Everything is about selfless service—about succeeding by helping others succeed. Dr. Diane Hamilton sits down with Jonathan Keyser, the founder and thought leader behind Keyser. Together, they talk about the importance of selfless service in growing an organization.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, every organization taken together is a living, breathing organism. Norman Wolfe is the Founder and CEO of Quantum Leaders. He speaks with Dr. Diane about looking at organizations as living beings, and how this will help you sustain development in the long run.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Jonathan Keyser and Norman Wolfe here. Jonathan is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Ruthless To Win. Norman is the Founder and CEO of Quantum Leaders. We’re going to talk so much leadership and helpful content. It’s going to be great.
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Selfless Service With Jonathan Keyser
I am here with Jonathan Keyser, who was the Founder and thought leader behind Keyser, the largest occupier services commercial real estate brokerage firm in Arizona. Through sheer determination and focus on selfless service, Jonathan is disrupting the commercial real estate industry and beyond. You might have seen his latest book and I’m very excited to talk to him about it. You Don’t Have To Be Ruthless To Win. He’s focused on Conscious Capitalism and a lot of things that I talk about in a lot of my classes. I’m anxious to have you on the show. Jonathan, welcome.
Thanks for having me. It’s an honor to be invited.
It’s fun to have a fellow Arizonian. I’m a native.
We’re fortunate to be here during this quarantine.
I’ve met a lot of people who do a lot of different meetings here. I’ve been to Joe Polish’s group and some of the things that are based out of here. I saw John Mackey speak at Joe Polish’s group and his work in Conscious Capitalism is huge. He had a quote about you and it’s great. He says, “Business is changing. It doesn’t have to be ruthless. Thankfully, Jonathan Keyser is showing us another way.” That’s quite a nice quote to get from a very big thought leader in the area.
John is an inspirational leader to me. He’s one of my mentors. He’s a close personal friend. There’s not a lot of people that I have the degree of respect that I have for him. He walks the talk. For someone who’s built a multibillion-dollar organization and continues to lead that to be able to do it through the lens of stakeholders and business as a force for good and doing the right thing. Having spent a lot of time with him personally, he is the real deal. To me, he’s an inspiration because many times, people start out with great ideals, and then as their organizations grow, they lose that vision or they start making compromises. He is uncompromisingly the real deal. He is quite an extraordinary man.
I teach a course here at the Grand Canyon University that focuses strongly on his work, but I want to focus on your work. I want to get a little backstory on you. I mentioned you’re strong in the commercial real estate industry. I want to know what led to that interest and can you give me your backstory?
I have a unique upbringing compared to probably most people that either you interview or in the world. I was raised as a Christian missionary kid. My grandfather translated the Bible into Apache. My aunt started the largest Christian missionary organization in all of Brazil. My parents took me to Papa New Guinea when I was a young child and I grew up there. I have a unique experience. When we came back from Papa New Guinea, I had this eye-opening experience where I realized for the first time that we were poor. In Papa New Guinea, everybody was poor. In fact, because we had a house and not a hut, we were well off. I get to the States and I realized we are poor. I’m wearing hand-me-down shirts.
Deeper than my psyche, I decided as a young man, early teenager, that I was going to be successful, that I wanted to be rich. I got into commercial real estate brokerage out of UCLA because a good friend of mine said that I could be very successful and make a lot of money. He felt like I was well suited for it. I got in and as I got in, I realized quickly, this is a cutthroat, take no prisoners, dog eat dog industry. Going back to my original decision as a young man, I said, “If this is what it takes to be successful, I’m going to do what it takes,” because I disliked being poor growing up. I became ruthless and I became cutthroat.
I was miserable doing it. I was misaligned with my core values. Honestly, I felt trapped. I didn’t know a different way. That’s not an excuse. It’s the reality. I genuinely thought that the only way I could get ahead was by mirroring the ruthless behavior that I saw around me. Many years ago, I went to an industry conference and a speaker inspired within me this idea of, what if that wasn’t necessary? What if you could succeed by helping others? I decided to re-invent myself and to throw myself into helping other people. I started loving and serving everybody that I could rather than behaving ruthlessly. As you can imagine, most people in my industry thought I was nuts.
This is the long game, not the short game. They had plenty of data to prove it. My production numbers dropped precipitously. I went broke in the process. It took me about five years to re-invent myself, to go from ruthless to successful through helping other people. On the other side of that, it was extraordinary to watch all of these seeds of service that I planted start to grow. All of these people that I helped started reaching out and saying, “Can you help my mom do this or that?” “Can you helped my son get an internship?” “Can you help me find a job?” Whatever the case may be. “We have a real estate need. Would you help us with our real estate needs?”
I went from laughing stock at my old company to top producer, but I was still miserable because I felt like I was misaligned with the culture at the organization I was with. I felt like it was too hard to grow an organization around this idea. I wanted to build something around service. I had an epiphany moment in 2012 where I realized that I had the opportunity to start an organization that lived and breathed selfless service with the idea of transforming the industry. That’s what I did. In 2012, I left my left millions of dollars on the table, left my old firm behind, and started my firm with the stated mission of changing the industry through selfless service. I’m proving definitively once and for all that you don’t have to be ruthless to win. We’ve grown to one of the largest independent firms of our kind in the country. Everything is about selfless service. Everything is about succeeding by helping others succeed. It fits very nicely into the messaging that you teach your students every single day.If what you’re doing is misaligned with your core values, you’ll end up feeling trapped. Click To Tweet
I take a lot of these clips and I put them in my classes because a lot of what you’re talking about ties into some of the things. I was in sales for decades before real estate or lending. I was a pharmaceutical rep. I had 30 or 40 years of nothing but sales. I don’t think anything I have ever done isn’t sales related. When you’re in sales, you get these messages that it’s cutthroat, it’s competition, and you’re only as good as your last deal thinking. It’s very challenging. Things have changed a lot. Younger generations have helped open up this ability to create these relationships. A lot of sales can be long-term. It’s a long game.
Pharmaceuticals was one of those things. You don’t go and sign on the bottom line, you’re done and you never see them again. Each sales job is different as it is. I’ve interviewed people like Scott Harrison, who created the Charity: Water. He told a story about how he had so much money and they gave it all up to try and get water for people in Africa. He ended up being a big thing. It’s the same thing. You can do things that end up being very profitable and serving more than yourself. That is what I’m hearing from your message. In this book, what will they learn from? Is it a how-to guide? Is it your story? Tell them more about your book.
The name of it is You Don’t Have To Be Ruthless To Win. It’s a combination. The fundamental question that people ask when I tell them my story is they’re thinking in their minds, “Is this guy completely full of crap?” The second one is, how would I do this for myself? One of the things that is interesting when you look at business and you look at success out there, it’s not like this idea of helping other people is a new one. We all know how to do it. We do it in our homes and in our social circles.
We get into business and we have this idea that we leave all that behind. We put on our adversarial war suit and go to war. It’s like why do we feel like we have to do that? It’s because there are not enough examples of people that have created material success doing it. People know that it’s a good thing, you should do it, and it’s nice to help other people. I don’t think enough people have demonstrated that you can create material, financial, real-world success doing it. The whole objective of the book was to give people an example so they can see that this wasn’t something like, “I was always born to be selfless and I’m a selfless guy.” No, I used to be a ruthless jerk. If I can change, anybody can change. Here’s my story and how I did it, so it can be real for the reader and they can see, “If he went through this and that’s how he did it, maybe I can do it too.”
What the majority of the book is it’s describing how I’ve created an organization. Keyser, our company, is built on fifteen cooperating principles that all funnel into this idea of a culture of selfless service. I walk through those principles and teach the reader how they can establish this culture of selfless service for themselves. I’ve taken everything that I’ve learned over the years and packed it into this book so that the reader can pick it up and create a culture of selfless service in whatever organization they want to create in. Whether it’s a business organization, a nonprofit organization, a social organization, religious organization, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same thing. It’s succeeding by helping others and showing people how to do that.
You bring up many important things. When I talk to my students about this Conscious Capitalism thing, some of us think it’s almost like an oxymoron. You can’t do one without the other. I worked in the subprime of all industries, which was at the time felt uncomfortable to me. I’m thinking, “This is not making sense.” Sometimes when you’re in certain business settings, you’re like, “They don’t need to do this to be successful. There are other ways of getting people what they want.” Now you’re in the commercial real estate market, and we’re going through these times with COVID and situations. What are you doing to work on selflessness now? Is there anything different with the situation?
I appreciate you asking that question because it’s a very relevant one. One of the things that demonstrates the sincerity of your message is what you do when times are tough. When it matters, what are you up to? While a lot of people have been running scared or had been hiding in their homes doing very little, for us, we’ve been spending our time trying to serve as many people as possible. If you think about it, real estate is the second or third largest expense for most organizations. It’s the least flexible. You can lay off people but you aren’t laying off a lease or building it your own. Over half of corporate bankruptcies involved breaking some kind of lease.
This stuff that we help companies with is real. When the world goes upside down like it has, people are in need, trying to figure out what they should do from a commercial real estate obligation standpoint. If their business has been dramatically impacted and they can’t pay their rent, what does that mean? We pivoted very quickly to doing endless webinars and coaching company executives on what they need to be thinking about and securing short-term rental relief. We’re helping organizations and doing free reviews for organizations. We’re helping them look at what their options are and how do they make sure that the commercial real estate obligations that they rely on also don’t tank their business. We’ve been this resource helping some of the biggest organizations and companies in the world, advising them, coaching them, and helping them.
That’s not the profitable transactional work that our firm is typically used to. Typically, we’re helping companies expand, build, sell, or whatever their real estate. This is where the need is the most. We have been all hands on deck helping organizations, coaching them, and negotiating rental relief for them. It’s been neat to see. We’ve been successful and we did some statistics, over 77% success rate in negotiating rental relief for companies. There’s no money in it for us. It’s about helping. On the other side of that, tying back to our message, I believe that selfless service is self-interested. There’s a good book that I read called Give And Take by Adam Grant. In it, he describes three different kinds of people in the world. The givers, matchers, and takers.
He describes how givers are both the most successful and the least successful in society and he solves why. The why are those individuals that can never say no and that aren’t strategic with their service. Those are the ones that end up being pulled in every different direction by the takers. The ones that are very intentional and choose, they aren’t afraid to say no to a good opportunity to serve and to say yes to a great opportunity, those are the ones that are successful. That’s also what I’m teaching my people here. Right now, is when relationships are made. While it may not seem like we’re doing work that is building our success into the future, by us helping all these organizations and helping all these people and doing this work for them when they need it the most, most of them are going to remember that on the other side.
Part of my message is I’m always wanting to tie it back in for people the self-interest embedded in service. It’s crazy to me that still, to this day, we all know that we should do it, but it hasn’t matriculated into the mainstream of business. Through leaders like Mr. Mackey and many others, hopefully, we’re going to be able to shift the tide and have a world in the future of my dream. I have a dream of a world where people selflessly help each other regardless of personal gain, understanding that it’s in their own personal best interest to do so. That’s what we’re working towards every day in this market. When everybody’s scared and in need, it is an amazing opportunity for us to demonstrate that selfless service mindset.
You said many interesting things and I’m trying to think which one I want to go up with first. As we’re talking about some of the stuff, it’s not as related to the questions I have to the real estate market so much. A lot of people who are reading, we have a lot of consultants and people who are doing these, “Give free content on their website, don’t ask for anything thing. They’re doing marketing emails constantly, giving free content.” If you give people free, it’s almost like it’s being utilized as a loss leader. In my mind, in the business world, if you drop prices on one thing, people come in and then they’re buying everything else because they’re in your store thinking. Is it the thought behind what you’re doing the actual reasoning for what you do more than anything else? Your intention isn’t to lure so much as to like, “Let me give you everything. If I never see you again, fine, I understand it” kind of thing. Is it like, “I’m going to use this and this will give us both something eventually?”
It’s not a manipulation. The thing is selfless service has to be selfless. It has to come from a pure place. That’s the nuance. That’s the hard part that I would guess many of your students. I know you understand it, but I would guess many of your students have a hard time getting their head around it because many of the people that I speak to you and I do keynotes all across the country talking about this and this is a very common question. It’s like, “John, why are you talking about self-interest when you’re talking about selfless service?” The reason is because people inherently act in their own self-interest. If you don’t show them that it truly is in their self-interest to be selfless, that will just be a short-term behavior set unless you’re one of the John Mackey’s of the world or the pure driven ones like Mother Teresa, for example.
I am not suggesting that. What I’m describing is I want people to understand that helping other people create success if you play the long game. It’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not, “I do for you and you do for me.” That’s a trade. That’s what the matchers do. I’m not describing that. I had a call where all I was there to do was try to figure out what the guy needed and helping them get connected in the community. I didn’t ask for anything in return. I’m not doing it to get something, but I’m also doing it with the understanding that you can’t out-give the universe. The more that you give, ultimately the more that you get. There are a lot of charlatans out there and that’s probably the hardest part about my message.
There’s so much noise of people pretending to be this way so that it makes them look good or they have this online marketing platform. They’re using it as a lure. That’s not what I’m describing. What I’m describing is when people are in need, when people are challenged and you help them, there’s this inherent appreciation that comes along with that. How that shows up in the future, you don’t know. We’ve done that thousands and thousands of times that we have people all around that are constantly looking for ways to add value back to us. It creates this cool relationship where we’re trying to help other people, they’re trying to help us, and everybody wins.
You bring up a lot of good points that tie into my research with curiosity and finding ways to get insight from other people and to build this culture that makes this rewarding for everybody. To do that though, you have to be open to listening to questions and asking people for your opinions and their insights. I’m curious how curiosity plays into your job running your company and what importance do you find for it?
I’m infinitely curious in others. When I have meetings, I’m trying to learn about the other person versus talking about how great I am because I don’t think I’m that great. That’s where the curiosity is. I’m infinitely interested in other people and I have a deep love for humanity. When I went through my recreation experience, I write about it in my first book. One day I woke up and I saw the world differently where I had an awakening moment, a shift in perspective, whatever you want to call it. I woke up one morning and the whole world was different. I had this transcendent feeling of love for humanity and this empathy for others.
The intensity of that first six months has faded for sure as it’s become a new normal. I still get grouchy and what everybody else does as a normal person. Underneath it all, there’s this deep love, fascination, and appreciation for others. That’s an essential part of curiosity. You can’t fake curiosity. It’s transparent. I am genuinely curious and interested in other people. I find that most, if not all, of the things that I am are from others and are bolt-on from somebody else that I learned from. Curiosity is an essential skill for success in general. Think about it, you can’t figure out how to selflessly help someone unless your curiosity enables you to dig deep and find ways that would be meaningful versus the normal boring surface stuff. That means you have to be a good listener, you have to be present, you have to care, you have to know good questions to ask, and dig in curiously into people. That’s the way I look at it. When I sit down with somebody, my objective is to be infinitely curious and get to know that person at a deep level. Through that experience, I typically find multiple ways that I can be of service to them.
That’s exactly how I look at it. You develop a culture within a company, either that leader emulates what they want to have their employees display. I know Mackey became so successful for Whole Foods culture and what he did there. Eventually, companies sometimes get bought out or they merge or like the Whole Foods with Amazon situation. Does the culture remain? How do you keep that when you have that situation?
As you scale?
As you scale or if you merge or if you’re bought out it. For example, is Whole Foods and Amazon a good combination in your mind?
I’ve had private conversations with John over drinks that I can’t share, but I will say that he set it up in the beginning in a way to ensure that he protected the elements of the culture that he found essential. Once you sell, there are some things that are out of your control, but you can structurally try to do that. He did a great job of that. That being said, there are also things, and he’ll say this readily, that he wanted from the culture of Amazon. Amazon had a number of elements from a cultural standpoint, they wanted to adopt. It was this amalgamation of looking at the Whole Foods culture. I can’t speak for John, so I’m sharing my opinion.You don’t have to be ruthless to win. Click To Tweet
Let’s use it in general. You need to be very mindful of who you’re getting into bed with. Structurally, what elements you need to make sure that you protect? Also thinking about, are they going to help you get to the next level in what you want to accomplish? John’s goal was he wanted to change the way the world eats and to make people healthier. The Amazon platform gave him the ability to do that. There were also a number of other things that, in his own words, were highly beneficial from that.
The reason why I admire him is because it’s hard enough to build a mid-sized organization and keep your culture the way that you wanted it from the beginning. It’s a whole different level as you go public and you have thousands and thousands of employees. That’s where the rubber meets the road. When it’s profits or culture, what do you pick? This is a page out of John’s book, but I believe that if you put the culture first, the profits will follow. John has a new book coming out, which I am honored to be featured in, where he talks about conscious leadership and he talks about how to build organizations around Conscious Capitalism within organizations.
From a mindset standpoint, it’s something where it’s hard and anybody that says it’s not hard either has never been there before or is lying. To keep a culture alive, every new person brings a nuance. For us at Keyser, what we’ve tried to do is be very intentional about keeping the people. The people are everything. We want to make sure that the people live the culture that we espouse and that they are people that want to be selfless and serve other people. I can teach skillsets, real estate, and stuff to people, but I can’t teach someone to want to help other people. They have to want that for themselves.
That’s an important point and I could see why your book is going to be very successful and why everybody is going to want to talk and follow you. If they want to buy your book or find out more about what you’re doing, how could they reach you?
I was stunned when my book hit number one on The Wall Street Journal. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t realize that there would be that much of an interest in this message. For us, if we can help in any way, Keyser.com. We have a bunch of free resources on there both from building a culture of selfless service, as well as helping on the real estate side. We have a specific web page set up for the book. It’s called RuthlessBook.com, where we have a bunch of videos and a bunch of resources that can help. Ultimately, the thing that would be most empowering and impactful for me is if people took this to heart and looked for how they could utilize my book as a roadmap to reinventing themselves around selfless service, creating success for their organizations and building cultures around selfless service. Ultimately, I’m building a world-class real estate firm and we want to help as many tenants as possible not get screwed on their real estate leases. At the end of the day, what I’m passionate about is making sure that I help impact the world and turn the world into a nicer place. At least the business side of it, where people want to serve, help, give love, and pay it forward versus take, scratch, claw, and fight their way to the top.
That’s such an important message and I’m so glad we were able to talk, Jonathan. This was interesting. I hope everybody checks out your information and thank you for being on the show.
Thanks for having me. Thanks for inviting me.
The Living Organization With Norman Wolfe
I am here with Norman Wolfe, who is the Founder and CEO of Quantum Leaders and a highly sought after keynote speaker. Norman uses The Living Organization approach to areas of strategy, change adoption, process innovation, customer experience, and organizational design. This methodology improves the efficiency of business processes, increases innovation, and develops the talents, energy, and engagement of people. I’m excited to have you here, Norman.
Thank you, Diane. I’m excited to be here with you.
I was looking forward to it because you and I focus on some of the similar things. A lot of what makes people successful is looking at some of these key skills for leaders. We’re going to get into that. I want to get a little background on you because people like to know how you reached this level of success and a little bit of the backstory would be great.
I started my career as an engineer back in 1969. I’ve been around more years than I like to think about sometimes. I went from an engineering background. I ended up with Hewlett Packard and had spent fifteen years with them. I started off as a systems engineer with HP. It very quickly took a turn into leadership and organization. I had my first opportunity to become a manager of a service district. I came out of the sales and systems engineering part of the house and the service district. Let’s just say they considered themselves riding in the back of the bus. I came from the front of the bus. What I didn’t realize was how much the perceptions of people of who they were or this identity impacted how they did what they did.
That was an early lesson or an early awareness setting about dynamics in an organization that go beyond what we do and how we do it. My first year as a manager also taught me an interesting lesson because when I had my first performance review, it was unacceptable in every category. It was a shock for me because every other review I had in my career as a technical person, as a systems engineer, as a programmer was all raving reviews. This was like, what happened? At first, I thought I’d be good at management, but I guess I’m not. Let’s go back to what I’m good at and get the results I was used to getting.
I had some very good mentors. One was the general manager of the region who took me to lunch and said, “Norman, we know you’re struggling, but you’ve got a lot of things right. It’s been a tough year, but we see some good things in you. Please stay in as a manager.” I did but what that did was it forced me to look at what does it mean to be a manager or a leader of an organization. That’s shifted my whole career from being an engineer to being a leader of organizations. After fifteen years with HP and climbing up through the ranks to the executive levels in management and leadership, I was running a fairly large organization, the Western sales region’s administrative organization, 17 branches, 1,300 people, $1 billion in revenue, what you consider the typical good size organization.
I left and I went into consulting because it felt that the things I learned at HP were needed in other organizations, especially the small and mid-market or what we now call the SME world. They don’t have the resources to go through the learning and experiences that the leaders of large organizations have and go through. I started consulting and that turned out to be another interesting learning experience. First, I’d never had to sell myself. I sold that at HP a little bit, but selling oneself is a whole different thing. When you want a product and they say no to you, the rejection is a little bit more hurtful. I had to go through that learning. I began to appreciate the challenges leaders have. Consultants and even employees often talk about, if only the leader was different or if only the leader behaves differently or if we change the leader’s minds, then the world would be good. That puts a lot of pressure on leaders and then not many people have the empathy for leadership that I’ve learned to develop.
I’ll tell you a little story. I was working with a client of mine. This was in Southern California. We were on Newport Beach. He was having his annual company picnic. It was a distribution company in the automotive industry. We were walking along the beach and he had all of his employees and their families there and big cookout. He even invited a lot of customers and suppliers who were local that were able to get to Southern California. As we were walking the beach, he turned to me and said, “Norman, every decision I make affects the lives of all of those people.” That had an impact on me. The empathy for what leaders carry on their shoulders day-to-day. Not many people talk about it. Not many leaders expressively go, “I have a tough job.” They say lonely at the top and that’s about as far as they get in talking about it.
You bring up many good points in that because I want to tie in some of the stuff that you’re talking about, which is what I research. Empathy is such a big part of emotional intelligence. That is such a huge topic in leadership. You also brought up the word perceptions, which my next book is on perception. I love that you talked about that perceptions of who they were and what they did versus what they thought that were perceived as doing and how we all look at what we are versus how others looked at us. I find that such an enormous awakening. How can leaders help people recognize their perceptions of who they are and how they interrelate with other people?
You ask it in different ways than I usually talk about it, but it goes to the core of what I do. How do leaders help their organizations grow up is another way they ask that question? What I’ve concluded is the first step is they have to look at their organizations for what they are. They are not machines of production. I call it a paradigm. The dominant framework or mental model of how we approach an organization. I openly ask the leader to think about a key vision they’re making at work and then imagine they were making the same decision for their family. Would they approach it the same way? They usually laugh. Of course, not. I go, “Why not? My family, they don’t respond. I’m not their boss. I can’t tell them what to do.” I say, “How is it working for you in your company? Are they doing what you tell them you want them to do?” “No, that’s why I called you in. They’re not listening to me.”
When we begin to shift the thinking of an organization away from a machine that the leader’s program, we enter into a different conversation. That’s what gets us into helping leaders understand that the organization is not just a collection of people who come together for creating an outcome. It’s a living entity who has a purpose, a soul, and the reason for existing in and of itself. Like raising a child, a leader’s role is to find a way to help the child be more capable. I often use the word to develop the maturity of the child, so it’s responsible and a positive contributing member of society. Taking that perspective, now all the things you’re talking about, emotional challenges, creating awareness, waking up the people, it takes on a whole different way of seeing what your role as a leader is. Until we make that shift in paradigm, we can’t get there.
You talk about this in your Living Organization model. What are the two core principles then of that?
The first one is what I said. You got to see the organization as a living being. Without that, everything else becomes academic because what happens is the machine thinking takes all of the new principles we’re talking about, whether it be emotional intelligence or customer experience or business agility or any of that stuff. It corrupts it into a mechanistic approach to implementing it and you can’t get there from here. The second element of the Living Organization model is my attempt at understanding how an organization creates outcomes. I say I have a lot of empathy for the leader of an organization. What people don’t recognize is the number one priority is the thrivability of an organization. Can it keep growing and serving the way it’s meant to? That means we have to continue to achieve outcomes. If I don’t have a focus on the outcomes we’re creating, it doesn’t matter all the theories and principles I have. I even think about it as a person. If I don’t raise my child to be productive, then what good is it? The child’s going to go home and live with me for the rest of my life.
That is happening for a lot of people right now.
Interestingly enough, for a lot of people, that’s because they don’t know how to help their children become mature. That’s another whole conversation, but that’s a lot of what’s happening in the business world too. The second part of it was my attempt to answer, how do we get the outcomes? If I’m going to help CEOs be successful and shift the paradigm, I’ve got to also make sure that they are achieving the number one responsibility which is creating. I began to look at how do we create results. I dove into all sorts of different disciplines from leadership, management, physics to psychology, and even the spiritual traditions. What I concluded is the only way we achieve results is by working with the fields of energy that we have. That creation of results is a process of transforming energy.What makes people successful is looking at the key skills of successful leaders. Click To Tweet
I began to look at if I’m playing with energy, how does it talk to the organization? What kind of energy are we talking about? That was one of the key contributions that Living Organization model brings to the work of organizations and even people’s lives. The three fields of energy that I discovered or that I trained out were activity, which is what we normally think about when we achieve results. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? What’s the process we’re going to use? What the goals we’re setting? How we’re going to measure it? That’s all based on the activity we do, which is still critical. It’s not that it goes away, but we add onto that the other fields of energy.
One is relationship energy and you can easily think of that in two ways. One is when people work well together, when there is less conflict and more harmony, when there is support and trust amongst team members, they go into the state often called flow. Sometimes we call it high performing teams or synergy. Two plus two equals five. What that implies is we’re getting more energy out of the group than the sum of the individual energies. Something magical happens with group dynamics and group energy when the group is in harmony and running smoothly. From an engineering point of view, you can think of it as two sine waves or multiple sine waves in phase, which means that the peaks and valleys line up and that’s an amplification effect. Conflict is the opposite. They’re out of phase and you have an attenuation. The highs are attenuating the lows and vice versa or the lows are attenuating the highs. You’d get a neutral low energy feel to it.
Looking at an energy, we can now begin to see what the team dynamics are. That’s internal. Externally, we know it through what we call customer experience. To explain the power of customer experience to the bottom line, I use a simple example of Starbucks or any of the barista-like coffee houses that we have proliferating around the world. If you want to look at what the cup of coffee costs, you go to commodity providers such as the convenience store 7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts, or any of the commodity. If you buy a cup of coffee, it costs you $1.30. If you go to Starbucks and you’re paying $4.50, $5.50 for a cup of coffee.
When I was young, my dad would freak out if it was $0.10. If he was alive, he would not believe what has happened with the coffee. When you’re talking about these three energy principles, is this your impact formula or this Wolfe’s Law thing that I read? I’m going to make sure I got it. Activity, relationship, and then context.
Context is an interesting energy field. It has some qualities of magnetism in that. It’s a field energy like a magnetic field. Anything that steps into the field behaves according to the energy pattern of that field. It’s like how the iron filings on a magnetic field show a particular pattern based on the magnetic field emanating from the magnet or whatever. Context has the same quality to it. It comes from the collection of core beliefs and assumptions about how the world works. When I was at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, a typical aerospace company, I literally took on the patterns of behaviors associated with the belief systems and assumptions of that hierarchical, aerospace-structured military-industrial complex kind of, “This is the way life works.” When I went to Hewlett Packard, it was different in HP way, the core objectives, the nine key objectives, and customers. We experiment and customers come first. We’re all about the customer experience. I was the same human being and within three months, I was behaving differently.
That’s a good example though. Many people only work in one industry for a long time or they only work for one company for a long time.
They never experienced that contrast of how powerful context is. They only know what they know.
It’s like having one child. Once you have more than one, you go, “You mean they’re not all the same?” You bring up assumptions, which I love because in my work on curiosity, one of the things that hold people back from being curious are assumptions.
That’s the second element of context. Context recreate the assumptions. We create our context based on our experiences of life as we grow up and the same is true for an organization. As this organization grows up, it hits a wall, it runs into conflict, the investors, the customers, this situation happens, and that situation happens. It’s like when we are children and we make assumptions about the way life works based on that. That context forms our responses to all other experiences that come away, which does two things. One, it creates order to our lives. We understand how to live our lives. It also creates limitations. It prevents us from seeing things maybe from a different perspective. We’re so sure the world’s going to respond this way to this kind of event that we don’t look for anything else.
An interesting story happened to me. I spent time at HP where I spent three years turning around the administrative organization. When I was given the responsibility for it, it was one of the poorest performing organizations, not only in the region or in the States, but also around the world. I spent three years refocusing it through doing a lot of things like talking about the Living Organization model. I reverse engineered what I did in my successful efforts. At the end of the three years, I was feeling pretty good about what I had done, all the accomplishments we had, the successes we had, how we went from the worst-performing organization to the best around the world. People from Germany and Australia learned what I did.
I was feeling good. I get an email from a brand-new person who starts highlighting for me all of the things that are wrong with our organization. The first time I read that, I said, “What’s the matter with this person? Don’t they understand what we went through and how much we changed and how much we’ve improved and why are they criticizing us?” That was my first one. Typical response from a leader. My second thought was the more important one. What a gift this person is bringing me. She was not looking at the world through my context. This goes back to what you said, perception. She was not looking at the world from where we came from. She was looking at the world from where we are now and all the things we can still improve on. I wrote back to her and I said, “Thank you so much for this email. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought of where we need to go next in our journey.”
I told a similar story when I talked about perception to salespeople who got their rears handed to them after they gave a presentation. One comes out thinking that was the worst thing that ever happened. Where the other one comes up with, “Didn’t we learn a lot? How great can we take this and use it for the next thing?” How we get this information and what we do with it is hugely important. I know we don’t have a lot of time, but I want to get into these four key skills you think that all leaders should have for all levels. If we can touch on that because you touched on many different areas and I want to make sure I get into that.
If you go back to Wolfe’s Law that you mentioned, the impact is equipped for the activity, we do times the relationship square because of its synergistic relationship. It’s three times relationship squared combined to the power of context. The context is exponential to that equation. There has this overwhelming impact on our belief systems, on our culture, on our perceptions, on all the things we talked about. One thing leaders hate doing is giving up control. That’s understandable. It’s not ego-based. That’s what a lot of people think, although for some it is. It’s that sense of responsibility that I talked about. I’m responsible for this family. I can’t just walk away from it. I can’t let it be whatever it wants to be. I got to stay, “in control.” If you want to replace control with responsible, it’s the same thing.
How do I go to one leader and say, “Stop worrying about managing it through activity? Trust all these other soft, cushy, squeaky stuff that we’re talking about and it’ll work fine.” What I realized is that’s a huge leap of faith for any human being, let alone a leader. What I say is, “What skills does a leader need to start to feel comfortable that they can work with context and relationship energy in new and conscious ways that give them a sense they are in control, but they feel competent that they can be responsible for the well-being of their organization using new skills?” I came up with these four skills that you referenced.
The first is what I call heart-centered wisdom. In the old paradigm, logic and reason carry the day. I don’t want to throw out logic and reason, but I wanted to add to it another dimension of decision-making, insight, or listening to what’s going on around them. I call it going into the heart center. It’s this place of what people are talking about in the senses of mindfulness. The problem I have with mindfulness is it’s a skillset that you learn, but there’s no reason behind it. Why are you doing mindfulness? Either it makes you feel good. We use the same things and say, “It’s for the purpose of you gaining the ability to sense energy fields that are present and impacting your organization.” If you can’t sense it, you can’t do anything about it.
The way you sense it is by going into this meditative sounds like almost going to sleep and I’m disconnecting from the world. This heart-centered space has opened up the channels. It’s like re-tuning the frequency of the radio. You’re picking up the signals you want to pick up, which are the energy of how your organization is operating and the situation you’re in. The first skillset we teach is heart-centered wisdom so that you’re leading both with the head and the heart. You’re leading the rational and the intuitive part of you simultaneously.
The second skill is what we call an improv mindset. If COVID taught us anything, it’s you can’t predict the future. Predictability and control is one of the fundamental tenets of running a good organization. How do I lead, organize, and control an organization if I can’t predict the future? It’s interesting that there’s a whole body of knowledge out there that’s been around since the Roman days. It’s a Roman theater called improvisation. People are taught how to deal with uncertainty. Great actors know how to take a scene that is totally unscripted and make it work in a phenomenal way. How do they do that? There are certain skillsets that you have, but it has to do with this way of getting the traditional point of improv or what they call saying yes-and.
How do you say yes to the world? You draw on that ability to tune into the heart center so you can accept the world as it is without your projection of preferences and ego and your rational mind of how it should look. It is what it is. Once you connect that then you can say, “This is the way it is. We’re in COVID now. It’s not pleasant. I don’t like it.” What do I do it? I don’t go, “The world is crashing on me.” It’s like, “How do I respond.” You just go from response to response, to yes-and, to the next yes-and. After a while, you’re like, “I can navigate to uncertainty without having to know what the future is going to look like.”
The third skillset is this ability to integrate polarities. There’s a wonderful work by Barry Johnson and it’s called Polarity Thinking. We’ve integrated his work into ours because it’s the ability to solve problems where the solutions are interdependent. It’s like, “Do I centralize or decentralize?” It’s not an either/or decision. It’s like there are benefits to one, there’s benefit to the other. How do I balance those opposite? How do I integrate them, so I create a solution that fits my environment? That ability to integrate opposites that have a polarity thinking mentality to improv mindset and self-centered wisdom. You’ve got the ability to see the world as it is, to recognize polarities that are at play in the situation, and then to come up with a solution that gets you further down the path to achieving your purpose.
The fourth one is the skill of reframing context. From heart-centered wisdom, I can read the context field, and I can know what’s going on. Now the question is, how do I create a context that supports the outcomes I want to create? If you think of it this way, outcomes are created behaviors. To do the same behaviors and expect a different outcome, that’s what people call insanity. Behaviors are the result of context. My beliefs and assumptions about how life works causes me to respond to life situations the way I do. To expect different behaviors from the same context is equally insane.
That’s back to the perception thing, which is so critical when you tie in the culture. I look at perception as IQ, EQ, curiosity quotient, and cultural quotient combined.
The question is, how to change the context? If I want a different outcome, I know I got to change these behaviors. I can probably define the behaviors. That’s not too difficult, but then how do I get them to change the behavior as well? I’ve got to change the context. How do I do that? If you understand how context is created, it’s fundamentally done through storytelling. We have a response to that experience. We create a story that gives meaning to that experience and we tie that story to a set of behaviors. Whenever I see that experience or anything like it again, I consciously have the ability to respond to that situation highly efficiently. That’s the way the human body is created. That’s the power of context. It makes life ordered and efficient. The problem is when my existing context no longer serves the new environment I’m in, how do I change it? If I created it by a story, why not create a different story? Storytelling and then I support the story with ritual. Storytelling and ritual is the fourth skillset that we teach
That’s a repetition of doing whatever it does to change our story.
It’s not just repetition mechanically, you have to give meaning to the action. That’s why I call it ritual. Without that sense of meaning behind it, which is an energy of importance to this new behavior, to this new way of thinking. I have a personal stake in it. It means something to me. You look at the history of rituals in general, there is an energy behind it. The old-time rituals that we’ve lost in our society. Even the bar mitzvah for Judaism or the mass in Catholicism, those were ritualistic. They carry that transcendent energy to it. It gave life a deep sense of meaning to it. Now we go through it mechanically. We just go through the motions. When you go through the motions of something, it doesn’t carry the same meaning. It doesn’t carry this energy. That’s why I use ritual to bring that point out.
The four skillsets are heart-centered wisdom, improv mindset, integrating opposites, and storytelling, and ritual. With those, I’d equip the leaders to do something about relationship in context energy. Know how to work with perceptions and how do we evolve in an organization’s maturity, and how to grow emotional intelligence, all the things we know are important. Without those skillsets, we’re leaving them with concepts. The only thing they know how to do is go back to the activity of what we do and how we do it.You have to see your organization as a living being. Click To Tweet
This is fascinating because I think it ties into all the research I did for curiosity and for perception. Those are two key behavioral issues that companies don’t focus on enough. I was looking forward to you being on the show and a lot of people can learn more from you. If they wanted to follow you, hire you, and follow you on social media, is there some link or something you’d like to share?
I hope that they take the time to find you there. What you’re working on is fascinating. I like that you’ve made this with formulas and more quantitative. I like things spelled out clearly and you’ve done a great job of that. A lot of people can learn from you. Thank you so much for being on the show, Norman.
You’re so welcome. Before we sign off, there are two things I want to say. I love your work about curiosity because one of the mindsets that is absolutely critical to stay open, to be able to read the energy of context is you must be in a state of curiosity.
You couldn’t have said that better. Thank you.
I wanted to emphasize your work and how important that is to my work. I’d like to end with a gift for your audience. I’ve made available the first three chapters of my book for free. It gets into some of these principles. If you want to get an understanding about organization as a living person and the concept of energy behind the creative results, you can get that at QuantumLeaders.com/podcast and your audience is welcome to sign up for the first three chapters for free.
That’s nice of you and this was such an interesting conversation. I’m sure everybody can learn a lot from that.
I want to thank Jonathan and Norman for being my guests. We get many great guests here on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com and I hope you join us next time.
- Jonathan Keyser
- Norman Wolfe
- You Don’t Have To Be Ruthless To Win
- Scott Harrison – Past episode
- Give And Take
- Quantum Leaders
- The Living Organization
- LinkedIn – Norman Wolfe
About Jonathan Keyser
Jonathan Keyser is the founder and thought leader behind Keyser, the largest occupier services commercial real estate brokerage firm in Arizona. Through sheer determination and focus on selfless service, Jonathan is disrupting the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, and beyond. An Inc. 5000 company, Keyser has rapidly become one of the fastest growing firms of its kind in the country, serving companies and their real estate needs globally. Award winning and nationally recognized, Keyser is an active member of the Forbes Real Estate Council, voted Top 10 Best Places to Work multiple years running, and is a proud Host Company for Conscious Capitalism.
About Norman Wolfe
Norman Wolfe is the Founder and CEO of Quantum Leaders and a highly sought-after keynote speaker. Norman uses The Living Organization® approach to areas of strategy, change adoption, process improvement, customer experience and organization design. This methodology improves the efficiency of business processes, increases innovation, and develops the talents, energy, and engagement of your people.
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