We’re all in this together with Mike Robbins
Having the right work environment is one of the most significant factors that drive a business forward. It motivates people to work and makes them happy and more productive with their job. Making them feel like they belong is an excellent place to start. In this episode, Katherine Twells speaks with sought-after speaker and consultant in the field of team culture and more, Mike Robbins. Like those from his books, Bring Your Whole Self to Work and We’re All in This Together, Mike lets us in on trust-building strategies that can drive your company’s team culture and performance. He talks about the importance of vulnerability among leaders, the relation between psychological safety and group trust, and the reason why chemistry is better than talent at work. Counseling those who want to start a business but are afraid, Mike then talks about the growth mindset on being able to transcend failure, to fail forward into new opportunities.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Importance Of Vulnerable Leaders With Mike Robbins
How Trust And Belonging Drive Team Culture And Performance
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome to the show, Mr. Mike Robbins. I had the opportunity to invite Mike to one of my meetings and I have to tell you, his energy, his passion for the material that he talks about, his own story is compelling that I know you’re going to enjoy some of the things that Mike is going to share with us. Let me give you a little bit of background on him. Mike is the author of four books including Bring Your Whole Self to Work, and his fifth book, We’re All in This Together, which comes out in May 2020.
He’s a sought-after speaker and consultant who delivers keynotes and seminars for some of the top organizations in the world. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and his clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Kaiser, Genetec, eBay, Harvard University, Sutter Health, the Oakland A’s, and that’s to name a few. Mike and his work had been featured in The New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, as well as on NPR and ABC News. He’s a regular contributor to Forbes. He hosts a weekly podcast and his books have been translated into fifteen different languages. There’s so much wisdom and experience to share with us this episode. Without further ado, I hope you will enjoy the conversation with Mike Robbins.
Mike, I am happy to have you on this podcast. Welcome to the conversation.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
We got a chance to spend some time together since you came to my meeting and you gave that amazing talk to my team and I wanted to thank you for that. It was an epic time for everybody.
You’re welcome. It was an honor to be invited. I love getting a chance to meet you and your team. I’m glad we’re here having this conversation.
You said many things that were intriguing to both myself and the team. I thought it would be worthwhile to spread this conversation out to our CMO community and all of the followers of this podcast. With that, we’re going to get into some questions and get into the conversation. I always begin with the same question for all of our guests, and the first one is about your origin story. We need to ground everyone on who are you and where did you come from and how did you end up where you are now? Please share that.Often, what stops us from doing things is the fear that we’ll fail. Click To Tweet
Like most people, mine is a long and windy road. The upshot is I grew up here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I still live. I was a baseball player growing up. I loved it. I was good at it, got drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees. I didn’t end up signing with the Yankees though because I got a chance to play baseball in college at Stanford. I go there, then get drafted out of Stanford by the Kansas City Royals, signed a pro contract. The way it works in baseball here in the US, you sign a contract with a Major League team, you have to go into the Minor Leagues. I go in the Minor Leagues. I was a pitcher, working my way up trying to get to the Major Leagues.
Unfortunately for me, my third season is still in the Minors. I went out to pitch one night, I threw one pitch, I tore ligaments in my elbow, it was the end of my career. It didn’t end instantaneously but I spent the next two years, had three surgeries, tried to come back and was finally forced to retire from baseball. I got hurt at 23, finally retired at 25. I had started playing baseball when I was seven. This was major life-defining, devastating moment of like, “What am I going to do now?”
I have to ask you, and I know there’s more to the story that you’re going to continue, but that is such a transformational time. Here you are and for many of us, we have a plan like, “This is what we’re going to do.” We think we found the thing that we love and we’re doing it and all of a sudden, everything changes. How long did it take for you to come to terms with that change?
It was a process, for sure. From the time I got hurt to the time I finally retired was almost two years, maybe little less than two years. I had quite a bit of time. It became evident. The Royals released me even after I’d had some surgeries and was trying to rehab. They didn’t think I was going to make it back. They were right. Once I finally made the decision to walk away from baseball, I got a job in sales. It was the late ‘90s. I got a job, dot-com boom time here in the San Francisco Silicon Valley area. I was selling online advertising, but I didn’t know who I was without baseball, what I was going to do.
I would say over the next probably five years between 25 and 30, it was more of a process by which I started to figure some things out. I ended up after a couple years in the dot-com world, I had another life intervening moment where the dot-com bubble burst, I lost my job. Here I am, two years post-baseball career, had gotten into sales. I didn’t love it. I didn’t know who I was or what the heck I was doing, but I was making a little money, I was making my way in the world and then that got pulled out from under me and I went, “Gosh.” It wasn’t as emotional because I wasn’t as committed to it or involved in it. This was 2000, 2001, things were bleak in the economy, I couldn’t find a job. I didn’t know what I was going to do to pay the rent.
I had a mentor of mine asked me a simple but profound question, “Mike, if you could do anything, and you don’t have to worry about paying the bills, what would you do?” I said, “If I could do anything, I would write and I would speak and I would try to share my story and anything I’ve learned up to this point to inspire other people.” He said, “You seem clear about that. You should go do that.” I was like, “Now? I’m just about to turn 27 years old, don’t you have to have some credential or degree or something to do that?” He said, “Mike, you could wait until you think you figured it out or you could go back to school if you want. There’s nothing wrong with that. You could also go and figure it out now.”
First of all, what an amazing mentor to create that space for you to reflect on what you want but then to go after it, for a lot of us, we have these stories or ideas about what we would do if money didn’t matter, if none of that mattered but yet people don’t do that. Why do you think they doubt and what gave you the courage to go forward with this?
It’s ironic because on the one hand, when I look back on it, people were also advising me at the time, “Take a risk. Go for it now. You’re young.” I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children. One of the big things that inspired me, I met my wife, Michelle, right around that same time. She had started her own staffing company. She had gone out on her own. After working for a little while, she got the courage to do that and what she said to me was like, “Starting your own business is not easy, but it’s not as hard as you think.” If you do it and you fail, that’s a bummer but you can get a job.
I figured, when I look back on it, the irony is when we’re young, the fear is, “I don’t know anything. I don’t have enough experience. I’m not ready.” As we get older, we get into life and we have responsibilities and we have people counting on us and then it doesn’t make practical sense, it’s like, “You’re going to go take a risk. You’ve got a mortgage to pay. You’ve got mouths to feed at home.” I’m grateful that I was able to have that support around me. I was willing to take the risk. I was young and naïve. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
It was challenging because I was young and naïve but at the same time that was, in some ways, a benefit because had I been 5, 10 or 15 years older, I may have decided, “I can’t do that now because of my family situation or my life situation.” There are too many risks involved. There’s always a reason not to. Some of those reasons make sense. I’m not someone that believes like, “You should always go do the scariest thing at every moment.” It’s scary for a reason.
You’re supposed to not do it.
Michelle and I, we’ve been together for years and we laugh sometimes about stuff that we don’t do now or aren’t interested in doing that we did when we were younger. It’s like, “That doesn’t make sense at our age. It made sense years ago.”
It’s funny how we define what makes sense at different ages and even redefining what that does mean as we get older. I want to draft off this conversation into this idea of failure and the mindset of having that, being able to transcend that failure because here at Coca-Cola, we talk a lot about growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s work about fixed versus growth. How are you approaching your job in your world? Are you fearless enough to look at the world in fresh ways and to take what wise risks, things that we think could pay off? It’s tough for people, because it’s not just the money that you risk, it’s your reputation. It’s the career. It’s thinking that maybe you won’t be able to transcend to the next place. How would you counsel our readers in thinking about failing forward into new opportunities?
I love Carol Dweck’s work and Growth Mindset has been a big part of my own work over the last few years as I’ve done more research on that. I look at it in my own life and when thinking about the people following us. One of the things about failure, most people I know, myself included, don’t like failing. It’s not that fun. However, I’m grateful for my experience as an athlete and not just as an athlete but specifically playing baseball and even if people reading don’t like baseball, don’t watch baseball or live in the part of a world where there’s no baseball, baseball is a game of huge failure. The team that won the championship, which we arrogantly in the US call the World Series is the Washington Nationals. They lost 69 games during the regular season and another five games during the playoffs. They lost 41% of their games and they still won the championship. They were the best team in baseball at the end of the year.Growth mindset is the belief we have in ourselves that if we work hard enough and learn from our failures, we will get better. Click To Tweet
As a baseball player, I lost a lot, I failed a lot, even though I was good at it and I didn’t realize until after my career ended in baseball, that’s served me well in life and in business because I still don’t love to fail, but I know how to fail and I failed a ton. I realized that it’s not enjoyable, but if we take a growth mindset approach, what we realize is that failure is part of the journey. Someone said to me, “Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s the pathway to success.” It’s part of the process. Often, what stops us from doing things, to your question from earlier, is the fear that we have that we’ll fail, we’ll look like an idiot. When we’re young it’s, “I’m too young. I don’t know I’ll fail because I don’t know what I’m doing.” As we get older, we’re like, “I don’t want to blow it. I’ve got some status. I’ve succeeded to a certain level. I’ve created some, fill in the blank. If I take a risk, I might blow it and I could ruin all of this.” Growth mindset is not about like, “I’m superhuman and I never get nervous.” It’s willingness and an ability to be okay with the nervousness and to do it anyway.
I spoke at your team meeting. I’ve been speaking publicly for years. I love it. I’m passionate about it. People come up to me after and they’ll say things like, “It’s amazing. You don’t get nervous. How do you do that?” I’m like, “What are you talking about I don’t get nervous? What do you think, I’m like a robot? Of course, I get nervous.” I said, “Here’s the deal. I’ve done this for so long. I’ve trained myself. I don’t let my fear stop me from getting up there and doing it from being bold, from being passionate because I’m more committed to the audience and to the message and to what I’m doing than I am worried about my heart racing or I said that weird word or I fumbled over something or whatever like that. I’m not as concerned about that. I know my body is going to react in the same way normal humans react to fear, but I’ll be fine.”
Much of this is what we practice, for sure. I know we’re both huge fans of Brené Brown and her work. I remember going to a talk she did at South by Southwest. One of the first things she said when she stepped on stage was, “People ask me, ‘Do you get nervous anymore? You seem completely comfortable.’” I’ll never forget this, she said, “It would be disrespectful to not be nervous.” Being nervous means you want to give everything that you have and you don’t want to let your audience down, those nerves or those expectations of, “I want to be amazing for you.” It’s true.
The first ten years I had my business, I did a lot of one-on-one coaching. I don’t do as much of that these days. I still do a little. One of the things I would often say to my coaching clients and when I’m working with a leader or a team, “If we’re not failing at some of the things that we’re going after, we’re not playing big enough.” If everything we do it’s like, “I’m crushing it in every area.” You’re probably not playing a big enough game, if you’re not like, “That one scares me. That one is hard. I’m trying to get better at that but I’m failing.” That’s when we get into that place of the whole notion of growth mindset is a belief we have in ourselves that if I work hard enough and if I learn from my failures, I will get better at this.
In some cases, it could also be as we grow and evolve and different people you know, sometimes it is, “I’m not good at this. I’m going to empower someone on my team who’s good at this to do it because that’s better for the team than me continually bumping my head against the wall and doing it.” It also could be, “Maybe I need to work on this a little bit more because it’s a new skill for me.” All of us have to deal with that in this world with technology. Things are changing all the time. The first time someone hands me a new thing or a new app or they upgrade to the new version of the thing, I usually hate it only because I’m not used to it yet. I got used to the old one and now you’re giving me the new one.
Something that’s interesting about this whole conversation with failure and this podcast is much about leadership, and we were all leading whether we formally lead people or leading ourselves. You mentioned when you’re younger in life, you have less responsibilities so there’s more flexibility to fail, but I see this a lot in leadership, you do tend to feel when you get to leadership role that you have earned that right and you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.
A lot of amazing, impactful leaders they almost feel like, “I’m a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing.” All of us have those days when we wake up in the morning and you’re like, “I don’t have it together today. I don’t know how to solve this problem.” How would you visualize the difference between a younger person coming up in their career making those failures and leaders feeling comfortable to model that for their teams?
For a variety of reasons, it’s important that we all get in touch with our own fear, our own doubt, our own insecurity. It’s what our friend, Brené Brown, talks about, vulnerability. All of us experience vulnerability for different reasons. When we’re younger, we assume, “I don’t know a lot because I don’t have a ton of experience. I haven’t done this before.” It makes sense. As we get older, what happens is we get more responsibility. We erroneously think, “I’m going to get to a place where I’m not going to feel this way anymore. It’s going to go away magically.” We look at those confident people we look up to and it’s the person that says, “You don’t get nervous anymore?” It’s like “Of course, I do. It’s for different reasons.”
At some level, understanding that feeling, that fear, feeling that insecurity feeling and being aware of that doubt isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and what makes a great leader. Whether it’s a positional leadership or someone who’s impacting other people is a sense of emotional intelligence. What’s emotional intelligence? Self-awareness and self-management. What’s going on for me? How am I feeling and how do I manage that? It’s also social awareness and relationship management.
The truth is, if you’re in a senior role, it’s okay if you feel at times like you’re in touch with that imposter syndrome that you have that like, “How did I get this role? Why am I in this position? Why are they looking to me for the answers?” Sometimes it’s not only appropriate but essential that you’re willing to express that fear, doubt, insecurity right to the team of people who report to you, who are looking to you, so that you both model it and they realize you’re a real, living, breathing human being. On the other hand, and you know this from your own experience as a leader, sometimes you also have to learn how to trust your own instincts to go, “If I tell all of my fears and doubts, insecurities, it’s going to freak them out.”
They’re going to be like, “Wait a minute.”
It’s like, “Who’s driving the bus here?” However, what we can then do is it doesn’t mean we suck it up or we pretend, what we do is then we pivot and say, “I’m going to say what I need to say appropriately. I’m not going to make something up to the team. I’m going to go find a peer or my own manager or a mentor or coach or someone that I can be real with and let them know I am terrified about this decision that I made. I don’t know if it’s the right decision.” This is what leaders tend to do, we bottle it up and think, “I can’t have that thought. I’m not supposed to have that fear.” It’s going to come out one way or another. Sometimes it will look like we snap at our children or sometimes we end up stressing ourselves out and we’re ineffective at something but it will seep its way out. The emotion is going to come out some way. We’re better off if we deliberately get it out as opposed to letting it come out on its own.
Part of this is also how we do this. When we’re feeling vulnerable about a large decision or we’re uncertain about where our path is going with the team. You mentioned the freak out. No one wants to see someone feeling out of control, but you can express the same concerns in a more grounded way. There’s still a huge vulnerability with your team but what you’re sharing is, “This is a huge decision. It has big implications. I’m not sure this path is right. I love to talk about it. I’ve got a concern.” I can share that with you in a grounded way versus like, “I’m spinning out. This could be crazy.” That’s part of it too, is not only how deep you go and what you’re revealing but how you talk to your team about that.
One of the things we know, and more in the last few years, we’ve understood this from a performance standpoint, one of the things that’s fundamental for teams to be able to thrive in today’s world is that there’s a sense of what we call psychological safety on the team. What does that mean? Psychological safety is group trust. It means the team is safe enough for me to take a risk, for me to make a mistake, for me to disagree, for me to have a fear or a doubt knowing that I can express that whether I’m the leader of the team by position or a member of the team. Every leader with the exception of the CEO at every company is both leading a team and a member of the team and if you’re not leading a team, you’re always a member of the team so there are always your peers. The team is safe enough that we can do those things and no, I’m not going to get shamed, ridiculed, kicked out of the group.If you are a leader, what you have to be willing to do often is go first. Click To Tweet
From a leadership standpoint, one of the things if we do happen to be in a position where we are leading a team of people, both our direct team and if we’re in a senior role, a larger organization, like in your case, the question then becomes how do I create that sense of psychological safety? It’s not only on you as the leader, you’re not the only person responsible, you have a big role to play and the best thing you can do to create that psychological safety is to show up authentically with your team. Meaning, if you make a mistake, acknowledge that you made a mistake, like, “I messed that up. I’m sorry. I learned from that.” That model, “She’s smart and she’s been doing this for a long time. She knows her stuff. I respect her. She messed up.” She said, “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes I do this at home with our girls who are fourteen and eleven. One of the things I’m constantly talking to our daughters about is letting them know when I’m scared about something and I go do it anyway, or when I mess something up or I do something great, sharing a little bit of my internal process that I went through so they don’t think, “Dad rolls out of bed and writes books and it’s no big deal, gets on planes and go give speeches.” It’s like, “Girls, I love them and they’re fun but they’re also hard and sometimes they don’t go as well as I want them to. Sometimes I have a meeting and I’m scared about the meeting and it goes great. Sometimes I’m scared about meeting and it goes not great.” I try to learn from it. I don’t know what they’re thinking. They’re getting to the age where they’re rolling their eyes at me more than they used to. Obviously, our children are different than the people we work with but I want them to understand some of what’s going on down below the waterline of the iceberg, so to speak, as I like to talk about, because that’s the real stuff.
I’ve learned as much about leadership from parenting. Of course, my boys are the same age as your girls and for a while as parents like as leaders, we want to create an environment of, “I’ve got this all under control. Do not worry.” When you create something that’s too perfect, what it will do is have them feel they can’t be imperfect. That’s an impossibility. Everyone is struggling with something. It’s important to compare that.
I want to expand on this conversation a little bit out of failure. It’s connected to that but into that bigger dynamic of bringing your whole self into your work environment. For years, industrialized mindsets, we’ve wanted to have a separation. I clock in. I do my job. I clock out. That’s when my personal stuff starts. As if there isn’t a blending. We are humans going through our challenges no matter if we’re at work or for at home. How is it that this level of vulnerability, psychological safety and openness in the space of work can transform performance?
It’s different for each of us, depending on what we do, where we do it, how we do it, the environment in which we do it. It’s different if you’re a man than if you’re a woman. It’s different depending on your age and your race and your background and a lot of factors. One of the books I wrote is called Bring Your Whole Self to Work, that’s easy to say, that’s not that easy to do because we’ve all had experiences for different reasons. It’s like, “I did that and it was a problem. I want to do that but I don’t always know if I can or I should or where’s the line.”
It’s an important conversation for all of us to be having. What I’ve seen and what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced is the environments where we can create that sense of psychological safety. It’s a chicken and egg thing. When people bring their whole selves to work, there’s usually more psychological safety. When there’s more psychological safety, people are more likely to bring their whole selves to work. That goes back to that leadership piece that if you are a leader, whether it’s by position or someone who wants to influence the culture, what you have to be willing to do often is go first. Sometimes that means you go a little too far and it’s, “I stepped a little too far over the line.” You can calibrate from there. What we’re often doing is waiting for the environment to invite us into that. While that can happen, at the senior most leadership level, we want to create that environment that invites people to bring all of who they are and their whole and their best self to work.
The reality is it’s always going to be a bit of a risk. Going back to the conversation around growth mindset, growth begins for all of us at the end of our comfort zone. That’s where it begins. If it’s comfortable and it’s easy, it’s not bad, there’s no growth. Even thinking about this physiologically, if you and I go exercise and whatever exercise we do, doesn’t push us to the point where we break a sweat. It doesn’t push us to the point where we’re a little sore the next day. It’s not bad. It’s better moving around than not moving around, but we’re not going to build any additional strength or any additional flexibility. It’s not doing anything. We’re not growing. That’s the same thing for us mentally, emotionally, from a leadership standpoint, from a team standpoint, is finding where’s that edge and can we consciously choose to push past the edge enough so that we grow?
That’s probably why as you look back at losing your career due to the physical challenges or losing your job during the dot-com boom, these are moments that are hard to go through but what they teach us, how they shape us, the character that they build allows you to have this conversation with the credibility because you’ve walk through it. It makes a huge difference.
I remember something that someone said to me a long time ago, I think about this sometimes when things are going a little bit sideways where they’re challenging. It’s like, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” If something hard is happening, and I don’t mean to minimize it because sometimes we go through things in life personally, professionally that are hard, that are painful, loss, grief, job loss, physical maladies, those are significant and real.
However, if we do take that growth mindset to it, what we can do is, “How is this going to make me better, stronger? Maybe I don’t know. I’m right in the middle of it.” When I tell my story about my arm, I know that most people reading this podcast or when I’m on stage telling it, most people can’t relate to like, “I played pro baseball too. I hurt my arm too.” Every now and again, the people that’s true, they’ll always come and talk to me. When I get done with telling that story, my big realization was, “I forgot to appreciate it. I was busy trying to make it. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and that I was good at it. I was laser-focused.”
I will say to the audience, and I’m sure I said this to your team, “How many of you can relate to this in your own life?” Everybody raises their hand because it’s the universal thing. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. We take it for granted. Everyone can also look back in their life at something difficult and painful that happened. With enough time and enough perspective, you can look back and go, “Not only did I learn from that, but in most cases, I’m grateful that horrible thing happened because it made me more of who I am today.”
I can think of 1,000 stories that would punctuate that point. It’s true. Thank you for your perspective on all of this. One direction I want to take us and because the origin of this podcast, even though we have a lot of people that follow, is about community. The CMO Summit Community was built in order to have a place for professionals to connect in a more vulnerable space to support each other, to get ideas from each other. This is not a new concept. We connect in a million ways personally and professional across all domains. It’s been a fascinating dynamic with the rise of technology on how we’re more connected technologically, yet in many ways we’ve lost that sense of human connection. We’re seeing that pendulum began to swing back. You see more of the rise of more festivals and people wanting to be together and to connect. I’d like to explore a little bit about that idea of team and on connectivity, and how the ‘we’ versus the ‘I’ or the ‘me’ makes a difference and what your experience has been around powerful teams and connections.
There are a couple things on that note. A number of years ago, doing the work that I do, people started asking me this question, “Do you think, with all this technology and all these great, we can connect virtually? Are teams going to stop having meetings and conferences and coming together?” They were asking this in a practical sense.
They did for a little while. We didn’t stop doing it.
If you think about it, that meeting of your team that I came to speak at, you could have done that virtually. There’s great technology, you could get everyone connected over video and it’s amazing. It would have been a different experience had not everyone been in the room for a couple of days with each other. If you think about from that standpoint, teams have to figure out even all of these large teams across the country or global teams and it’s harder, but we have to come together as humans and spend some time together because there’s nothing that can recreate human interaction. Whether it’s in industries or different industries but in roles. CMOs talking to other CMOs, creating that sense of community that even ironically our companies could be competing with each other. There’s a reality of that.Growth begins for all of us at the end of our comfort zone. Click To Tweet
However, we have a kinship, we have a partnership and that we know what it’s like to sit in that role in that seat. Even though we may have great teams, we need to create some sense of community around us with other people who deal with some of the same challenges we deal with, have some of the same pressures that we have, so that we can be real with each other and the way we were talking about before, what great teams and communities have in common. What I’ve seen over the years is there’s a fundamental essence, a cultural phenomenon that they understand we’re in this thing together.
There’s such chemistry to this, Mike. You talked about the fact that you’ve been on teams, and this applies to sports and business, where the talent has been off the chart. The individual talent has been high, but as a team less effective. Other teams, talent is okay, maybe not best in class, but together, they did amazing things. Tell me a little bit more about that chemistry and how do you cultivate that?
There’s that famous quote from Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Talent is important clearly, but we’ve all been part of teams where there’s a ton of talent and people don’t like each other, don’t trust each other, don’t share information, don’t have each other’s backs. Part of what I’ve seen that’s important is, and this is one of the many things that I appreciate about spending time with you and your team, is investing in it, committing to it. Not just talking about it but realizing that this isn’t a nice to have, this is a need to have. We have to cultivate this culture all the time.
We can set up values and have principles and wonderful slide decks and great words on the wall and that’s all great. Teams should do that and keep doing that. Do we live those things? Do we commit to the time and the energy that it takes the challenge that we have, especially in today’s world? We’re running 100 miles an hour all the time. The expectations keep getting higher and higher for how fast we’re going to get stuff done and the results that we have to produce. I see this even with my own team. I’m out in the world speaking about this and it’s like, “I’ve got to focus on the people. We have to get stuff done. We have to deliver on all these results.”
It’s another great cliché. Clichés are clichés for a reason. Sometimes we have to go slow so we can go fast. We never have time. Using the offside as an example, we never have time in a practical sense to spend a couple days and fly everybody in and spend all the money and do all this stuff. If we don’t do that, then we’re disconnected from each other. We’re not building those personal relationships with each other and the chemistry of the team starts to get diminished. We have less at stake with each other human to human. It’s about balancing out. In most cases, we can invest more time and more resources in the culture than we currently do, even though on the surface it might seem a little bit like, “Is that excessive? Do we need to do that?” You’ve got to calibrate it for your own team and your own environment. Usually, if you do those things thoughtfully, there are few times I talked to leaders and say, “We’ve over invested on our culture. It’s not paying off.”
It’s a critical investment and it pays many dividends. This idea you mentioned having to go slow to go fast. Some of the conversations we’ve had with other guests on the podcast have been about this dynamic of creating space, true for everybody but definitely true with leadership. I think about my own leadership practices on whether or not I’m able to build into my schedule time to reflect, to assess. If we talk about failure earlier to understand what happened with the failure, not run right past it but get the learning from it. How do you guide people in thinking about creating space in order to be mindful on how we’re building these teams and building our performance?
It’s hard because what you’re talking about is white space. When do we have white space in life?
It’s not natural.
If you think about it, we used to have it in the car. We used to have it on sitting on an airplane. We used to have it built more and standing in line at the bank, whatever it was. We didn’t think of it that way. If you and I are ever doing those things, we’re listening. As much as I love podcasts, and I’m on your podcast, I have my own podcasts, there are people reading this in their car on their way to work or on their commute. If this was 20, 30 years ago, maybe you’d be listening to radio in your car but that was about it. If you were on your commute on a bus or on a train or on somewhere and a plane, you got little, you’d be reading.
There’s so much more coming at us. We don’t stand in line at the bank anymore. We bank online. We don’t stand in line, doing certain things and if we are, if we’re ever bored, when was last time you were bored? We’re staring at our phone. Can we build in some time into our schedule? This is fundamental for leaders. There’s nothing on there. It’s not about being “productive” although it’s fine to be productive. Are we staring out the window and contemplating, “What does this person need? Where are we headed? What’s working? What’s not working? Where can I grow as a leader? Where am I holding on too tight? Where am I not paying enough attention?” Whatever all the question is.
I’ve found for years, one of my white space times, although it’s not white space, is writing in a journal. I still carry around in my briefcase and have for twenty some years, a journal that I write in when I’m sitting on planes, when I’m sitting here at my desk sometimes in between things where I try to reflect on how I’m feeling and what’s going on. Sometimes it’s the stuff I’m freaked out about. Sometimes it’s the stuff I’m excited about or struggling with. Somehow for me, the process of writing, it helps me process thoughts and ideas and that I found for myself to be something simple but profound in terms of working through some of the bigger issues both in my business and my life.
Your brain works differently when you’re processing on paper. It’s a fascinating conversation because in coaching, some of the leaders I’ve worked with, there’s this odd sense of guilt around white space. There’s this addiction to productivity. Even at home, being able to sit on the couch and watch a TV show with your kids. There are many other things I could be doing. As if the value equation for the doing is more important than the value equation of the being. Learning how to be, which all these practices of reflection is and looking at what’s happening, it’s what’s going to create a more powerful and a more grounded process of doing and return to that.
It’s amazing even circling back around to parenting. My fourteen-year-old daughter gave me some feedback that was simple but profound, because we were talking about spring break is coming up. We’re going on a trip. When I was growing up, we didn’t have any money. We didn’t go on vacations. We didn’t take trips. We didn’t do that stuff. One of the things I feel blessed about and grateful for is that we’re in a position in life where we can take some trips and do some things that I never got to do.
One of the challenges I have, quite frankly, is overdoing it and managing that. My fourteen-year-old said to me, “Dad, I love it when we go on trips and we do fun stuff. We don’t always have to do something, we can just hang out.” I wanted to laugh and cry and hug her and run into the corner all the same time because I was like, “Thank you so much. You’re right, honey.” Sometimes I forget there’s this weird part of me. This is getting into some of my story and my psychology, but that’s true in life too.
We don’t always have to be doing something. Sometimes being productive is unplugging from everything and letting ourselves be, as hard as that is to do and as much as the world tells us we’re supposed to be on 24/7 and constantly doing something. Even at home, sometimes the weekends are busier than the work week at our house and I’m like, “Weren’t we supposed to relax and rejuvenate?” We need a vacation from our vacation because we went crazy it’s like, “Can we take it down a notch and calm down a little bit?”Sometimes, we have to go slow so we can go fast. Click To Tweet
This conversation we’re having is something that a lot of people are grappling with because technology has reoriented us into this 24/7 place. We are the ones that have to take back our lives and take back the ability and the investment in doing that will be powerful. I could talk to you for five hours because there’s so much. We are winding down on our time. I want to close out with one question that I ask everyone. As you think about your journey and your story that we’ve talked about, it’s probably hard to pick one. What would be the 1 or 2 most valuable thing that you’ve learned? If we were creating a time capsule or sending off some wisdom to someone, what would you write down as the wisest thing you’ve learned thus far?
We’ve been talking about parenting, so it’s on my mind. I think of something that was said to me, it came in the form of parenting advice but it’s a great life advice and leadership advice. When Michelle was pregnant with Samantha, our fourteen-year-old, I was getting a ton of advice. You get a lot of advice when you’re about to have a baby, especially your first. Most of it makes no sense. It’s completely out of context. It’s scary and overwhelming. People mean well. Someone said this thing to me that I never forgot, he said, “Mike, the most important job you have when your daughter is born is to teach her how to love herself.” I was taken by that. No one had said anything to me like that and I said, “That’s profound. How do I do that?”
He said, “You love yourself and you let her see that. That’s how you teach her how to love herself. It’s not easy. The world’s not going to reinforce that you do that. It’s going to seem like you’re being arrogant and obnoxious, and I’m not telling you to do that. What I’m telling you is make a commitment to yourself to love and value and care for yourself because if you do that, not only will that benefit you, but you will model that for your daughter and any other children that you have. That’s ultimately one of the hardest but most important aspects of life.” That’s true for us as leaders. That’s true for us as parents. That’s true for us as spouses or friends. If we can genuinely care for and value ourselves, not in a selfish obnoxious way but in a real way, we model that for others. We’re also, by the way, not expecting them to do that for us, which is what creates all kinds of problems.
Those are such powerful and important words and needed because the more we do that, the more we go into the world, not just for our children but for our teams and our friends. We create a space that’s much more open and much more positive because we are already beginning from that place of self-worth and care. Those are wonderful advice. I have loved this conversation. It has been full of wisdom and so much that resonates with me.
I don’t want to forget to mention to everyone that not only are you an amazing speaker, and I know there’s information on your website, it’s Mike-Robbins.com. You’ve got a book coming out. We’re All in This Together is the title of the book. I’m sure you’re excited about that. I would encourage everyone if you want more of Mike’s wisdom, not only hear him in person, pick up the book and any of his other books to get more of what you’ve heard in our conversation. Mike, thank you so much for your time and everything that you shared. I’m grateful.
Thanks for having me.
- Bring Your Whole Self to Work
- We’re All in This Together
- Mike Robbins on Forbes
- Growth Mindset
About Mike Robbins
Mike Robbins is the author of four books, including his latest, Bring Your Whole Self to Work. His fifth book, We’re All in This Together, comes out in May. He’s a sought-after speaker and consultant who delivers keynotes and seminars for some of the top organizations in the world.
Mike lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and his clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Gap, KFC, eBay, State Farm, Taco Bell, the Atlanta Braves, and many others.
He and his work have been featured in the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, as well as on NPR and ABC News. He’s a regular contributor to Forbes, hosts a weekly podcast, and his books have been translated into 15 different languages.
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