Each and every person has their own repertoire of strengths. It’s only a matter of finding them and bringing them to light. Most of Tom Rath’s life’s work has focused on this. Tom is a best-selling author and researcher who has spent two decades studying how we can improve human health and wellbeing. In this episode, he shares his backstory and his work with Don Clifton, as well as how they came about writing the book How Full Is Your Bucket? He also talks about his work as a senior scientist with Gallup, primarily on developing the CliftonStrengths. Tom discusses the correlation between finding strengths, employee engagement, and the financial aspect of it all. He ties this in by talking about the highlights of his other book, Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World
I’m so glad you joined us because we have the one and only Tom Rath. Talk about bestselling authors. He has Amazon’s top-selling nonfiction book of all time and he’s got a new one coming out. He has sold more than ten million copies of all of his books, and he has written maybe ten books. There’s a wealth of knowledge that you can learn from Tom Rath on everything to do with personality, behaviors, strengths, and Life’s Great Question.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Finding Your Strength With Tom Rath
Tom Rath is an author and researcher who has spent decades studying how we can improve human health and wellbeing. You’ve seen his books everywhere. He’s got several books that you’ve probably read. He’s got a new one and I’m very excited about it. It’s called Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World. If you haven’t read his book StrengthsFinder 2.0, I’d be so surprised. This one’s a must-read and I’m very excited to have him on the show. Welcome, Tom.
Thanks so much, Diane. It’s great to be talking with you.
This is such interesting stuff for me because I’ve created assessments and I got to take your Contribify. I’m very interested in how that ties into your book and everything else. I want to go back to the beginning because you are one of the most successful nonfiction writers of your generation as per Dan Pink and that’s quite a compliment, but it’s true. I remember teaching a course where your book was required reading. I want to get a little backstory on you because you have had bad news in your life. You’ve had things that have led to your success. Can you give your backstory a little bit?
The short version of it is that when I was about sixteen years old, I was diagnosed with a rare disorder that essentially shuts off one of the body’s most powerful tumor-suppressing genes. I learned about it because I had several large tumors on the back of my left eye. I lost all sight of my left eye when I was sixteen. Doctors essentially told me that they didn’t know how long I’d live. They thought that the over-under from what I read after that was about 37 years old. They said, “You will face cancer in your pancreas, your kidneys, your spine, and a host of other areas.” What that did to me at a young age, it taught me a couple of things. One is, it forced me to spend an hour or two every single morning reading through medical abstracts, trying to figure out what are all the little things I can do that helped me to have a better chance of living longer and better health.
That was one outcome from that. The other one was it got me focused at a pretty young age on how can I pack as much life as possible into the next 20 to 25 years, whatever I had to left. I do so in a way that what I got focused on even back then was in a way that can continue to make a contribution even when I’m gone. In the decades since then, I’ve learned that it’s a pretty good way to focus your time and energy during the day, even if you don’t have a life-threatening illness because it gets you focused on the things that matter most and can continue to grow well into the future.
That’s got to change your whole outlook of life. I can’t even imagine growing up with that hanging over you, but you’ve obviously lived longer than doctors predicted. I think of Stephen Hawking of what the lifespan is for his disease and how he overcame it. I imagine you use people like that as inspiration.
There are a lot of people that are an inspiration. Most importantly, the family, friends and people around me. It’s been years. When I initially faced that challenge, to be honest, when I look back on it, it was nowhere near as difficult as I would imagine or I don’t think anybody would have guessed. That was in large part because the people around me had made such an investment before that event even occurred, that it was pretty easy to sustain myself through a challenge that. It’s fun to look back and see what big importance the network and family surrounding me had back then.
I imagine that would be hugely important. All of this led, I imagine, to your interest in psychology because you have all these amazing degrees and backgrounds. A lot of people may not know about all the work that you do at Gallup. Can you tell a little bit about your work history?Focusing your time and energy during the day on the things that matter most can continue to grow well into the future. Click To Tweet
I grew up in a family of psychologists and teachers. My grandfather had been influential when I faced those challenges as a kid. Don Clifton was known as the grandfather of positive psychology and he got to strength psychology movement going and created the StrengthsFinder and a lot of other interviews and the like. I had grown up in a house where he was already testing all these early positive psychology concepts. When I mentioned what brought me through it, he had this idea he taught me about even as a kid where he said, you always have to be filling people’s buckets all the time because you need at least four or five positive interactions for every one negative and that builds a reserve in your bucket.
All this was supported by some of his real early psychological research that he started in the late ‘60s. When I graduated from my undergrad at Michigan, I went to work with Don on building some of the early versions of that StrengthsFinder assessment. We were somewhere in the middle of that but two years into that project and trying to put the first version StrengthsFinder together and Don found out he had stage four gastroesophageal cancer. We both set aside what we’re working on the moment and started flying around to different medical centers to figure out if there’s any way to keep him alive a little bit longer. It was in the middle of that process, we were down in Houston at a medical center.
He was on trial and I wrote him a long letter about everything he’d added to my life because I remembered him talking about what a waste it was that we wait to eulogize people until they’re gone. That was a meaningful thing to do. I’m glad I did it. What surprised me was a few days after that, he said to me, “I noticed a real talent for bringing things to life with words. Would you be willing to share that story in a book if we write a book about this helpful as your bucket concept you had?” That’s what got me into the whole writing thing. I’d actually been told by an AP English teacher in high school that I should stick with math and numbers because my writing wasn’t that great.
It still isn’t. It’s taken a lot of repetitions and teaching. That experience where Don said, “Do you think we can do a book in the next two months about this helpful is your bucket idea?” He was able to live another year and we finished a draft before he passed away. That book took off in business at first and in the year since then in the school systems. That’s what got me into the writing side. I’ve always been more into the research and this is ten books. I don’t think I ever would have worked on any writing for public consumption if Don hadn’t said he’d spotted something in there and given me that specific challenge. That’s what got me into this part of the work.
I know your How Full Is Your Bucket?, was an instant number-one New York Times bestseller for two months. Thinking about that is pretty amazing of how you were able to do that. When I taught the course, actually it was StrengthsFinder 2.0 that was in the course. Of course, I took it. If you’re interested, I’m achiever, competition, learning, individualization, and activator as I recall. You get these top six strengths that you have from that. A lot of people look at StrengthsFinder as focusing on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. How would you describe it?
When I think about it from a clinical standpoint, it’s an issue of how we distribute our time with our learning and development over the decades. It seems that the universal default in schools or workplace training programs or community programs, or a performance review with your manager, is that there’s a tendency to say, “Let’s spend 75%, 80% of the time on the areas you need to improve your gaps,” essentially your weaknesses. Maybe there’s a little bit of trivial time thrown in 20%, 25% about, “Here’s what you do well, here are your successes and so forth.” That equation needs to be flipped around. If you focus on the majority of time on people’s weaknesses, they simply lose confidence.
We’ve gone too far and focusing people on things that they don’t do well naturally. The key is to start with the areas where you have the most natural talent. Because what I’ve seen is that that’s where people have the potential for exponential growth is in those areas of natural talent. To your point, it’s always important and I add this caveat every time I write about it or talk about it, but it’s as reckless to ignore your weaknesses as it is to ignore your strengths. There does need to be some balance in that conversation.
The reason early on when I was a part of working on the StrengthsFinder project with Don, though we started with people’s top five out of 34 themes of talent, is because we knew that if we gave everybody the whole list of 34, they’re going to zoom in on the bottom. That’s what they’ve been taught to do. That’s where that started. We argued forever about whether it should be three themes or ten themes. Eventually, Don said five and he said, “At some point, you decide on the number of keys on a piano and help people play with that.” That was where a lot of that started.
It’s interesting to look at what we have is a solid foundation of what we prefer to use as talents. What I find is I’ve been in meetings and people stand up. They go, “What do you think about StrengthsFinder?” They actually ask me about your work in meetings and I love that that your work is so much of the world’s focus that people are talking about this. You have served as the senior scientist at Gallup. Are you still there?
I’ve been moving outside advisers and go to some conferences. I work on a few projects here and there, but I was a full-time leading Gallup’s workplace consulting business for years. That was when I was most intensely involved with a lot of the research. It was all about mostly strengths around the main elements of global wellbeing.
Are you in the research on engagement as well there?
I led the engagement practice as well in my last few years there. That was a big part of it too was. It’s been interesting for me to see the evolution of those topics, the individual side of the strengths development and employers getting interested in employee engagement years ago. I was hoping they’d evolved faster to organizations being interested in employee wellbeing. To be honest, that’s taken longer and been more challenging than I would have thought.
I have a question for you about that because I’m interested in engagement and it’s very challenging. We know they always say $500 billion and you’re losing all this money. For me, I’m curious about curiosity and perception and different aspects of things that I write about or emotional intelligence and different things. How do you tie in the cost involved in what companies are losing? Let’s say for curiosity, for example, if people aren’t asking questions, they’re relying on status-quo thinking. There’s not a lot of research on to tie in how you the financial aspect of that. Did you do any research in that area at all?
One of the most important parts that people don’t talk about much of a lot of the foundational research that Gallup’s scientists have done over the last 10 to 25 years is it’s about the challenges. What the teams that have done, it requires very carefully mapping out an entire organization one business unit at a time and who reports to whom and who’s the head of that unit, how does it all roll up in the structure? They’re doing a pretty complicated analysis of those business units over time to see if this variable changes from the employee engagement research. It’s a question on a survey, for example, does that lead to decreases in turnover? Does that lead to increases in quality metrics that are embedded in their IEP and information systems? To map the whole organization and then watch how business units change.
One of my former colleagues at Gallup, Jim Harter, I wrote the book on wellbeing with. He’s led a lot of that research. That’s what’s helped to put a lot of the business case and evidence to countless productivity outcomes together. Using that technique called meta-analysis, it’s a lot more common in psychological and social research. You can look across all these industries and say, “If you go up a few points in this specific domain of employee engagement, that’s likely to lead to X increase in productivity, profitability, decreases in turnover, increases in quality and the like.” It takes a lot of manual lifting and mapping to do that. Especially in the case of employee engagement, it’s helped to get a lot of leaders bought onto the importance of doing it right.
It’s an interesting discussion about what impacts engagement. I’m doing a lot of research with other companies to see how much questioning can help improve the status quo because of my interest and curiosity. I liked that your book title is Life’s Great Question because we’re thinking about this. I’m very curious to discover how you contribute to the world. Because you talk about how others when they come up to us and ask us what do you do for a living? Is my answer teaching, influencing and achieving based on taking your assessment?
That’s what I would like people to do as a product of some of the things I’ve been working on for the last few years with Life’s Great Question book and if you go to our website and everything. If we could have a more personal and human conversation when we joined teams about why we do, what we do, who we are and how we think we can best contribute to that given effort given what the community or customers or the world needs versus who we are? There are two big challenges I see. One is the way that people end up in jobs and are lined up with jobs in our society. It couldn’t be much less efficient if you designed a system to randomize people to jobs in a lot of cases. We’ve got to find better ways of talking about how we want to contribute to a team.It's just as reckless to ignore your weaknesses as it is to ignore your strengths. Click To Tweet
The other challenge to where you were talking about with the teaching influencing is when we try and summarize a person’s work for the sake of getting to know one another, when we’re joining a new team or when we’re interviewing someone to join our organization, we fall back in this language of resumes. Resumes, almost by definition, have stripped out almost all of the humanity and warmth and they’re so cold and lifeless. We’ve got to find ways for people to have better snapshots of who they are as people and as contributors to describe why they do what they do.
Now that I know this describes me, what does that help me do? I want a little more depth on that because when I take your assessment, teaching, influencing, achieving were my top three. I don’t know if I got the full report, but those are my top greatest contributions. If I’m looking at that, what does that help me as an individual do?
To step back for a second, that inventory that we put together on a website, it also asks you some open-ended questions about what are the big roles you play in life. For me, I put in dad, husband, researcher, and writer. It asks about your miles or your most influential life experiences. That’s both good and bad experiences we’ve talked about. What drives you to do what you do? My hope is that that can be a starting point for people to have a conversation as they’re joining a new team where you get personal with those things. You take a look at those. There are twelve contributions that we ask people to prioritize and rank about how they want to contribute to that given team effort.
You can go through as many times as you want for new teams and update it as you join new groups and so forth. What’s interesting when you were talking about that is the teaching you described as one of your top ones falls in the team category of creating things. The influencing one I believe falls in the relate area. The last one was achieving, which falls in the operating area. That’s pretty rare, to be honest. Where a lot of people I’ve talked to who have prioritized how they want to contribute, it ends up falling in one of those team areas.
The problem is there is a needed competency element. When I stepped back and looked, I went through the Bureau of Labor statistics listing of all the jobs that people have in society and what people get paid to do and tried to boil it down. That’s where I got these twelve contributions, then narrowed it down to what are the three things that every team needs to do? A team needs to create something, a product or a service. A team needs to have relationships with one another. It’s going nowhere. A team needs to operate and get stuff done and continue to scale.
What’s most important is that we sit around whether it’s a group of three people, seven or ten and say, “How do we make sure we’re doing all three of these things if we want to serve a defined purpose in our community, in our society and the like?” It’s almost an activity and an alignment of expectations to say there are going to be some times when you want to spend a lot of time on the creative stuff, but there might be a lot of other people on the team who also want to fill in that gap. There’s got to be some storming in negotiation about how each person’s going to contribute to an effort so you can move forward more smoothly in parallel instead of getting a lot of people together on a team who have the same personality, the same interest. It takes six months before they realize they were all charging the same direction.
It reminds me of when I went through NBTI training years ago, and I know a lot of people don’t buy into some of that stuff. What I thought was interesting about it was when we would take people and put them into different teams. If everybody had the same type, they’d make very uninteresting Lego designs and stuff. If you had a whole team of different people together, then they build unbelievable things. I’m looking at this with the create, relate and operate different types of wording that you have underneath each one. Are you saying that since I’m teaching influencing, achieving, you probably want somebody who’s you want to divide the team up and make sure that there are people who are better at initiating? I know that people were better at connecting or what and have us a variety on a team. Is that what I’m hearing?
Yes. It’s a variety of how people want to contribute. What I’ve observed over the years is that there are a lot of good assessments out there. People can use it, help them understand their personality and some that help them understand their interests and different styles and the like. What the exact question we were asking people as a part of this inventory that builds the profile is, I want to contribute by, and then they prioritize some things. This is you claiming how you think you can optimally contribute to a given effort. There can be some negotiation in that as you’re on different teams with different skillsets of people. As a part of that inventory, we ask people to describe what they think their strengths or their talents are as well in addition to the experiences and the roles they play. If people can sit around and say, “Here’s how I can optimally contribute to that team,” it may be different for there may be a community group that I’m working with where I need to do more of the relationship-building pieces that I normally wouldn’t on a lot of work teams that I’m on. It is more of a situational activity and prioritizing that I hope is a more emotional and human way to do it than looking at resumes and people’s backgrounds and competencies and the like.
When you talk about that, it’s interesting to me because you said, “I want to contribute by,” and that’s our perception of what we think we or what we think we are good at in some respects. I’m wondering to tie into what I research for curiosity, a lot of people don’t ask questions. Because of what I found, there were four factors that kept them back from it. It was fear, assumptions or the voice in their head, technology, and environment. Once they start to overcome some of those things, is it possible that they may see themselves differently and want to contribute differently because they get over their fear of initiating all these things? How does that tie in?
It’s a great thought. Because this isn’t an assessment of personality at all, we designed it so people can go through and update that profile and redo all the questions an infinite number of times. Those things do change based on the situation, based on other people you expect to be on that team. Based on some of the events that people have gone through and the circumstances as you described. In my observation, in working with a lot of leadership teams, in particular, it’s probably worth examining that when you’re joining a completely new team and level setting, how you think you want to progress. The other challenge here is that a lot of times most people in their work make a real positive and substantive contribution to society every single day.
I don’t think most people recognize that every day. A part of this is if you say, “I am going to contribute to this group in our community by doing X,” as a part of the process of setting expectations. It also helps you to remind yourself why you’re doing it. The value delivers for another person as you go along on that given project, that given service you’re working on or whatever it might be. We’ve got to find ways to bring reminders of that humanity back into our work because it makes the work more enjoyable. We do better quality work and we get more done in less time.
As I’m looking at some of the relational aspects, I had another question for you because I am interested. My next book is on perception that perceiving was one of the words under relate. I came in at influencing, which doesn’t surprise me for as all my years of sales and the things I’ve done. I’m curious how you feel perception plays into the business setting. Perception to me is a combination of IQ, EQ, cultural quotient and curiosity quotient all combined, that impacts how we know what each person needs. Empathy is a big part of that. Do you see that as emotional intelligence? How do you define perceiving and perception?
The way that I defined it in the context of that inventory was about people who were continually individualizing and thinking about what do other members of the team need to be energized and be most productive in the like, and they were looking outward that. That was a little bit more of a narrow focus. When about perception in the broader evaluative sense that you’re describing, it’s critically important. If you were to say to me from all this research I’ve been working on, my biggest macro learning is that if we can shift the perception of why we do what we do on a daily basis. It’s as other-directed as humanly possible, that’s probably the single most important thing that unlocks more meaningful, more productive, less stressful efforts throughout a given day.
It was a nice surprise as I went through this and worked with teams on these topics. The more you can get out of your own head and thinking inward in a given day, the less stressful it is, the more you can contribute to others. When you’re anchoring your efforts and contributions on the value they deliver for other people, that is one of the things across all these dimensions we’re talking about. When you shift your perception there, essentially, that’s what got me thinking about it. That’s what unlocks a very different way to look at the relationship you have with the work you do.
When I was creating the assessment for that, I was trying to look at it as a process so you can recognize how everything ties in. How you’re reading body language, how you’re thinking about your own thoughts, how you’re looking at other people, ties into so many things that are important. It can make us unhealthy when we’re stuck in our own heads. You talk about work is killing people when it should be making them healthier. I was thinking about how you had said that. How do we make that shift to get away from that?
One of the biggest challenges for anyone who mentors, leads, manages or coaches people is that they’ve got to focus more and more of the outcomes into dependent variables of why people work on the value that adds for another person. If there’s anyone in a workplace, in your community or your social circles that look to you for guidance, that’s got to be a bigger part of your job in the next 10 to 25 years. Help people connect some of those dots. Because if you look at food service, for example, if you have somebody cooped up in the back of a kitchen with no windows where they can’t see customers eating the food they’re preparing, they make poor quality food. It’s less nutritious and people enjoy eating out less in comparison to when you can see the people enjoying the food you’re preparing. It’s the same thing applies to radiologists where if you append a photo of a patient to a radiographic record, radiologists produce longer reports and it increases their diagnostic accuracy. You see this with software developers. You see it with people in manufacturing plants to build MRI machines.
We’ve got to find ways to bring literal physical and image type reminders of who we serve into the work that we’re doing on a regular basis. One thing is to challenge managers and leaders to spend even more time doing that because it will be a critical part of the function they serve. At some level, I do think each of us individually. Back to your point about the work literally killing people with the stress that creates in a lot of cases, what I’ve learned the hard way in my career is that I was hopeful that organizations would become as adept at showing employees how the company’s adding to their wellbeing. They got so good at measuring how much in employee engagement or discretionary effort they were getting from each person.Most people in their work make a real, positive, and substantive contribution to society every single day but they don’t recognize it. Click To Tweet
I don’t see that happening largely. As a result, each of us as individuals need to take ownership to say, “I need to figure out how I can eventually get to a place with my work where I know that my life’s better off because I’m part of this organization instead of doing something else. I’m a better spouse or parent or friend because of the work that I do. I’m more involved in my community because of what I do. I feel more secure about my finances because of what I do. Over a span of years, my career is on a better trajectory because of the work that I’m doing.” I also think on more of a daily basis, people should be able to come home from work with as much health or energy is when they showed up in the morning. We’re nowhere near that point yet.
It’s interesting how the engagement numbers aren’t getting any better. Are you surprised that we haven’t made more strides?
I’ve seen strides inside organizations that have been pretty impressive on a macro-economic level. It’s been frustrating how a little movement you see in that. We’ve essentially built pretty robust measures of what people are contributing to organizations and we have almost no means of discerning what organizations are contributing to individual’s lives. We’ve got to turn the equation on that a little bit and it’ll probably take 25 years or more.
You talk about turning the equation. We’ve often heard follow your passion, but you say that’s bad advice. Do we need to change how we think about that as well, we’ve learned and heard these things but is that not what we should do?
I mentioned that in this book that I do get a little concerned that both follow your passion, follow your interests and to some degree, spending too much time looking in order at your own personality. In a lot of cases, that can lead people to be more focused inward on self instead of outward on the things that they can contribute to people. To pick on a passion for a minute. If you tell kids who are getting out of college to go out and focus on what they’re passionate about, there’s not much of a likelihood or definitely no guarantee that what they’re passionate about contributes much to society at all. It’s a better question to step back and say, “What does the community around me need? What are the people I care about need? What does the world need?” Work back, if you start on the demand end and you work back to the supply and you view your talents, you view your passions and your personality in life, that’s the supply through which you can meet some of that demand. A lot of the conversations about passion, and to some degree, personality almost ignore the demand side of the equation and add the apparel of getting people way too focused inward without bringing that into the equation.
When you’re talking about that, I’m thinking about Millennials and how they write about them so often expecting great things. They’ve gotten a lot of bad reputations that aren’t necessarily the case. It’s like any other generation. You’re going to have some who think those. There are some who don’t. Do you find any differences in how people align on your assessments based on their age or their working styles or generations that don’t mesh together?
The one thing I have seen, a lot of over the years, I’ve read quite a bit on generational differences. My broad take on that personally is that generational differences are nowhere near as meaningful or impactful as the time and attention they’re given in the media. That being said, if you get into the nuances of what is different longitudinally from generation to generation, the two big things I’ve seen over the years are that people entering the workforce and Millennials. They want work that has more meaning and a purpose. They’re less likely to want to go work for a company that makes cigarettes. They want to see how the work they’re doing will make a difference in the world. That desire is stronger among 20 to 30-year-olds than it is among 50 to 60-year-olds by far.
The other difference is they want more constant feedback, acknowledgment and support about how they’re doing. I’ve heard some managers argue that means higher maintenance. They want more feedback, which is fine. They want to more easily be able to connect what they’re doing with the purpose that it serves because they don’t want to be a part of an organization that they don’t perceive as creating something that’s a societal benefit. Honestly, that gives me some optimism and hope. It’s good to have higher expectations in both of those departments. It’s going to be more of a challenge for people in the workforce who are in leadership and managerial positions weren’t used to such a high bar and demand for some of those things. Maybe eventually, it moves the needle in the right direction.
It makes me think about what we talked about before how you can be different on different teams and different things. I’m wondering if there’s not a generational issue, but maybe is there a problematic combination of putting certain groups together. If you have everybody the same, it’s not as optimal sometimes. Can organizers and achievers not get along? Is there a problem group?
The problem group is the homogenous group. It may be the most common group too, which is an important question. Because what I often see is that once people are already a part of an organization or working together or have relationships, teams are formed based on people who have similar personalities, they have similar interests. They want to work on some of the same things. I’m guilty of doing this all the time where I’ll get a group of people together and we’ll start working on things like, “Let’s do this. Let’s hit the ground running.” It takes us in some cases a year or two to realize, “We got four creative people together who all wanted to make stuff,” and we ended up not building and strengthening our relationships or communicating with internal or external audiences.
We didn’t do anything operationally or putting any products together. We’ve wasted a bunch of time talking about ideas because we had a homogenous group of idea people. I’ve been guilty of that too many times where I’ve started to think more carefully about it. We have an opportunity both with looking at a personality assessment of strengths and with mapping out contributions to build teams that have more cognitive diversity. That’s where I would anchor it to say we need diversity of talent. We need a diversity of interest and thought about how people want to contribute. The more of that diversity we can build around a team, the better off we’ll be.
That brings to mind, I had Amy Edmondson. She has a great TED Talk about teaming versus teams and how they were short interactions with people. In teaming, they don’t know each other. They’re thrown together. The Chilean miner disaster is what she uses an example of how they were able to use curiosity to collaborate well. Not everything is life and death like that. Have you ever analyzed some of these things may be the Chilean miner disaster or others of what made him be able to cooperate in those kinds of situations?
No, but it’s a fascinating example and area that needs even more research. Honestly, in all the different workplace teams I’ve spent time with and organizations I’ve consulted with over the years, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone have a real objective method or formula for assembling teams in the first place. Maybe there are good ones out there I’d love to learn more about, but I haven’t seen much at all. If we could get that right from the outset, it’s probably better than trying to repair on the fly.
That ties into why curiosity is important. We need to ask more questions of people so that we know more about them before we set up our teams. Do you think that we’re seeing organizations that are curious enough or do you think we’re seeing more status quo? “Let’s do it this way. We’ve always done it that way.”
I’m seeing a little bit more curiosity on the margins. We’re at a point in the workforce where we’re closer to full employment. That produces more conversations about how can we optimize the jobs that people are in into the future. It’s one of the places where a lot of people talk about and have fears about the downside of big data and artificial intelligence. On a more optimistic note, I imagine that we can build much better systems in an algorithm for assembling teams and matching people with tasks that bring out the best in them and yield more enjoyment. What we’re doing might be worse than randomization because it’s essentially assembling affinity groups with like-minded relationships, interest in the likes. I was taking those notes down as we were talking about it. There are some real practical things that could be done in the future to give people more effective means for assembling cognitively diverse teams and the like.
With a lot of these inputs about who people are and why they do what they do, how can we begin to look at the relationships with who you bring on a team? Does that result in them having more success, more satisfaction, more enjoyment? You could make a prediction before you bring the team together about what different types of cognitive diversity you need around a group, using some type of an algorithm or process that yield better returns over time. That’s what I would love to see and be curious about.Generational differences are nowhere near as meaningful or impactful as the time and attention they're given in the media. Click To Tweet
It’s important to get companies to learn, to ask questions. When I did my research on curiosity, I was surprised there wasn’t a way to determine what kept us from being curious. All the assessments I told you are on a scale if you’re a high or low-level curiosity. If you have low, then what do you do? That was my research. It’s like, “I want to fix this, so I got to figure out what stops us.” Do you think companies look at what stops things so much or do they want to maybe categorize people and then they don’t go any further?
They might want to categorize people and they don’t go any further. I’m curious as we’re talking about this. Maybe there are a lot of good efforts that I’ve been impressed by in the last few years where companies know they need to be as serious about diversity inclusion as they are about ESG and social good. There may be an opportunity there. One of the things I’ve been taken aback by over the last decade is the obvious lack of gender diversity among leadership teams. It’s the primary reason why leadership teams have been horrible at relationship building as a product. It’s a huge gap from a talent standpoint because if we had more gender diversity, I’m pretty convinced that we would have far more efficient teams with better relationships and more productive in the like. To start to bring some of these conversations in that you need diversity of race, gender, age, talent and interest about what people want. You have these perspectives on teams. There’s got to be a way to build more prediction and science around that over time.
That also brings up the lack of diversity on boards and board of directors. Not only are they trying to get more women on boards, but they lack the behavioral HR focus. Because I’ve gone through this with people who set up boards and we need somebody who covers this and we need to get somebody who covers that. When they run out and they never get to the part of the behavioral experts. Do you think that boards should have more of that?
Diversity of gender, race, age and talents is far more important than diversity of some of those functional variables that you can backfill and manage over time. We need a major reconfiguration. I’ve been having some discussions with different groups about how do we change and set new examples in the business world on that topic. It’s going to take some major actions to make sure that it doesn’t take another 25 years to get to parity.
This is all fascinating and I’m curious, are there a lot of leaders who are reading this. Do you have any final advice for the next generation of leaders of what you’ve learned from this last book and your research?
The big takeaway for me from a leadership standpoint is that in the future, one of the most important things for anyone in a leadership or management role to do is to help another person to identify some of the areas where they can make their greatest contributions. To help people see, acknowledge and recognize that on an on-going basis. What hit me is I begin to look at some of this research is that often in the workplace, we get overwhelmed by all the things flying at us. If you’re in a leadership role, if you can walk around, make some observations, and have a sincere conversation one on one with someone where you ask them a question about what they’re doing. You mentioned something you’ve identified and you genuinely listened to what they’re thinking. You listen to their response with your device stowed away and your own mouth closed. You do that well for fifteen or twenty minutes for another person in a given week, that maybe one of the most valuable contributions that a leader can make for the sake of on-going human development. My hope is we’ll get back to some of those fundamentals where that’s the hallmark of leadership over the next decade here.
What you do is amazing and a lot of people have learned so much from all of your books. I’m excited to see the success of your book, Life’s Great Question. A lot of people might want to know more about the assessment and the book, how to find it. Do you have some way that they can reach you or find these things?
Did you consider writing titling the book that Contribify?
I’ve been so inspired and I used Dr. King’s question that I opened a book with on a daily basis about life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? I feel that it can be such a rallying call. I use it every single day to focus on how I distribute my time and my efforts to make sure that I’m at least spending an hour on something that makes a difference for another person or somebody that I care about. I’m hoping that the title is a little broader gets people into that mindset a bit better.
It is a great title and what you’re doing is fascinating. I was so glad that you wanted to be here, so I was very excited to have you here. Thank you so much, Tom.
Thank you for your time. This has been an inspiring, thoughtful conversation.
I’d like to thank Tom for being my guest. We get so many great guests. I have been so fortunate to have people like Tom. He is a legend. I’m very grateful for that. You can also find some other great guests if you go to DrDianeHamilton.com. Paul Ekman, you name the people who have done amazing things, from Daniel Goleman, a lot of them, Albert Bandura. Many people from Harvard. It’s an amazing group if you’re interested in finding out more in the area of psychology too. What we’re talking about all ties into both curiosity and perception. Some of this is very close to my research. Actually, it’s so fun to talk to Tom Rath because his work was tied into a class, I taught on foresight at a technology university. There’s so much you can learn about yourself to be able to plan for having proactive thinking and that type of thing. I was excited to see Tom is a potential guest.
What he was talking about in terms of perception, I am very fascinated by the process and how we come up with these ideas and process things. A lot of it ties into our culture. A lot of it ties into our emotional intelligence and any intellectual abilities and that type of thing. There’s so much that this all is a curiosity-based thing to find out how others see me? How do I see others? In a way, in terms of emotional intelligence, we understand our own emotions in those and others, but it’s also how we come across. When I had a job in the early ‘80s, we were rated on our concern for impact. I look back at that and that was how much we cared, how we came across to other people.
I thought, “They were ahead of their time with that,” because a lot of that ties into emotional intelligence, which you didn’t hear a lot about back then. Goleman’s book became popular in ‘95 timeframe. Even though he wasn’t the first one to write about that, that’s when it became popular. Some of these companies are on the cutting edge of thinking about these behavioral issues. That’s so important. That’s what Tom and people at Gallup and all the people that focus on some of this behavioral learning are trying to tie into the bottom line of engagement and productivity. If we’re engaged, of course, we’re going to be more productive. To see the things that tie into that is so important.
To me, perception and curiosity, of course, tie into that, if we could be more curious and ask more questions and feel confident that we can provide information based on our skills and our knowledge. If we can ask questions in a way that people accept of what we’re asking and don’t judge us or criticize us, that will all lead to, of course, improved innovation and engagement and all the things that lead to productivity. All this self-analysis can be critical because it brings up such great dialogues about what it is that makes us feel fulfilled, what it is that we maybe should be aligned to as jobs start shifting from technology.
It would be great to align people based on what they’re good at, what they provide for the company, what they enjoy, all those things. Some of this analysis can be important for that alignment. I like how Tom acknowledged each team needs to be diverse in their skills. I agree the more you have too many people at the same on a team, the less great the end product. I hope you take some time to check out Tom’s book. You’ve probably read most of his old former books. He was such a great guest. I enjoyed this and I hope you did. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Tom Rath
- Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World
- StrengthsFinder 2.0
- How Full Is Your Bucket?
- Amy Edmondson – Previous episode
- Paul Ekman – Past episode
- Daniel Goleman – Past episode
- Albert Bandura – Past episode
About Tom Rath
Tom Rath is an author and researcher who has spent the past two decades studying how work can improve human health and well-being. His 10 books have sold more than 10 million copies and made hundreds of appearances on global bestseller lists. Tom’s first book, How Full Is Your Bucket? was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller and led to a series of books and activities for kids that are used in classrooms around the world. His book StrengthsFinder 2.0 is Amazon’s top selling non-fiction book of all time. Tom’s other bestsellers include Strengths Based Leadership, Wellbeing, Eat Move Sleep, and Are You Fully Charged? His latest book is Life’s Great Question: Discover How YOU Contribute to the World.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!