources and we have the means to change within our hearts and souls and our own experience.

I use the example of Richard Branson being one where what if your house burned down? Would you build it exactly the same way? If you saw your organization burned down, would you put all the same processes in place? Would you build the same products and services? If it were your home, would it have all the same rooms and all of the same purpose? Probably not. It would be an opportunity in those circumstances to metaphorically, and for all of the rest of us say, “We haven’t had that horrible thing happen, but if we take that seriously enough, what would we change? Who would we invite to that?” That may be a difficult conversation to decide who would be on the team. Who would we cherish more? We need them and they help us and they help the cause. Who would we not re-engage with? Who would be healthy to move on? Deciding what goes and what stays is what that process was about.

Here’s a guy, Richard Branson, whose house burns down but he’s been involved with 400 companies. You could hire fancy shrinks or fancy boutique consulting firms to help you think about reinvention, but maybe you ought to start with, “What if I lost everything and then I could start over?” I thought that was a healthy exercise. It was something that informed him. It was personal, it’s his home. It’s where he and his wife raised their family. He’s the real deal. They’re a very close-knit family. Now they’re grandparents and he takes assiduous notes on every interaction that he is growing and learning. That’s the other thing that surprises me about Richard is that rather than holding court with you, he’ll be interviewing you. He’ll be asking you, “What is it that you do?” because he’s always recruiting for all these companies. He’s recruiting for all these causes.

I found that’s one of the things that are extraordinary about the people that I’ve coached and the people that I write about in all my books, Success Built to Last, Admired and Now, Build a Great Business!. They’re all built on the premise of having the privilege of working with these incredible entrepreneurs and individuals who want to change the world. What’s remarkable about them is that rather than being the egomaniacs or narcissists that we often see most celebrated in the news media, the other 90% that we don’t talk about every day who are insanely successful is all about interviewing people about how they can contribute to this great cause that they’re working on or this great company. They’re taking assiduous notes and in a sense, always reinventing the way they look at things by getting lots of input from others rather than broadcasting or holding court.

That’s why I tie that together with this story of his house burning down because he lost those notes and had to recreate them. Now he’s still again taking notes. He’s carrying his notebook around interviewing you to ask you about what you’ve learned and what you could do might be a partnership that he could get you involved with. I’ve had this extraordinary life being able to work with these people and they inspire me every day because they’re focused on reinvention, constant growth and learning from others.

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership
Humble Leadership: One of the primary characteristics of the growth mindset is the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to learn and to admit that you don’t know something.


Richard definitely is all about value creation. I was watching how you said he likes the statement, “Virgin, we have more experience than our name would suggest.”

It’s an attitude. It’s like, “Let’s look at this in a fresh way. Let’s look at this in a monkish way.” When you think about that curiosity to learn from scratch, that’s what drives him and drives the best leaders.

I got interested in this because after writing my dissertation on emotional intelligence, it opened me up to a lot of the behavioral personality-type issues out there. As I started researching curiosity, I didn’t want to write a book that was all about just what it is. I wanted to write what keeps us from it because if you could stop what’s holding you back, then you can grow and move forward. There were four things. Fear, assumptions, technology and environment were the biggest things. Fear is the problem. In your talk, you were talking about we have to make it safe to take risks and to fail. I’d like to know how we do that.

One of the primary characteristics of the growth mindset is the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to learn, to admit that you don’t know something. Even more importantly, to admit that we’re all in a learning environment lifelong. That we are best served when we’re debriefing what we’ve experienced in that last try at the hill, what worked and what didn’t work. One of the ways that we overcome fear is to practice it. It’s to do it. Public speaking for me was terrifying. There’s no way I could have done something like that with a room with thousands of people. I do hundreds of these and I now write and have bestselling books. All the things that there was no way as a child growing up or as a young adult I could have imagined. I had severe learning differences and eyesight issues that made it difficult for me to read and perform at a high level.

My brother was mentally retarded, he had a brain injury at birth. Most of our financial and emotional resources went into taking care of him. I was thrown in some of the same, “Special classes,” because I was an underperformer and had a developmental issue that I had to work through. The only way to overcome that was to practice, to drill and to get up on stage, join the marching band, get in a drama or a show and try to learn how to expose yourself to those experiences frequently enough that that takes the sting out. Then you could start to build some confidence. This is true at all points in life whether it’s public speaking or other areas of growth. The research on this is clear that people very much admire those who are willing to ask questions. They very much admire those who are willing to admit less than perfection, those who are willing to say, “I don’t think I understood that.” It’s not a point of weakness. It’s a great representation of strength and it builds a lot of trust with people.

[bctt tweet=”One of the ways that we overcome fear is to practice it.” username=””]

We’re all sitting in that room thinking that same question but very few of us are willing to ask it. You go, “I’m so glad they asked that.” AI’s going to be impacting so much. We’re going to have people disrupted out of their jobs and every company now, the buzzword is innovation. I had a meeting with Steve Forbes and a lot of big names, Rich Karlgaard, a lot of people were there speaking. Almost every conversation on the stage, the word curiosity came up. A lot of that was because we’re trying to become more innovative, more engaged. It all keeps coming back to the same thing. We don’t ask those questions a lot of times and people are doing the same job year-after-year and maybe they aren’t perfect. Olin Oedekoven is a leadership expert and was on stage and he was even talking about how they get good people and then they find jobs for them. They’re so good they design jobs around them. I don’t know if we’re going to see more of that. What do you think is going to be the impact of AI? Are you worried about it? Where do you stand on that?

I’m an executive coach. One of the things that’s been satisfying about this point in my work, just as it was when I was building businesses and helping people scale quickly to build a lasting organization, a cause, or serving some major initiative somewhere in the world, was I found that there are always tools that we need to get the work done that makes us more effective. That allows us to truly touch more lives and get more work done. There are opportunities to use things like augmented reality. I was with the founder and award-winning artist, Chris Milk, in Copeland in Hollywood. I was seeing what they’re presenting through the latest Apple launch around augmented reality where they’re helping kids take experiences in building confidence. They had a wonderful program where they’re helping a little girl, as a protagonist, help other little girls through an incredible adventure and to serve in the role. What it did is allow you to take a picture of your room and then it skins the room with the characters so they’re in your place. I’m thinking, “How powerful is that as a kid?” As a kid who is the first to be shot down in the spelling bee and in the math bee, how amazing it would be to be able to engage in an augmented reality situation where a kid could in privacy in a sense, not in front of the class, be able to build his or her confidence?

My daughter inherited this learning difference. Now she’s an Applied Math major. My wife was a computer scientist and a human resources person. My wife and my daughter both won awards from US Congress and the State of California for educational programs. Helping girls learn STEM using storytelling and using incredible new tools that were particularly appealing to girls but mostly the middle schoolers, where it was more kinetic. The stories were about the problems of math but the numbers were characters. Math has lots of problems so what real problem could we help with the fairies and the horses or building a railway and bringing it alive in ways that we don’t do in education right now?

To answer your question, for now, the exposure I’ve had around a lot of technology in schools is to allow people to do the practice they need to learn new skills and to allow me to FaceTime my daughter when I’m in Singapore and she’s in Sydney. It’s the ability to connect people, augment their learning experiences, allow them to practice in ways, and to give us tools like much automation can so that we don’t have to do it. When automation came along, there were lots of old types of jobs that were often tedious, menial and dangerous. It could be replaced with people doing what they do best which is loving, creating and having an impact on each other’s lives.

At least my early exposures to technology having been here in Silicon Valley are that we could use it as a tool to bring people closer together. We could use it as a tool to help people learn better. Unfortunately, technology needs to be led by people who are going to be responsible for those causes. They’re going to be responsible to the morality of it and responsible for using it to enhance our lives, like an automobile might or Lyft might. To get us safely from one place to the other if we couldn’t afford it otherwise, as opposed to the demonic world being taken over by robots.

You’ve had some great exposure to these companies. You worked with Apple, Virgin and Schwab. I had John Couch on my show, I don’t know if you knew him from Apple. He wrote a book about the reinvention of education that we need to have. He realized that he was just memorizing, even though he was the top of the class and doing so well. That it wasn’t learning what you needed to learn.

It wasn’t understanding or being creative. You’re either good at that or the overwhelming majority of folks are not conceptual learners, they learn by doing. The schools are set up for concepts rather than practice. One of the things that as an executive coach is great about what you and I do is that we’re helping people through scenarios. We’re giving those tools to get stuff done, giving those practices that they can use, and then using technology to help them be more organized and giving them a place to find those tools. There’s a real opportunity there in all sorts of adult education and all the rest.

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership
Humble Leadership: There’s no way you can grow an organization until you’ve replaced yourself and found others that can scale quickly.


There are some companies that have done a nice job of hiring good people. Larry Page buys companies maybe for their people sometimes and not even just the company. Do you see that often?

The good news is in the light of an automated world, there is a real battle to get the best people in our companies these days. There’s a bull market for hiring right now. This is a time when there is one of the lowest unemployment periods of all time, especially when it comes to someone like Larry Page or Google where they’re trying to find talent. A lot of the companies that I’m helping as well might be looking for technology talent. It’s hard to find them. There’s been an increase and a trend towards acquiring talent through acquisitions and acquiring pretty scrappy, effective, courageous entrepreneurs who have been fighting the good fight of building a business, starting to put some points on the board, starting to have some success.

That ends up being sometimes a great addition to the team. Why not get someone who’s been out there doing it, serving customers and bring them in to help drive courageous advancements and growth to your company? All of these companies acquire another little firm every week. You can look at Mark Thompson, Forbes articles and Inc. Magazine articles, and I’m always talking about the shopping list for the holidays that companies have. It’s often finding great people or little companies that have great people. That is always something to consider.

You mentioned things that companies are interested in dealing with as far as transformation and innovation. I still get a lot of requests for emotional intelligence, soft skills and generational issues. How much are those topics something that they come to you for now? Are those starting to fade at all or are those still at the top of what people want to work on?

I do a lot of them. I am on my way Dublin to do a talk on goal setting and OKRs. There is a great book by many great authors over the years around this topic of objectives and key results or goal setting. Thinking about how to create disciplines where teams can set goals and get wonderful things done. That’s something I get called to talk about. I’m also asked to talk about changing organizations, transformations in organizations and organizations that have been built to last. They want to continue to reinvent themselves so that they can be built to last rather than those that get defeated along the way or disrupted by others, to disrupt before being disrupted. I’m going to be at a conference in New York that I’m hosting that will be talking about the many changes, mergers, consolidations and rapid transformations that organizations are being thrust through. Anybody who’s reading this program who doesn’t have to deal with more change at a faster pace than any other time in history.

That’s my sweet spot. That’s where I’m usually called into action to have conversations. In order to be effective at that, you have to have a real concern for recruiting and developing people. The job of a leader is to recruit and develop leaders. It’s about you finding and helping high-potential people find their higher self and find the most impact that they could possibly have. There’s no way you can grow an organization until in a sense you’ve replaced yourself and found others that can scale quickly. That’s more value than ever. That’s why we need diverse voices. We need to include people with sensibilities and from different cultures, from different backgrounds, from different orientations who can lead to effective teams who can serve customers around the world. For some reason, they want to call EQ the soft skills, but it’s really the hard stuff. What it requires these days is the combination of what we used to call soft and hard to get the real work done.

[bctt tweet=”Leaders create cultures.” username=””]

You’re talking about this leadership, building that. You have this Goldsmith Thompson Growth Leadership Accelerator. Are you still part of that? Is that at USC? What can you tell about that?

I would love to share the fact that we’re going to continue to be building video programs that are going to be the result of bringing together some of the top leaders in the world. The one website to look at is the GoldsmithThompsonLeadership.com, which is about masterminds that we’ve been hosting at Stanford, at Harvard. We’ll be doing at USC. We’ll be back at Harvard. We’ll have other programs around the country where we’re bringing people together to talk about their leadership journey and to have somebody share their best experiences. We’ll capture that in online tools and learning programs that will be available to them. You can always learn more about that by going to MarkCThompson.com. What we’re up to, what books we have that are on the topic and helping people accelerate the ideas to accelerate your leadership journey and grow faster.

We’re learning more and more about how much we thrash around and procrastinate. We’re learning every day and developing more tools that allow people to go through that process faster and easier and to simplify those transformations in ways that make it fun. We’re even doing one of the first ever leadership musicals. I’ve been a music producer as a hobby and we’re going to do one Leadership The Musical: The 360 Musical Review. It will be on Broadway. Marshall will be a co-conspirator on that. We’ve rented out various Off-Broadway locations to do smaller versions of this. This will be a little bigger.

You guys are all amazing, everyone associated with him and the MG100. I’ve enjoyed meeting everybody. It was so nice of you to be on the show.

Thanks for having me on the show. Thanks for all the great work you’re doing.

Thank you.

Humble Leadership with Edgar and Peter Schein

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership
Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust

I am here with Edgar and Peter Schein. Edgar is a former professor at MIT. He created a model of organizational culture that identifies three distinct levels of culture including artifacts and behaviors, espoused values and assumptions. Peter Schein is the Cofounder and COO for Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute providing OD and leadership consulting and coaching services. They have written a lot of great books with the word humble in the title. Welcome, Ed and Peter. It’s nice to have you here.

Thanks for having us.

I’ve taught many courses where your organizational culture model has been part of the course. I want to talk about your books especially the Humble Leadership. I want to get a little background of what led to that organizational culture model.

The first thing to note is that the original culture book in which the model appears was called Organizational Culture And Leadership. Leadership has always been integrally related to culture in that leaders create cultures but then cultures are what determines what kinds of leadership are acceptable. That leads to why we wrote several Humble books of humble leadership because we think that leadership has to change as the world has changed towards complexity, more teamwork, more collaboration. We’re stuck with a bunch of leadership models that say they want to change the culture but they don’t realize that they’re culturally bound in an old traditional lone hero myth. That humble leadership is all about teams and distributed leadership and the process of how you form relationships to make things happen.

I hear a lot of that with teams changing especially Millennials and younger are less interested in being the leader of the team as much as they just want to be a part of the team, and they can be the go-to for expertise or whatever. Do you see a lot of that?

We tried to tap into that in the book that we do think that there are different assumptions that a 20 or 30-year-old come into the workplace with. They’ve grown up in a different world forming relationships in different ways. We also think that there is something in the air, to quote Frederic Laloux that, “People are looking for something different at work,” and the deepening relationships, the ability to have personal relationships that work. One thing that Millennials know better than the rest of us is that the boundaries between work and personal life are not what they were many years ago. Those boundaries have gotten blurred and generally, people are comfortable with that. Part of the message in Humble Leadership is that we have to get more comfortable with being personal at work because sharing information is what making decisions is all about. If you don’t feel an open trusting relationship with your people at work, you’re not going to share information. That’s how we’re seeing what we’re talking about now with humble leadership. We hope they’re receptive audiences in the future who are looking at work differently.

Talk about getting more personal. You have a word you use that you coined called personization. Is that what that’s about? Can you tell me what personization is?

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership
Organizational Culture and Leadership

It started out as a title I meant to personalize. In this group that was working quickly picked up that the distinction is important. Personalization is when people want the right clothing, the right perfume, the right thing, the right car for their personality. That’s what personalize is. What we’re talking about is in a relationship between two people, do you just relate to each other transactionally in terms of your roles? Customer, shopper, doctor, patient, all that stuff. We’re discovering that when in that relationship, you get interested in the other person as a person, as a unique individual, maybe on the job in relation to the job. It doesn’t mean letting all your hair down and suddenly becoming super private. It means you’re not only my direct report. You’re Mary Smith and I want to know a little more about Mary Smith in order to make our relationship work better. That’s what personize is about.

We talk a lot in the book about the idea of the whole person because it is a person that comes to work. We have many years of industrial norms that have put professional distance as the way you should arrive at work. You should assume professional distance then you should act professionally. We’re arguing, “Yes, but that means that what you do is you stay in your silos and you only share the information that allows you to maintain that professional distance. Things are going to go unheard that should have been heard.” Personization is a way of describing that comes to work as a whole person.

A lot of what you’re saying is a lot of what I was researching. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. Some of the stuff we’re talking about is developing empathy and trying to understand where other people are coming from and putting yourself in their shoes so you can find out more about them. Sometimes people feel vulnerable when you know too much about them. I was looking at some of the talks and Ed was talking about curiosity, about how we have to be open to it. What’s your position on curiosity and the importance of it for cultural and social awareness, even for innovation in the future?

In my view, curiosity is the most important motive that leads to learning. Human development is all about learning. Teamwork is all about the members of the team learning together. Learning can’t happen if we’re not curious about each other, about the situation and what’s going on. That leads directly to the culture issue. We have to be curious not just about each other’s personalities, but we have to be curious about culturally what is going on right now that should determine what we do next. Curiosity is a fundamental drive that we need to exercise far more than we usually do.

What was interesting to me and my research is after doing a factor analysis of all the questions and everything that I went with through, I found there are four things that held people back from being curious. They were fear, assumptions. Maybe we think we know or we don’t care. If we think it’s going to be boring or whatever. Technology is doing it for us or we don’t understand it, and the environment, our bosses, our family, our friends, our teachers. Fear is something that holds people back from being curious. How can we improve in that way as leaders to make sure that people feel safe asking questions?

There is a book that deals beautifully with this, David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around!. I highly recommend that because he gave the prime example of how this can work. He took over a submarine that had low morale and mediocre performance and decided to deal with that by bringing his chief petty officers together in a group. He sat them down and said, “How do you feel about the performance of this ship? Are you satisfied with how we’re doing?” They stared at him, waiting for his pocket agenda to come out. He just held fast and eventually they trusted them enough to say, “We do have some things that we could talk about,” and before long he had them in leadership positions owning the accountability for the ship. It all started with a sincere question, “Are you satisfied with your own performance?” That was a brilliant tactic and it symbolizes how curiosity doesn’t have to be about you the person. It can be, “How do you feel about your job? How are things going?”

A lot of leaders either shy away or they’re fearful of letting people ask questions. They want to seem like they know all the answers. If they don’t have all the answers then they may feel like they look bad. How can we get over that and become more humble, transparent and have those virtues?

We want to first step back and talk about what we mean by humble. There are lots of ways of characterizing that and your religious tradition might dictate how you think about that word. It is that acceptance on any given day or in any given meeting that you don’t have all the information and you don’t have all the answers. We’re not talking about some deep personality trait that you have to develop for yourself. You just have to go into work one day and say, “I realize I don’t have all the answers. There’s more information that I can glean from my group or my team.” Starting with that as how you arrive at work that day, we think that’s also another way of describing acceptance of a certain vulnerability to information that you don’t have.

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership
Humble Leadership: If you don’t feel an open trusting relationship with your people at work, you’re not going to share information.


If you accept that vulnerability, it’s the natural process of being more curious about what other people know once you accept that the collective knowledge in the room is more than that appointed leader or leader in a role hat. We think of leadership as a bur where the leadership comes from the collective knowledge in the group, not from the named leader or CEO or captain whatever you describe it as. It’s a process of drawing information out and using that to make the best decision, not a defined role. It starts with that humility in accepting that you don’t have the answers. Collectively, the team can arrive at the answers.

All of that requires the leader to be aware that in our traditional hero system, most direct reports and most team members have learned to play it safe. They accept the psychological distance. They withhold information. Therefore, the most important part of leading in this new model is to first of all, create safety for the direct reports and the team members to allow them to feel that they can say what’s on their mind. Without the messenger being shot or being told, “Don’t give me problems, only give me answers.” Leaders have to create the right climate in the first place to elicit the information that they need.

We like to also say that if a leader says, “My goal isn’t to have my team answer the questions I ask. My goal is to have my team answer the questions I don’t ask.” If you reframe it and say that openness is to have them feel safe enough to answer the questions I don’t ask, then you get somewhere.

Ed had said something about, “Don’t think you already know the answer sometimes because chances are if it’s complex, you probably have the wrong answer.” Do you think that most leaders are aware of that or do you think that it comes as a surprise that they probably have the wrong answer?

[bctt tweet=”Teamwork is all about the members of the team learning together.” username=””]

Awareness is the keyword you use. A lot of lack of awareness is because we’ve bought into this traditional culture of management, which is built on psychological distance, roles and transactional conversations and relationships. The first awareness that we hope our book will produce is maybe this traditional model that’s built on all these rules of competition, individualism and psychological distance. Maybe I have to step back and ask whether that’s appropriate for the complex task that I and my team are facing nowadays.

Do you think competition is ever appropriate within teams?

It’s one of the great corruptions from the economic logic that because companies have to compete, therefore competition is a good motivator. That’s usually the rationale. The way to get motivation is to create competition, but that creates all the pathology of withholding information, lying, cheating, all the bad things that we see in the industrial world relate to people competing unfairly.

You talk about a lot of things that are words that we hear that maybe you guys look at a little bit differently. Mindfulness was one of them. I’ve had people on my show who talk about mindfulness in a general way or even meditative way. You guys don’t refer to it in the ways that I’ve heard of it necessarily. I’d like to know how you would define mindfulness and why is it important?

I refer to it in our other Humble books because mindfulness to me, as Ellen Langer who was one of the early writers in this area puts it nicely, “Mindfulness is the ability to ask what else is going on?” All of my immediate experiences but do I take the time to ask the question? Is something else also going on that I need to be aware of that I’ve sensed that my ears and eyes have captured, but I choose not to look at it? It’s an attention issue for me. Mindfulness is broadening our capacity to attend to a broader range of experience and then discovering that other ways of framing our current experience, which then leads to new ways that I could do things differently.

Ed is the son of a University of Chicago professor and now we have Peter who is the son of Ed. You guys are all interested in this culture leadership and different forms of management that I guess are interesting because you came from MIT. Where did it come from originally? Where did you get this initial interest in looking at culture and leadership and everything?

I tried physics. My father was a fairly prominent professor of Cosmic Ray Physics. I flunked the course but I knew I wanted to be a professor. At that time at the University of Chicago, Carl Rogers was developing his theories of therapy and that caught my eye and that got me into social psychology. I never had another doubt since then that that was what I was interested in. I already had multicultural experiences as a child so culture was easily something to flow into.

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I knew that my dad nominally was a psychologist. I go off to college. I went to Stanford and it had a prominent and some important psychologists who had done some important experiments. That wasn’t me. That wasn’t what I was interested in. I ended up finding anthropology because the focus in anthropology is it’s broader. It’s on groups, it’s on subcultures and cultures. That seemed like more where the action is than the behavior of the individual. When I was in college studying social anthropology, my older sister was starting her PhD program also in cultural anthropology while Ed was writing the first edition of Organizational Culture and Leadership. There was some synchronicity in the family. We may not have known it when we were having our Thanksgiving dinner. We were all from different angles coming at the same thing. The formation of the Organizational Culture and Leadership thing was an obvious thing for us to do. It took as a few years to get there.

In between where Peter 30 years of Silicon Valley managerial experience which brings a whole different perspective to how we write together. It’s not like we’re two anthropologists. We are using anthropology from our two perspectives. Peter’s knowledge of management is enormously important to how these books come out.

You’ve written a lot of books since your initial success. What do you think of the changes you’ve seen? How does that make you look at your initial model of organizational culture? Do you stand by everything you originally wrote? Are there any changes you would make?

The answer to that is clear in both our minds. The original model is a pretty good way to look at how culture is structured in terms of its levels. What’s happened in the last several decades is the word culture has become a synonym for any number of other issues, engagement, teamwork and all sorts of things now suddenly are culture. In our current writing, we realized we have to be much clearer about other models of culture that lead more to how people are using the word and not the old original structure or model explaining everything. That model doesn’t explain, for example, why people suddenly are interested in inhalation or engagement. We’re writing about other aspects of how to make culture a more complex, interesting concept.

One simple way to describe that is that the three-care model is how we think of culture from the outside looking in. Much of what we hear discussed about among a younger crowd of culture champions. They’re referring to something that’s more the experience of culture from the inside out. We’re trying to be clear in a book that we’re working on, which is an update to The Corporate Culture Survival Guide. That distinction of experiencing culture from the outside in which Marshall Sahlins would refer to as the structure of the practice versus experiencing culture from the inside out, which Marshall Sahlins would refer to as the practice of the structure. You have to look at it from both sides and that’s what we’re going to explore in the book.

Your work is something I was familiar with. Of all the courses I’ve taught, this has caught my eye because it’s hard not to find Ed’s research and all of the books. I’m having John Kotter on the show and his work is in so many of my books and in courses I’ve taught. It’s amazing how successful you’ve been in your career, Ed, and now that Peter had added to with his work. I’m looking forward to your future books. Is Humble Speed coming out? Is that on the books?

With our publisher, we decided to make it a series. I suppose we’re going to have to come up with something clever next.

If anybody wants to find out how to get your books or contact you, can you share any links that they can use?

The first one is OCLI.org. There’s a Contact page on there. If you want to reach out, we will hear from you that way. The other one is if you’re more curious about the Humble Leadership book, HumbleLeadership.com. Describe the book and it has an excerpt and some testimonials. There’s that information there as well.

Thank you. This has been fascinating. I enjoyed having you on the show. I appreciate it.

Thank you.

We appreciate having the chance to talk about it.

You’re welcome.

I want to thank Mark and also Edgar and Peter for being on my show. We have such great guests. If you missed any past episodes, please go to the sites to check them out. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Mark C. Thompson

TTL 277 | Humble Leadership

Mark C. Thompson is the world’s #1 leadership coach for transformational growth, team engagement and driving change according to the American Management Association. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value, Now Build a Great Business, and Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters. In addition to working as an operating executive and entrepreneur with Schwab, Virgin, and Apple, he has been adjunct faculty at Harvard, Stanford, the World Economic Forum, The World Business Forum, and USC.


About Edgar and Peter Schein

TTL 277 | Humble LeadershipEdgar Schein is a former professor at MIT. He created a model of organizational culture that identifies three distinct levels of culture including artifacts and behaviors, espoused values, and assumptions. Peter Schein is the Co-founder and COO for Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute. Providing OD and leadership consulting and coaching services.


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