Training Leaders That Develop Creative Practices with Todd Henry and Leveraging HR To Drive Business Results with Ed Krow

One of the biggest problems in any organization or company is when leaders try to lead from a position of control rather than a position of influence. When this happens, you’re not allowing them to own the work, to take risks, and to leverage their unique capabilities. Todd Henry, the Founder of Accidental Creative, says the leader’s role is to develop the team to accomplish new and more interesting kinds of work. Todd teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. Today, he shares how leaders can develop creative practices within his team and create a leadership culture and philosophy that’s giving people the space to be able to exercise their talent in the way that they’re uniquely capable.


The human resource department is one of the most vital parts of any company. Ed Krow, an expert HR strategist, believes that everything starts with the HR and that with poor HR quality of work, the entire company can be compromised. Known as The HR Doctor, Ed turns irrelevant and ineffective HR functions into strategic contributors by aligning HR with the business objectives. He talks about how to find quality HR persons and what steps the HR must go through to efficiently find the right people to hire.

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices


We have Todd Henry and Ed Krow. Todd is the Founder of Accidental Creative. He’s a podcast host, a best-selling author of Herding Tigers. Ed Krow is the HR doctor. He’s an HR strategist, public speaker, and author. We’re going to talk a lot about the culture and what we can do to make organizations better.

Listen to the podcast here

Training Leaders That Develop Creative Practices with Todd Henry

I am with Todd Henry, who is the Founder of Accidental Creative where he teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He’s the author of four books. One is Herding Tigers. This is going to be so exciting to have you here. Thank you, Todd, for being on the show.

Diane, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Your books have done amazingly well. Your book Die Empty was named as one of the best books of 2013 and that’s quite a feat. I know that you’ve written about a lot of topics that tie into what I’m interested in, creativity, leadership and so much more. In case anybody hasn’t heard of you for some reason, can you give a little background?

I like to informally call myself an arms dealer for the creative revolution. My ambition is to try to equip people to be able to go to work every day and to be able to solve problems under pressure, to be able to create, to design, to write, to engineer, and to lead whatever it is that they do every day in this world of uncertainty and complex work that we have to tackle. The problem often as we get in our way, I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life leading teams of creative professionals and also studying the dynamics of creativity under pressure. I’m trying to help people understand what some of those unique dynamics are that exist when we have to go to work and solve problems under pressure every day has created under presence which we all do. I’ve written four books and they all center in on this dynamic of what does it feel like to go to work every day and have to bring yourself against difficult and uncertain problems and basically make it up as you go, which is what many of us have to do every day as a function of our work. That’s my primary area of study and expertise. I work with people in teams all over the world and help them build practices to deal with some of those pressures, uncertainties, and to produce better work consistently.

That sounds like it’s not that hard to do and it’s hard to do sometimes. I’ve found that a lot of the things you talk about tie into some of the research I did with curiosity because I found a lot of people are very much into the status quo thinking as you were talking about facing problems making it up as you go. A lot of people want to rely on the way it’s been. To quote Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. How do you get people to let go of what worked in the past and realize that that won’t work necessarily in the future?

It all comes back to the questions that we ask. Those who ask the best questions ultimately win, and this is right square in your area of expertise. We have to realize is that the dynamic of busy boredom can easily set in if we’re not careful. We can become paralyzed by the uncertainty and we can stop asking important probing questions. Frankly, the reason we don’t ask important probing questions anymore is that we don’t want to know the answer. If we get an answer, that means we’re going to be accountable for acting. Over time, what can happen is we can settle into what works, “This works fine. It works good enough to produce results.” Marshall Goldsmith that says, “What got you here will not get you there.” It’s true. We have to train ourselves to quell busy boredom. That’s the dynamic where we’re still busy, we have a lot going on but we’re no longer curious. We’re no longer asking questions.

Those who ask the best questions ultimately win. Click To Tweet

One of the exercises I walk teams through is helping them identify what I call ghost rules. These are invisible narratives that often guide our behavior as creative pros. We’re not even aware that they exist. Things like, “That will never work around here,” which I’m sure you’ve never heard before. We hear these things. Who can and can’t introduce an idea is another example of a ghost rule, “That’s not my area. I shouldn’t say anything,” or, “That’s not my problem. It’s somebody else’s problems.” These are ghosts’ rules that exist. These are limiting barriers, assumptive ruts that we fall into. It’s important for leaders, but also for individuals to do a regular analysis of, “Are there any limiting barriers, any unintentional ruts that we’ve snuck into that are limiting our ability to see possibility in our environment?” It’s challenging those assumptions consistently, “What if this wasn’t true? What would we do if this wasn’t the case?” You might discover a value that nobody else is looking for because they’re all living by the same assumption.

In my work, I found that there were four things that hold people back from being curious: fear, assumptions, technology and environment. A lot of the environment leads to the assumptions, fear, and a lot of the things that we’re talking about. With assumptions, you get this thought in your head and if fleeting goes through your mind that you don’t become that paralyzed by it. As you continue to use these phrases over and over, “We’ve never done it that way. That won’t work around here,” and they become the reality of what people are used to, which is interesting because I studied perception. Our perception is shaped by those assumptions. I’m interested in how you’re getting people over that in general. We can ask what if it wasn’t that way, but what if leaders don’t buy into the need for this? How do we change a culture? Is it possible?

That’s the critical factor. That’s why I wrote Herding Tigers. I’d spend so much of my time helping individual creative pros figure out how to organize their work better, how to organize their creative process better, how to make sure we’re doing the right work, how to make sure that their voice is being heard. That’s why my first three books reveal. I would be speaking at events and people would come up and say, “I love your work. It’s been transformative for me. Let me tell you about my manager.” The reality is that if the leaders don’t understand what highly talented creative people need from their organization, then progress is going to be scarce within your organization. Leaders have to understand those primary things that creative people need.

Frankly, when leaders are not providing the right kind of culture, then yes, assumptive ruts are going to develop because people are going to be paralyzed by the dissonance in the organization. They can be paralyzed by not having a clear sense of, “What are we doing? What are we not doing? What works, what doesn’t work? What are my expectations?” When those things aren’t clear, when there’s a lack of stability, there’s a lack of clarity within the organization, then that’s where these assumptive ruts tend to emerge because it’s a survival mechanism for people. When they don’t feel to take risks, to ask questions, to try new things, if they’re not being given that kind of environment, then people are going to do whatever they have to do to survive. Sometimes that means we’re just going to circle the wagons and do what we know works because we don’t want to take a risk because we’re not sure if that’s within the bandwidth of expectations for us.

You bring up a lot of interesting early points in that and I hear a lot more about failure not being looked at like it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s for my group where if you failed, you were out. You never looked at it as a learning experience and they’re looking more as a learning experience. I’m curious the things that leaders say other than, “That’ll never work around here.” I know a lot of them will say, “Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions.” There are certain words and phrases that we hear a lot. Is there something that leaders are saying that seems innocuous, it’s super problematic, but they don’t even realize that they’re saying it?

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices
Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Need

This would encompass a cluster of assumptions or ghost rules. The biggest problem is that leaders try to lead from a position of control rather than a position of influence. They hover over the people doing the work. Often, they do it because they want to be helpful, “Let me show you how to do that. Let me tell you how I would do this. Here’s how I would solve this problem.” They step in and they try to solve problems for the people on their team. The problem is as you can imagine, I’m sure you’ve experienced as I’ve experienced in organizations that when that happens, this fear of your team’s effectiveness shrinks and it’s no bigger than your personal sphere of influence. Pretty soon people on your team begin to say, “Just tell me what you want me to do.”

When you step in to control the work of your team, you’re not allowing them to own the work, to take risks and to leverage their unique capabilities. Instead what you’re saying is “It’s more important that you get it the way I want it than that you apply your unique talents and abilities to this work and maybe do something I would never even think of.” Oftentimes, this is because the leader doesn’t understand their proper role. The proper role of the leader is not to accomplish the work. The proper role of the leader is to develop the team to accomplish new and more interesting kinds of work. Yes, we have to get the work done in the process, but if you’re stepping into control your team in the midst of that, then your team is never going to feel the freedom that they need to grow and develop the aptitude necessary to be able to take risks, to try new things, to experiment, and to eventually produce work that you could never even imagine. The assumptive rut that’s endemic in that mindset is, “I know the right way. I know the right path. I’m the only one who can solve this problem.”

Leaders very rarely will say that, but their behavior plays out in that way when they try to control the work essentially. Retention is one of the biggest topics of conversation with leaders and teams that I work with because you’re in the marketplace where talent has options. The single biggest way to ensure that you will continue to have a retention problem is to try to control talented, creative people because they’ll say, “I’m out of here. I don’t need this. I have opportunities to go somewhere where they’re going to let me exercise my abilities.” We have to be very careful as leaders that were leading from position events. The ones where we’re setting rails, we’re establishing guidelines. We have a leadership philosophy that’s clear, that is guiding the work but not controlling the work. Instead, we need to be a resource for our team and allow them to come to us to ask questions and then step in and guide them when necessary. We’re creating a leadership culture and philosophy that’s giving them the space to be able to exercise their talent in the way that they’re uniquely capable.

That’s so interesting because I know I’ve talked to groups about what Disney did with their laundry division, asking them about, “How can we make your job better?” They had such a problem with retention and just reaching out to ask questions is such a huge thing that so many leaders don’t do. Do you think they’re afraid to hear the answers? I know in that case they work because they thought they’re going to give us some huge thing that we can’t deal with and they got back pretty simple things. What kind of questions do you think leaders need to ask?

I think the single best question that a leader can ask of anybody at any given point in time is, “What can I do for you right now?” The right now is very important because if you say, “What can I do for you or what do you need from me?” If you ask them that question, they’re going to think big. They’re going to think macro. They’re going to think abstractly like, “I need a raise,” or, “I need a different job description.” If you said, “What do you need from me right now?” You’re implying a sense of urgency on the question and they’re immediately going to start thinking, “I do need your input on this project right now,” or, “I do need you to talk to your manager because your manager is breathing down my neck about another project that we don’t have the capacity to take on right now. Can you please step in and intervene?”

If you’re consistently in front of your team proving that you’re a resource for them, and also stepping in and making sure that you’re clearing the path for them to do their work, you’re going to earn their trust. Trust is earned consistently day after day. You think of trust as a bank account. You put a little bit of trust in and then every once in a while, you can take a little bit of trust out. You think it’s okay as long as you have a positive balance. Trust doesn’t work that way. Trust is more like a water balloon. You fill it, you fill it and if you puncture it even in a small way, you’re going to lose it everywhere. Trust is the currency of high functioning teams. You can’t do brilliant, risky, creative, innovative work if you don’t have trust in your team.

It’s the little things that we sometimes do like stepping in to control the work or not stepping in to defend a team member when they need you to provide air coverage for them. If you ask them, “What do you need from me?” You don’t provide it for them. Those little breaches of trust add up to big problems later when you need them to take a risk, to try something, to step in, to stay a little later or to work a little harder. They’re not going to do it because they don’t trust that there’s going to be anything on the other side of that to bring that personal risk. We have to be very mindful as leaders when we do offer help to our team. We need to be willing to follow that through because that little breach of trust becomes a big problem later.

When leaders are not providing the right kind of culture, assumptive ruts are going to develop. Click To Tweet

A lot of what you’re talking about, I talked to John Spence about the inverted pyramid of servant leadership and different aspects of not necessarily being the top of the pyramid, being foundational for things. A colleague that I used to work with came to mind because she had super high standards. She’s almost a perfectionist in her ways of what she expected, yet a lot of people who worked for her had very minimal skills. She tried to help them so much to get them up to even a normal level sometimes that she got to be more of a controlling micromanager after a while. If people don’t have skills right at the beginning, when do you let go to the point where you let them make some of these mistakes? That’s a fine line, isn’t it sometimes?

It is and that speaks to a more systemic hiring issue. If you’ve been brought in to fix culture, that’s a different thing. It’s almost like triage at that point that you could come in. It might take a different approach, but I’m assuming at this that you’ve been hiring competent, healthy people, that there’s the right level of expertise in your organization. You might find someone every so often that doesn’t have it for some reason. You can take a different approach with that person. I’m talking about the general approach to culture. If it’s micromanagement out of insecurity, which is often the case, that’s a real problem. “We have had poor hiring practices and we’re probably going to have to get rid of these people, but we have to keep the business alive while we figure out how to do this,” that’s a different thing if people don’t have it if you’re in a transition group.

If it is a situation where you find that you’re micromanaging people who don’t need to be micromanaged simply out of your own insecurity. I think insecurity is the single area where leaders have the most potential to do damage to their team. Their area of biggest insecurity, whatever they’re protecting, whatever they’re hiding, whenever they come to the defense. Every time it comes up, that’s the area where we have to watch out as leaders. For many leaders, that play out as micromanaging. Getting the work right and my reputation is more important to me than developing my team to hopefully be able to do even more brilliant work after we’ve been through some trials, we figure things out and the team has developed a real sense of ownership of the work.

We’re doing a unique work that our team can only do because we have taken risks and we’ve fought those battles together. I think it’s important that we parse between insecurity leadership and leadership where maybe we stepped into control because of a triage situation. One challenge I often issue to leaders when I sit down with them is I want you to consider what are some areas where you find yourself getting defensive way too quickly. What are some areas where you find yourself hiding something from your team? You’re hiding information, hiding something that you don’t want them to know, hiding something about yourself because you’re protecting something because you feel vulnerable in that area. You have to watch those places because those are the places where you have the most potential to do damage to your team if you’re not careful.

I think that when you’re talking about creative people, it’s just a different mindset. I wanted to ask as we’re talking about creativity in general. I studied a little bit of this because of what I do. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the data out there that 98% of two-year-olds are super creative and by the time they’re 31 it’s the reverse or 2%. You lose this creativity. How can we improve creativity in the workers we have? How do we recognize what we’re doing to cut that out of their normal personality? Is this happening in school as much as a lot of George Land, some of those of others have said that we’re letting people come up with these creative ideas, but at the same time we’re squelching them because we’re putting on the brake and the gas at the same time? What can we do to make sure that people are more creative?

Part of it is we have to redefine what creative means. People have a misunderstanding about the word creative. They tend to think of art. They tend to think of, “I’m another designer, a musician, a painter or a videographer so I’m not creative.” That’s not true. Creativity is problem-solving. At the heart of it, that’s what creativity is. If you have to solve problems every day, congratulations, you are a creative professional. An artist like a designer for example solves a problem by designing something. An engineer solves a problem by engineering something. An entrepreneur solves a problem by identifying a white space creating a product. A leader solves a problem by establishing a vision or creating a system to help something work better. That’s what creativity is. First of all, we all have a creative mandate.

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices
Developing Creative Practices: The single best question that a leader can ask of anybody at any given point in time is, “What can I do for you right now?”


There are very few non-creative jobs in the marketplace. We all have to solve problems. I think at the heart of the epidemic of people feeling not creative is that we don’t take the time necessary to be able to turn problems over in our head, to be able to connect dots, to experiment, and to play. Creativity and play are very closely related. Creativity often feels like play. I think we have this misunderstanding that people who we tend to dub as highly creative are people who just produce these masterworks out of the womb. It’s their first attempt and they see something brilliant. When you dissect it, you realize they’ve been turning that problem over in their head, playing with ideas, exploring the adjacent possible as Steven Johnson calls it.

They’ve been playing with the stimulus in their immediate environment, putting things together, combining things, trying new things, experimenting and thinking about this for a while. They’re even going through several iterations of an idea or a project before they put something out in the world. I think one of the problems is that we look at everybody around us and we see their completed work and we think, “I could never do that. I’m not that talented.” The reality is it took them three years maybe to produce that. I know I felt that way before I wrote my first book. I was like, “I could never write a book like Seth Godin or Marshall Goldsmith or Susan Cain.” You get into the process and you realize, “Everybody’s first draft looks terrible.”

It’s an iterative process to get to a finished result. We need to bake in enough time in the process to allow ourselves to play, to experiment, to try new things. Once we do that, we begin to realize, “Maybe I’m more creatively capable than that thought.” Because we all have domain expertise. We all have a stimulus that we can draw from. We all have dots that we connect. That’s what Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting dots.” It’s connecting dots in your environment in a new and unique way, but that takes time and energy. It takes the willingness to live in what I’ve heard called the darkroom, this place where we don’t yet know the answer and we feel like we need to gravitate toward the first answer because it’s the most expedient and comfortable answer. We have to be willing to live in that place long enough that we actually get to the true value. That’s a difficult thing to do when we’re under pressure.

You’ve talked about finding the time or doing the same things. I’m curious what you think of Google and other companies that gave a certain percentage of the day to work on just creative ideas, the things that stimulate you. What do you think of that way?

I think it’s brilliant. I know that a lot of the companies including Google moved away a little bit from that. If you hire talented people, you resource them and then you give them the freedom to play around and come up with ideas and you give them some degree of ownership over whatever they produce. What better recipe could you have? This is endemic at the marketplace we live in, the Western world, which is based on you have a stock price and shareholder value. We’re placing a lot of emphasis on producing value at the expense of producing value in a year, two years, five years or ten years. What we’re talking about is a good old-fashioned R&D. Let’s create space for people to play around with ideas, to try new things, to solve interesting problems. That’s where the value comes from organizationally, but it takes faith. It’s not something that just happens naturally. It takes an act of faith on behalf of leadership to make that happen because there’s no immediate return.

It’s not going to immediately boost your stock price or boost your reputation as a leader to create that kind of space because by the time that value bears out in the marketplace, you might be long gone. You might be off to another role or in another organization or retired. In many ways, part of our job as leaders is to plant trees in a shade we know we will never sit. That’s an old Greek proverb that I love, “The society grows great when old men or women plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit.” That area needs a tree. I’m going to plant a tree because somebody else someday is going to reap value from that effort. It’s an act of bravery as leaders to create that space because there’s no immediate return. We’re investing in tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. That’s what we’re investing in when we create space for people to take time and think about problems.

The single biggest way to ensure that you will continue to have a retention problem is to try to control talented, creative people. Click To Tweet

All of your work is so important in terms of all this that we talked about what we need in the workplace. Creativity is a big focus in a lot of what you’ve written, what you do with your shows and different things. You’ve written The Accidental Creative, Die Empty. A lot of your work is well known and you also do a podcast still?

We’ve been doing the podcast since 2005. It feels like the dark ages. Back in the day when we had to tell people like, “Here’s what you do. You’re going to take your iPod and you’re going to plug it in via FireWire to your computer, you’re going to transfer files.” That was how rudimentary it was. The funny thing is that in 2005 I thought I was late to the game, which is hilarious when you think about it. I was like, “I’m so late to this podcast.” We enjoy doing it. We get to talk to a lot of amazing people and try to help some people as well via the interwebs.

The Accidental Creative, I love that. It’s so funny when you said that, it reminded me when I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. I thought, “This’ll blow over quickly.” I thought it was a cool thing that I’m like, “Yes, it’s nice.” I didn’t expect the level of what this stuff turned into. I think all of this remains so critical because it’s foundational to everyone’s success. I love the work that you do and I know a lot of people are going to be very interested in finding out more, not just about your podcast or your books, just everything that you do because I know you train, you do so many things, you speak. How can people find you?

The best way to find me is the company website, its and that’s where The Accidental Creative podcast lives as well as all the other material I create. My personal site is and that’s where you can find out about my speaking and some of my other programs.

I know you do more than 40 events each year. That’s a lot.

It is. That’s a lot of travel.

I appreciate you taking the time to be on my show. Thank you so much, Todd.

Thank you so much and thanks for the work that you do.

Leveraging HR To Drive Business Results with Ed Krow

I am here with the HR Doctor, Ed Krow. He’s an HR strategist, public speaker and author who works with executives and business owners who are struggling with people problems such as to changing business conditions and customer investor and community expectations. It’s so nice to have you here, Ed.

It’s great to be here, Diane. Thank you for having me.

I know we’re both on the Forbes Coaches Council and we have a lot of things that we do in common. This is something I looked forward to. I know a lot of people probably seen a lot of the work that you’ve done, but just in case, can you give a little bit of background so people can get to know you a little bit better?

I’ve been in the consulting game for quite some time. I came out of Fortune 500 and grew weary of corporate life. I wanted to be able to do more in the HR space. As I’ve seen my consulting career progress, what I’m finding drives a lot of my personal, as well as professional satisfaction, is getting HR beyond the compliance mode that the profession seems to be stuck in. I’m working with not only HR leaders but business leaders, in general, to get more strategic with their HR functions and focus more on organizational development types of initiatives rather than simply viewing HR as compliance police and the hiring function.

Toby from The Office.

Exactly, every time I get a little bit of push back from HR on that, I ask HR, “Look at how we are portrayed in the media.” In one movie sitcom, anything where HR was even remotely cool, but it’s just they’re not out there.

I know it’s too bad because I always thought HR was fun to get involved with. My undergrad they called it personnel. I think that was HR. I thought, “This is so much fun.” It’s not just OSHA and all the boring stuff. It’s the heart of the company. It’s getting away from status-quo thinking it’s innovation and everything that comes from behaviors that we’re trying to improve. How did you get known to be the HR doctor?

Trust is the currency of high functioning teams. You can't do brilliant, creative, innovative work if you don't have trust on your team. Click To Tweet

It was actually coined by a client. We are catching up over lunch and she’s like, “Tell me about some of the projects you were working on. What cool stuff are you doing?” I was telling, she’s like, “You look like a doctor. You go in and you diagnose stuff and you figure out what the real problems are and you treat them so that the ailments don’t come back.” I was like, “That’s a cool analogy.” Because it is what I do. I often get wary when I get a call from a prospect and they say, “This is our problem. Here’s the solution. We want you to come in and do it.” I’m like, “Let’s talk about that for a minute.” Maybe you are right. Maybe that’s the right thing, but you or I could not even imagine going to the doctor and saying, “Doc, I got this pain and I know exactly what I did and what it is. I need a prescription.” No doctor in their right mind would entertain that.

That’s right. Maybe you learn that from being an Eagle Scout, do you think?

Yes, a little bit. I had my share of first aid training.

You have your bachelor’s and master’s in this HR realm. There’s so much to help. Every time I go to speak to a group, I think it’s because I deal with it so much in my daily life from teaching or speaking. You assume that people know X, Y, Z or A, B, C because it’s out there so much, but there’s a lot of people who don’t know some of these major things that can help them be more productive and improve behaviors. That’s why we continue to see so much with communication and engagement issues. What’s the hot topic other than getting beyond compliance? Is it still engagement, is it still soft skills? What’s the number one thing you hear?

What I’m hearing my clients tell me, and when I say clients that people that I’m dealing with inside those functions and finding more and more our COOs, CEOs. I’m getting beyond the front line HR staff. What I’m hearing from them is that many of these organizations have great marketing brands. They’re well known for their product, their service and yet they’re struggling to retain employees to motivate those that they have. What I’m finding is that their employment brand doesn’t match up to their marketing brand. That’s just a huge disconnect because sooner or later if we don’t fix that employment brand, there’s no way the marketing brand can stay strong supported by people.

What gets them to that point?

In fact, one organization that I wrapped up working with, they’ve been growing so rapidly. HR has just thrown bodies at the problem. “We can’t get enough hiring done. Let’s add another recruiter.” “We can’t get this done, add another trainer.” There was never a strategic look at what HR needed to be doing for the organization. What we ended up finding is that one, it was way overstaffed and yet it still wasn’t getting the job done because they hadn’t looked at how this function itself was morphing with the company. They became truly a hiring and compliance function. This was a medical entity, so lots of extra due diligence has to happen with licensures in that industry.

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices
Developing Creative Practices: Creativity is problem solving at the heart of it. If you have to solve problems every day, you are a creative professional.


The HR function was worried solely about, “We got to hire people in. We have to check all the boxes on their training.” Their idea of employee engagement was having the irony as they called them wellness days. Wellness days consisted of coffee and donuts or pizza. I’m all for cheat days, don’t get me wrong, but coffee and donuts on wellness days are probably not the best combination. In addition to the management staff, the employees that I spoke to said, “We don’t see HR. We don’t know who they are.” The entire function was disconnected from the mission of the organization.

That happens so often and it’s surprising to me to see even large or small organizations, it doesn’t seem to matter the size of the company. You see a lot of it. You speak to a lot of companies about this, and I know you’ve done hundreds of talks about different things. What do they usually hire you to speak about? What’s your major focus?

If I’m inside a company, oftentimes it’s on leadership development related issues. I did one for a client on managing performance. How do we get beyond this performance appraisal or once a year sits down with an employee? How do we get our managers to recognize that ongoing coaching and nurturing is what performance management is all about? We spent some time on that. I also did one on communication. Simply how do we communicate as leaders in an organization in a way that our people will hear us and want to buy into the message that we’re sending?

I think that comes back to some of the work that you do, which is how I might need to hear something which might not be in your comfort zone of how you like to speak it. The message gets lost. Sadly enough, I think overall as a society, we’re getting to be poor and poor communicators because of our reliance on hundred-character texts. When you look at it from a management standpoint, most management folks have never been put through any kind of good communicating training and how to connect with their people. That’s just a huge problem for us if we’re going to try and drive business results.

I started in the Mad Men era when everybody treated everybody like that. I find a lot of people who are in their 60s, 70s, they are so ingrained in that way of I’m leading that that’s a problem. I’ve had so many jobs that you’d be promoted to leadership and they would give you the compliance-type of training rather than any of the strategic thinking or development-type of training. I’m thinking, “When is this coming?” Because that’s all I talked about or wrote about and nothing would ever come out of it. I’m curious why they see these numbers of $500 billion a year in engagement losses and all these things. They don’t do much training. Do they think, “It’s not my company,” that’s just an overall number or do you think that it’s that status quo of what everybody has always done in the company?

I think you’re onto something there. I also still hear that HR is viewed as a cost center. When I sit down with business leaders and I say, “If your HR function is a pure cost center, then you’re not using it properly.” If you think about if you’re a sales function and HR hires the wrong salespeople, you’re not going to sell much. Everything does start with HR. What I find is a hesitancy sometimes to invest in those intangibles like communication training, the non-technical skills training types of things. Especially if you get into the manufacturing sector where it’s a little rougher and tumble construction, there’s this sense that, “I can’t be soft because I’m working with harder people.”

People, regardless of the industry that they’re in, each industry has its nuances, but people are people. I’m a big believer in that, that how I interact with you shouldn’t be any different than how I interact with a clerk at the grocery store or a person in the front line. I think for the most part we can get off our high horses sometimes and treat people as people. I might be out of a job actually. Things would be so much easier for businesses to be successful. I think some of it is breaking that mold of HR is just a cost center. It’s a place where I have to spend money and I never get a return on that.

If your HR functions as a pure cost center, you're not using it properly. Click To Tweet

I find that the savvier business owners that I work with don’t view HR that way. In fact, I was interviewing a CEO for my book. I was talking to this gentleman and he is a former HR person. He’s risen through the ranks of this company to become CEO. He said to me, “Ed, I’m currently looking for an HR person.” I said, “What’s, what’s the most important skill you want that person to have? You’ve been in HR, so what do you think?” He said, “I need a communicator. I figure I could send someone off to learn all the compliance stuff. I can get them involved in SRHM and the local chapters. I’m looking for someone who can think strategically and help me communicate the vision that I have for this company.” I almost didn’t know what to say.

Maybe he’s been to enough of these meetings. Too many people are hired for their hard skills and fired for their soft skills. I know I had Mark Divine on my show who’s a Navy SEAL. They’re not soft. These are important skills. They need to re-label them. As you talk to these leaders, they do want the quantifiable, quantitative type of things when they look at this and there is data. We know all the money that they’re losing for communication, engagement. I don’t think a lot of HR people present it in that way sometimes. I think that can be problematic. Empathy is a huge part of the emotional intelligence’s puzzle at least. It ties into my work with curiosity and with the perception that if we’re asking questions and finding out more about one another, we’re able to present things in the way that they want to hear it and the way things are done. I often talk to HR people about how to speak to their leaders because I think a lot of HR people get put into these boxes because nobody’s taught them how to speak to leaders. Do you deal with that?

I had a situation where I was working inside an organization to work on its strategic plan. We started talking about the metrics that HR was looking at. Of course, I heard all the basics and I said, “What happens when you go to the executive meetings and you report on the metrics?” The HR director looked at me and she says, “Ed, they don’t give a crap.” I said, “Walk me through this. Tell me about your last presentation. What did you talk about?” She said, “We’ve been having a turnover problem so I presented the turnover numbers.” I said, “What did you present?” Unfortunately, I heard what I thought I was going to hear. “We’ve got 8% over on this facility and 6% of this campus.” I said, “Stop. My eyes are glazing over. Why is an executive do I care about that?” She says, “That cost us money.”

I said, “You didn’t talk about money. You didn’t say anything about money. You didn’t talk about the impact it’s going to have on our customers. The time to fill, all the other things that start to bleed out, that cost us money. You’ve got to put it in terms of money.” I took it one step further and I said, “Of the turnover you’re having, is any of it a good turnover?” She says, “We don’t want turnover.” I said, “Yes, you do.” You want your bottom performers out the doors. I said, “When’s the last time you looked at the people that are leaving? Are you losing key talent? Are you losing top performers, your high potentials? Who is it that’s walking out the door? Do you even know that?” She said, “No, I don’t.” I said, “That’s job number one. We have to figure out who’s leaving and try to stem that tide if we’re losing key talent. If we’re not, hold the door open for them. If it’s all your poor performers, let them go like ants to a picnic. It’s okay.”

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

That’s a common discussion, unfortunately. For me, it’s my perception. It’s my reality. That’s a common discussion that I have with HR people. They can’t make that leap of thinking like a business person. I get sad like you when I go to these conferences and invariably I’ll peek in and breakout that’s accounting 101 for the HR professional and its standing room only. That’s great that we’re interested in that, but are you translating any of that back when you’re talking to leadership about HR? I feel like there’s a disconnect.

I worked several decades in sales and I believe when you have a sales background, the training they give you of how to present information is so critical because you learn the difference between features and benefits. Basically, that’s what was wrong with her presentation, she didn’t tie it down to the benefits. I think that there’s training that not just leaders but HR professionals get or they don’t get about how to present in a way that ties into people’s emotions. It ties into so many aspects of their brain chemistry. You talked about the reality of perception. That’s what I find so fascinating. Sometimes you’re speaking to somebody or they’re speaking to you and you guys are talking to completely different things and you don’t know it because you have different perceptions of reality. How do you get people to recognize that what they think is the world isn’t maybe not the world for other people?

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices
Developing Creative Practices: Ongoing coaching and nurturing is really what performance management is all about.


I find this in my public speaking, one of the topics that I hit on is I talk about how we craft the message. In society, we rely so much on, “I’m just going to bang out an email and I’m going to send it to 300 of my associates and everyone’s going to read it and be on board.” No. More than half of them were going to see us from HR and they’re going to delete it. The other half is going to read it and have that half, 10% of groups are going to read it five different ways. We’ve got to think in terms of that instead of crafting the same message, which comes from an HR standpoint. I believe that comes from the compliance mentality. We’ve got to get to Boomer seeing, “If I’m crafting a message to sales versus RND, what do those people need to hear based on their job roles and what’s important to them in those job roles how do they need to be communicated with?”

If I need to come out as a leader and say, “We’re going to boost revenues by 5%,” that means something different to sales and it does to RND than it does to production. Every one of those functions wants to know what’s in it for them. We’ve got to be able to address what’s in it for them. Sales want to know, “We are going after new markets. We’re putting out new products. RND want to know, its new products. How many new products and what timeframe? Manufacturing, do we have to retool?” Sometimes when we layout these blanket communications, it causes more confusion than anything else because we haven’t addressed anyone’s specific issues.

You bring up an important point. I remember doing a lot of training in Myers-Briggs. We would try and teach people to understand that everybody had a different preference for how they got information. It’s hard to lump people into categories. I understand that. I love personality assessments, don’t get me wrong because I do a lot of them. I think that they open up a dialogue for understanding that everybody prefers information in different ways. In a way, you would think HR would know that more than anyone because they’re the ones giving them the Myers-Briggs assessments. How do they not see that? They’re not following their own advice of what we’re training in this DISC and MBTI sessions.

That’s where a lot of organizations that use the assessments, unfortunately, I feel like they use them for hiring purposes. “Is this person going to fit with us?” No, that’s not what these should be used for. To me, it should be, “We liked this person in the interview. We like the skill set that they bring to the table.” The personality assessments should be used to say, “How are they going to fit in? How are we going to be able to leverage their hard skills based on the results of this personality profile?” Often I feel like it’s the opposite. “Their profile doesn’t match what we’re looking for.” I don’t understand that.

I did some DISC training with a client. It was a small not-for-profit and we sat their management team down and put them all through DISC. We spent time going through not only what does it mean, but what does it mean for each of them? We had fun with it. “I’m this and you’re that. That means that we shouldn’t get along.” We had some fun with it. “Now I know why you come back with me with these questions because this is your profile.” You can just see the light bulbs going off. The executive director pulled me aside after the second session. He said, “This is amazing. I’ve never seen this team like this.” I said, “Yes, and we aren’t even done yet.”

It’s very enlightening and it’s so much fun to do some of these things. They just have to figure a way to utilize them not just in the training sessions. I’ve seen some of them drop it after that. What’s your DISC profile? What’s your highest?

I’m a solid D followed by a little bit I in there. Believe it or not a lot of people think this is totally wrong, but I’m an ISTJ.

HR people have to take that leap and think like a business person. Click To Tweet

I’m an ESTJ.

I’m not a raging I obviously.

I think I’m a raging E, so I think we’re close.

I love speaking, I love doing things like this, I love being in front of groups, but I’m drained afterward. That’s a classic I.

I think my I should be closer to the I side, but I am a raging T. I had a zero on F. I’ve never seen a zero before. I guess I don’t make any decisions based on my values.

That could lead to some pretty bad life choices.

When I saw that, I was like, “I got to look at that a little bit closer.” It doesn’t change much throughout your life. I don’t know how much I have a chance to change it more than to recognize it. I think that’s what I like to do, have people recognize. That’s what is most important to me with some of these personality tests is you know what you are, but then you don’t know what the other people are. You don’t know what you don’t know until they teach you about it. I remember going through MBTI training. They put all the T’s on one side of the room and the F’s on the other side. They were like, “How many of you guys like to bake cookies to show that you appreciate somebody?” The whole every F put their hands up and I’m like, “Why would you want it?”

TTL 587 | Developing Creative Practices
Developing Creative Practices: Personality assessments should be used to find out how people are going to fit in and how we could leverage their hard skills based on the results of the personality profile.


I like to bake and I like cookies, but sorry I’m probably not going to bake you some cookies for having me on.

It taught me to bring people cookies if I thought that they were an F because I knew that that’s what they appreciated and it showed me in a million years I wouldn’t have thought about baking cookies. It’s not my T personality. It’s funny to learn this stuff because it helps you see outside your pond. A fish only knows what it’s like to be in the water where they don’t know what it’s like outside of the water. That’s how I feel with this. I know you deal with so many of these things. I was looking at some of your presentations. I know you talk about strategic planning, the culture of engagement and how to be a leader worth following. I was impressed with a lot of the things that you’re doing. I know a lot of people are going to want to know more about how they can work with you or have you speak for them. I was wondering if you could share how they could contact you.

I think I have the best domain in the world. It’s simply my name, My email is I enjoy training inside of companies and I do quite a lot of public speaking at conferences and association events. Despite my I, I do enjoy doing those things and I do get a lot of professional satisfaction out of it. I like when people come up to me and not just say, “This was a great talk,” but say “Ed, you made me think about X.” One of the last talks I did, I had a COO come up to me, handed me his card, “We have to talk.” What you’re talking about resonates and yes, we ended up working together. He heard what needed to be heard for him at that point in time, yet he couldn’t put his finger on why he couldn’t get through to his HR function. I tend to be a bit of a voice in the wilderness at times because I tend to resonate more with company leadership than with HR. Some HR people feel they attack them too much, “I want the profession to change.”

I think that’s good. You’re not being an I. I’ve talked to so many speakers who are I’s and they make good speakers because you’re very prepared, you what you like to know ahead of time and great listeners. You present based on all the things that you’ve heard. Susan Cain made it very clear “We need eyes out there.” It was so nice of you to do the show, Ed. It was a lot of fun and I appreciate it.

I appreciate you having me.

I’d like to thank both Todd and Ed for being my guests. We get so many guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to You can also go to to get to the Curiosity Code Index to find my books, speaking, consulting. Everything’s there. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you joined us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.

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About Todd Henry

TTL 587 | Developing Creative PracticesTodd Henry is the Founder of Accidental Creative where he teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of four books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, and Herding Tigers) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. His book Die Empty was named by as one of the best books of 2013.

About Ed Krow

TTL 587 | Developing Creative PracticesEd Krow is an HR Strategist, Public Speaker, and Author who works with executives and business owners who are struggling with people problems, such as adapting to changing business conditions and customer, investor, or community expectations. He turns irrelevant and ineffective HR functions into strategic contributors by aligning HR with the business objectives. As a result, Human Resources actually drives business results. Ed’s clients often refer to him as their “HR Doctor,” because of his ability to quickly diagnose and treat the ailments in their workplaces.


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