This Is Day One With Drew Dudley
Too often, we see leaders as people born with special skills and traits that make them better suited for success than the rest of us. The truth is leadership is not about title or position. It is about personal impact. It’s about character and actions. Sometimes, the most unlikely people are the most effective leaders. We all can lead, and it is up to us to step up and take on the challenge when it is presented. In this episode, Drew Dudley, Founder and Chief Catalyst of Day One Leadership talks about redefining leadership. Drew shares practical and actionable insights on creating cultures of leadership that lead to higher levels of pride, productivity, happiness, and retention. He empowers audiences and equips them with the tools needed to make a difference at home and work.
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This Is Day One With Drew Dudley
How True Leadership Is Found Through Personal Impact
I welcome Drew Dudley, who will be talking about the power of our personal impact. We don’t have to be the CEO of a company or even in a formal leadership position to be a leader to those around us and to do it in ways that make all the difference in someone’s life. Before we get to this important conversation, I want to share more about Drew’s background because it will illustrate why he has such passion around this topic.
Somewhere around the middle of his undergrad education, he realized that engaging with the world was going to be a lot more fun than writing papers about it. While still a student, he became heavily involved in Canada’s largest charitable initiative in support of cystic fibrosis. He eventually served as the national chair of that organization.
As he moved into his career, he took on the challenge of creating the Leadership Development Program at the University of Toronto. This program became the largest and most dynamic in the country. It was those leadership students who changed the course of his life. They secretly organized a campaign to put him on stage at TEDx Toronto 2010, where he delivered a talk that would go on to generate more than 5 million views around the web.
However, this high-achieving lifestyle took its toll. It didn’t only change his life for the better. It also created new challenges with his physical and mental health as he managed to travel schedule where he was on the road for over 250 days a year. He credits the day one process that he writes about in his book was saving his life. He began applying the process to improving his mental and physical health. He recognized that many people were struggling silently with similar battles.
We all have these challenges to overcome. He began infusing these experiences into his keynotes, hoping to remind people that their scars in no way stand in the way of being leaders to others. In 2018, he shared his story and the day one process in his first book, This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters.
He continues to travel the world, sharing this with many organizations of all kinds, aiming to redefine leadership for as many people as possible. Drew’s a storyteller. You’ll read in the conversation how he talks about these moments where we can show up and make a difference. If we all do that, it’s such a powerful result. He was a speaker for us at the Speaker Series. I can personally say he truly lives everything he teaches. Please, enjoy my conversation with Drew Dudley.
Drew, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you very much for taking the time.
It’s my absolute pleasure to be here. I’m excited.
I know we had a chance to talk. You have such a warm, joyous, engaging way about you that I’m excited to be able to share this, not just on this episode, but I know you’re going to be joining us in the Compassion Lab next week and sharing a lot of this with the team. I’m grateful for that as well.
I’m excited. It’s such an honor to get to share ideas. Point me where you want to go. I’ll do my absolute best to say something of substance.
We’re going to start at the beginning. How did it all start with Drew? You can choose to share whatever you want, but the essence of our origin is, how did it shape you to what you’re doing now?
It was such an interesting time when I was younger because most of my youth was all about looking good on paper and impressing teachers and parents. My identity was wrapped up pretty tightly in how well I did at school. When you’re a kid, there are only so many ways you can gain validation. There’s school and athletics. If you’re lucky enough to be born hot, there’s that too.
You don’t want to peak early.
I want to develop a personality. “Everyone should be ugly until they’re seventeen.” A friend of mine said that. She goes, “I want a little girl who’s ugly until she’s seventeen.” She developed a great sense of humor and a personality. I want her to blossom. She’s a good human. It’s hard to stay a good human when you’re born beautiful. Honestly, I want to impress teachers. For me, it was all about looking good on paper. You had all of your educational experience from kindergarten until the time you graduated to look as good as possible on a piece of paper.
You handed this piece of paper in with your grades and your co-curricular and your awards and volunteer work, all that stuff, and you get judged. Whatever pile you end up in, successful or failure, at the end of whatever your final day of school is, that’s what the rest of your life is going to be. They scare the hell out of you for most of your youth. I was good at getting good grades. I did everything I was told to do.
I started losing people. I lost a number of friends. I lost a roommate that I looked up to at my university. What was interesting was the young man I was friends with, I worked with, but he was older than me. On campus, he was such an extraordinary charismatic person that when he walked into the room, people felt safer and more empowered. I remember when I was a kid, in high school, you’re always obsessed with coolness. I started to realize that cool in high school was all about how many people were scared of you and how much you could mess up their social life. There was a fear of the cool kids. I found as we get older, what we consider cool are people who make us feel more at ease when they’re around.
Creating An Impactful Life
That takes a little while to get to that point. This particular individual, Jason, was like that. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in his fourth year in university. He was never going to finish his last semester. The university knew it. They voted to give him his degree. They flew his best friends to the hospital to give him his degree. They walked in and said, “The school wanted you to get what you came for.” They wanted to get this piece of paper.
What he said was, “I didn’t go there to get that piece of paper. I went there to get all of you. I have everything I need from that school. Tell them I’ll come back and get it myself, or I don’t need it.” We didn’t have social media back then, but that got around campus in a hurry that he had refused this piece of paper. My whole life had been that piece of paper.
Jason did pass away. He didn’t get to come and get it. I remember I was at his funeral and there were 1,000 people there. He was 24 years old, and 1,000 people were moved enough by this man that even with this incomplete life and legacy, this is what he meant. I looked around and I remember thinking, “This is a big change in my origin story.” I remember thinking, “What if it was you who was never going to leave the hospital? Would this many people care?” The moment where a lot of things changed for me was when I realized the answer was no. I’ve been given awards my whole life, patted on the back, and told, “You’re doing it exactly right,” by not just adults but fellow students.
To realize that this many people would care, it rumbled the Earth underneath my conception of who I was. I realized that I was living my life for people I hadn’t met yet. School was about university admissions counselors and then it was grad school admissions counselors and job recruiters and then the new boss was going to give you the promotion to the next company. I often looked at my life and realized that most of the decisions and priorities I set were for people I hadn’t met yet. Jason had lived his life to have an impact on the people around him. That was a big difference. I live my life for the piece of paper. He lived it for the guys that brought it to him.
That was a big shift for me. I started to realize that what I’ve been taught about leadership was that it was an exclusionary club but not everyone could or should get in to. The reason I should work hard is so I could out-compete other people for the greater rewards that are in the club. Plus, straight White dude, everyone in the club already looked like me. Everything that I had been taught told me, “You have a right to that only if you do what you’re told and only if you work hard enough.” When we lost Jason, particularly, it started to change for me because I had been spending my life worrying about people I hadn’t met yet. I had been writing papers on the world, not engaging in it. That led me to take over a charity campaign, which became a huge part of my life.
Eventually, I became the national chair of that campaign, Canada’s biggest post-secondary fundraiser. Part of that job was training a lot of people. In fact, training the people who trained other people. That led me to all kinds of experiences in the realm of how you take stories and experience and turn it into something that’s useful. The Dean of students at UT saw one of the presentations and said, “That is a practical form of leadership more applicable to where students are in their lives.”
He asked me to come and build their leadership program. I did it. My students changed my life daily. They nominated me secretly to give a TED Talk. When I found out, I tried to get out of it. I gave the TED Talk. As I walked off the stage, a speaking agent grabbed me and said, “Do you want to do this for a living?”
I said, “That’ll never happen. Good luck with that. If you want to try, I’m all for it.” That was 1,000 speeches on five continents ago. I started on one trajectory about trying to be as impressive as possible, realizing that what I taught wasn’t impressive to a relatively small group of people who were in my life for a relatively small amount of time. I buried twenty of my friends all before they were 24. What you start to realize is that many people still talk about them. In some cases, it’s twenty years after they’re gone. They only had a couple of decades. In some cases, 17, 18 years old. Yet we still talk about them in their lessons.
For me, my origin story came about in a big time when I started watching how other people did get to finish their stories. I started to realize that if you’re going to be given all this much more time than these people, don’t screw it up. It’s an insult to these people. I love to waste the fact that I got more than they did. Let’s face it, anyone who’s lost someone usually believes that the world was better with them compared to us. We’re here. As much as we think like that, we don’t have to behave like it. If that’s the guilt that drives us to do good things, let’s roll with it, though.
You are not wasting it. You are bringing your full heart and soul to this endeavor based on everything that you shared. It’s interesting. Life finds us. You didn’t set out to share the story, but however, the deck was stacked for you to receive the lessons. The a-ha moments that you got resulted in the passion that you have now for the difference we can make as individuals. Why do you think that many of us look outside of ourselves like, “That person is a leader. That person has all the answers,” when we have so much personal power?
The education system disempowers a lot of people. I came from it. I excelled in it when I was a student. That culture is such a powerful force because cultural expectations control what we say, what we do, what we wear, what we aspire, what we’re ashamed of. All that’s cultural expectation. A cultural expectation is something that says you must behave this way, for failing to live up to this expectation will result in universal and quick pushback.
You might be alienated from the tribe.For the first 20 years of our lives, rewards are from pleasing other people and not misbehaving. Click To Tweet
We have to recognize that the privilege of the education system that we have in the Western world is it’s one of the most empowering, liberating, extraordinarily important, but also extremely dangerous and potentially disempowering systems that we have. That part of the reason we look externally is to think about it. For twenty of the most formative years of your life, it was never up to you to determine your worth. It was always evaluated externally. If that’s the only reality you’ve ever known, you don’t question it. We were educated into looking externally for why we matter. First it was whether we behaved and we got the treats we were promised that it was whether or not the teacher was happy with us. It was letters on our pieces of paper and the numbers and the SAT scores and on and on. Why do you matter is my question to you. Why do you matter?
I would answer that question for myself and maybe even partially for the Collective to say that each one of us is unique. There is no other person in the universe designed and created as we are. We matter because it is our job to bring that forth in service to make things more beautiful.
Have you been asked that question prior to this?
No, I can’t recall.
That, to me, drives a lot of what I do because the first time I asked it, I had already been an educator for thirteen years. The student to whom I posed it blinked at me twice, paused for a long beat, and then said, “I don’t yet. That’s why I’m working hard.” That’s an unacceptable answer to get from anyone you care about. I thought it would be an outlier. I asked other students and colleagues and people on podcasts, 95% can’t give me an answer or they’re clearly making one up. They could be great, but they’re making it up on the spot.
If you have kids, ask them the question. If they’re under five or haven’t yet gone to school, they give you answers, stuff that melts you. Once our kids turn five, once we send them to school, there is then 1.5 or 2 decades of us being told validation and rewards will come from doing what is expected of you from figuring out what the person at the front of the room wants and delivering it.
We are rewards-based creatures. For the first twenty years of our lives, rewards are from pleasing other people and not misbehaving. As a result, we look externally. It is not a character flaw. It is a socialization by-product. The challenge is that we need to take care of young people and empower them while at the same time recognizing that there is a development process. You can’t just be like, “Go for it. Do whatever you want.” At the same time, the education system often teaches less courage and more adherence to the rules. That’s why we looked externally because it’s what we were taught. Let’s face it, almost all of us start to feel a little bit better about ourselves when we stop setting goals that other people have to deliver to us that we need others for.
We start to say, “The tests that matter are the ones I give myself.” Whether that is I’m going to learn a new language, leave this job, or leave this marriage, whatever it is. The reason it’s so hard to be courageous is that we went through a system that taught us making mistakes is the worst thing you can do. You start with a 100, you make a mistake, you lose 10 points. You never get the points back. Mistakes are pathologized.
As a result, we look to be told what is expected of us and deliver it. The people you know who seem to be the most deliberated are the ones who, for the most part, no one ever fully does it, we’re social creatures, have managed to say, “I’ve got my own goals. I certainly don’t disregard other people. I have a social creature. I have a place within society. I’m not looking externally for validation anymore. I have mine. I have the 4 or 5 people closest to me.” That takes guts, too. You don’t want to be alienated from the tribe.
Everyone can hear the passion that you have for this. What you’re saying is painfully true. As you speak it, everyone reading can be like, “Not only in my own experience have you seen that, but you see it with your children.” Certainly, when you watch your kids go from that toddler stage to being domesticated into the system, there’s a joy that leaves them. It’s difficult to watch. They would laugh and be joyful.
It becomes this pressure and anxiety that they are coming of age into a system where they feel that the rules have been established. There are many different types of intelligences. You can be book smart. You can be street smart. You can have emotional IQ. You can be highly creative. Our systems only celebrate our IQs. That can leave many lost in their own worth because that might not be their strength.
What all started me for TED Talks was Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? It’s probably still the most viewed TED Talk of all time. That was the one I was first introduced to. That was when I was taught the truth. My whole life, I thought that the key to impressing people is to make them look at what you do and say, “I can’t do that.” What I came to realize at that moment was maybe one of the greatest things you can do for other people is to get them to look at you and say, “I thought I was the only one who thought that, who was out in the wilderness on that belief, who was scared of that, needed that.” He was Ken Robinson standing up and saying, “The education system measures one type of intelligence. That’s too bad.”
We have to work carefully on what to do about that, balancing, taking care of kids, and recognizing everyone’s at a different pace. Also, recognizing that you can’t just yank kids out of that system. People will say, “I homeschooled them because I don’t like some of the lessons.” All too often, you’re pulling people out of a crucial social development, as awful as it can be sometimes. Often, people keep kids home because they want them to never be exposed to anything that they don’t believe. When you yank kids out of the education system, it hurts their education because now they’re being indoctrinated by only what they were parents want.
That’s dangerous too because we have to find a way to help the system better recognize more types of intelligence because the answer is not simply to stop putting people into that system because it is essential to grow up being told no sometimes. It is essential to see other people get something that you want. If you do not have that experience growing up, not getting invited to the birthday party or being teased, as awful as this stuff is.
It’s part of life.
We’ve seen what happens to people who are never told no their whole life.
It’s a problem. It’s not good.
Developing The Skills Of Leadership
That’s crucial. How we’re taught plays a big role in how we think of anything. In my world, when it comes to leadership, one of the things I try to remind everybody of all parents, leaders, teachers, executives, whatever example you give people first to explain an idea, that shapes and limits how people think about that idea for their whole life. The ideas that we’re taught about leadership change how we think about it for our whole life. We’re taught young, so we don’t question it. Marshall McLuhan said we don’t know who first discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a fish. We never questioned the environment with which we’re most familiar. Why wouldn’t you do it?
I hope to get people thinking, “Because I was only given presidents and scientific groundbreakers and people who have corporate empires and the occasional token Black man, woman person of color, gay leader, historically.” If that’s the only example you’re given and you don’t see yourself in any of those people because you don’t feel that you’re that smart or that educated or that old, you start to think that leadership needs to be something that you look for in other people.
You do it young. My argument is that leadership exists in individual moments of impact. The reason why it’s important when we look at leadership that way and evaluate ourselves is based on how well we engage in that type of leadership is because it’s accessible to everyone and if there’s a powerful way of impacting other people. It’s pretty much the only source of power on Earth that’s accessible to everyone on Earth. Almost any source of power that has been created is inaccessible to most of the people on Earth, with systemic barriers between that power and most of the people on Earth. The ability to create individual moments of impact, moments of compassion, forgiveness, empowerment, honesty, whatever it might be, is the power accessible to all of us.
It is not a power that can be taken away. Man’s Search for Meaning, that book is fundamentally all about that idea, which is everything can be taken from you except how you choose to treat the world, yourself and other people. Only when that is taken from you, are you truly broken. The key for me is everybody at the end of the day, can look at their day and identify moments where they mattered. To go all the way back to that question I asked you and for anyone reading, we don’t get asked that question very much. We don’t prioritize how important it is to have an answer. I don’t think we prioritize evidence every day that we matter. Giving yourself the evidence that every day you matter is a game-changer.
You said something important. You said you want people to think. You’re pushing this provocative question about personal power. There’s something important to be able to step out of everything. You’ve been talking about this indoctrination into, “Who am I? What do I have to give?” I wrote this quote down. I know it well. I know you referenced the Marianne Williamson quote in your TED Talk, but it’s beautifully said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frighten us.” You talk about that quote because there are two aspects of this.It's hard to be courageous because we went through a system that taught us that making mistakes is the worst thing you can do. Click To Tweet
One is not even knowing who you are and what your power is. The other piece is potentially not even being willing to step into it because it’s easier to point the finger at the outside world to say why things are broken. “It’s certainly not me. It’s the leader.” It requires responsibility for ourselves. It requires a belief that we can make that difference. I know the lollipop moment, the story of the lollipop that you tell. If you’d mind retelling that story, it illustrates how a moment in time can change the trajectory of an entire lifetime.
The Lollipop Moment
The lollipop moment, a term I’d never used before the TED Talk, was a story that I used to tell at the national conference for a charity called Students Fighting Cystic Fibrosis as a way of reminding volunteers that it wasn’t just the bottom line of their donations that was important. The work they did in pursuit of their donation goals had a big impact on their campaigns. If you’re doing something year over year in a community, it will build slowly over time. I tell a story about how well I was trying to raise a record-breaking amount of money for this campaign when I was, what we used to call the lowly delegates, bottom rung. That’s where everything happens, on the ground. My job was to help train them.
One of the things that caught me off guard was that in the pursuit of the end goal, you often don’t even clock what you’re doing in the meantime. Apparently, what happened, I was told later on, a young woman was standing in line on her first day. She was overwhelmed by the noise and the chaos. She’s full of doubt that she wasn’t able to do this next phase in her life, that she quit standing in line on her first day. She’d been feeling like this since the night before. Her parents had made her a deal that once she was in the lineup the next day on campus, if she still wanted to go home, they would take her, but she had to get in line first. She got in line and she decided to quit because it was too overwhelming.
Before she could tell her parents, she told me, “I had busted out of this nearest administration building. I got a big, stupid hat, a big sign, and a bucket of lollipops.” What we do is we go to bars. I haven’t told this part of the story to anyone before. People knew it, but it’s not part of the story. The reason I had a bucket of lollipops is one of the best fundraisers we had is we would get our best-looking volunteers to go out into bars in the local towns and cities with buckets of lollipops around 1:00 in the morning. They’d sidle up to people and be like, “$1 a suck for charity.”
Dumb idiots would reach in and take out $20. I’ll make some misogynistic, patriarchal, crappy comment and then they give us $20. We made a fortune handing out lollipops or selling these lollipops. We had a giant bunch of them leftovers. That’s why I had this bucket of lollipops. It was a great fundraiser. I was moving up and down the lineup of these first-year students and their parents stuck in line. When I got to this young woman, I smiled at her and I laughed and I looked at the guy next to her and I told him, “Buddy, you have two and a half more hours you got to stand in line. You’re standing next to a beautiful woman. You’re not even breaking the ice. Give her a lollipop, start the conversation,” which I now know was not that cool with me. She was probably not interested in being hit on at that moment.
This is the type of thing that we didn’t think of when I was a kid, but we’ll play this story to the end. I held up this lollipop to him. I’m like, “Talk to the girl.” She goes, “He wouldn’t even look at me. He holds his lollipop out to the side. He’s this dark shade of crimson.” I took the lollipop from him. You looked disappointed and you turned to my parents and you said, “Look at your daughter, first day away from home. The first day without mom and dad to hold her hand.” She is taking candy from a stranger. That’s some bad parenting. When you’re stressed out and someone says something mildly funny, you over laugh.
That’s what happened. She said that the laughter changed up the thing. She decided not to quit until the next day. She’d give it another shot and then she gave it another shot because someone else did something similar. Eventually, she stopped thinking about quitting. She had come up to me that night. It was my last night at the university. I was leaving the next day. She said, “I haven’t spoken to you in the four years since you did that, but I needed to tell you you’ve been an important person in my life. Good luck.” She walks off.
That’s quite the thing to hear out of nowhere, especially from someone you don’t recognize, but she came back and said, “You should know one more thing. I’ve been dating that guy for four years since you introduced us that morning.” A year and a half after I left, I moved 1,000 miles away. I started the next phase in my life.
The two of them invited me to their wedding a year and a half later. I don’t remember that. I have no recollection of that happening, but it was powerful enough that this young woman came up to me and told me four years later like, “You mattered in my life,” but I wasn’t trying to have an impact at that moment. I was trying to make $15,000. All these individual moments along the way were that they served the bigger purpose because it was the end goal that would make me look good. The reason I tell that story, or I have told it for years, is because I wanted those young people, those volunteers who would not phone us back if they didn’t meet their goal because they’d be ashamed.
They say, “We raised $3,000. We raised $1,000. I’m embarrassed to talk to you.” I would tell that story to be like it is not the goals that you reach. It’s how you behave in pursuit of those goals. I don’t remember that girl seeing. I don’t remember that moment, but I do remember that something I did in pursuit of the goal had this type of impact.
A young woman came up to me at the end of our second campaign the year after which you needed to come up to $2,000 short and told me that for two years, every night when she walked home from dancing all night, she would see our volunteer team building boxes and painting steins.
She’d watched this for two years and it had been inspiring for her. She wanted to let me know that she’d noticed that she wasn’t the only one. She handed over an envelope and left. Inside the envelope was a personal check for the $2,000 we’d come up short that year. I’d never seen her before. It was in those moments and many others where I started to realize for all of the grades I got and all the awards I was handed and everything else, what people remembered and what mattered more to me and made me proud of her are people coming up and saying, “You weren’t paying attention.”
This mattered to me in pursuit of something else. My bigger work is this. The lollipop moment represents the fact that leadership exists in an individual moment. What was the lollipop moment? When I gave the guy the lollipop and caused that, or was it what she told me four years later? Someone called and asked me that because they were having a debate in their classroom.
It was one of my friends who was featured. I was like, “I have no idea. I’ve never thought of that. Maybe both. It is both. It’s interpersonal impact.” The key to the lollipop moment story is it was an accident. I had no intention of creating that moment. I was flirting. It’s that simple. I had no intention of creating that moment. What I work on now is if we can redefine leadership as moments like that, the key is to not do them accidentally.
The key is to how do we consciously create them. Good leaders live their values and create moments of impact whenever they get the chance. Great leaders separate from good leaders because great leaders create opportunities. That’s the difference. My work is getting people to realize that if leadership exists in these moments of impact, everyone can create these moments of impact.
We are all a type of leader. I get all kinds of pushback, saying if everyone is a leader, it devalues leadership. In the same way, if I paid for my college, nobody else should have their loans forgiven. The whole idea is that we can take a look and say not everyone can or wants or should be a CEO or senior executive, but there is a form of leadership to which we all can and should aspire. It’s one that a lot of people who have power and influence and titles skip over every day. That’s what’s key.
Leadership can be a role, but what you’re talking about is a way of being by understanding your power because we are leaders of self. How we show up is making a difference. In the Compassion Lab, clearly, it’s about compassion, thus the name, but it’s also about interconnectivity and conscious leadership. Conscious leadership, whether through the role or through individual action and lifetime, means that you’re awake and aware to what you want to create, who you want to be in that moment, and what type of impact you wish to have.
You can’t always predict how it’s going to turn out, but you can show up fully right on who you are. It’s one of the reasons we talk so much about doing this work being aware and caring for yourself and making sure that you are your best and highest so that you can create the moments you’re talking about. If we all did that, what could the world be? Let’s imagine that for a minute.
It’s weird because people call me a motivational speaker. I’ve always balked at that. Part of it is I grew up in the era of Matt Foley, Van Down by the River. When you hear a motivational speaker, you think of a farce. I don’t try to be motivating. I want to be useful. One of the things that are important to me is that life and work are distracting. I was trying to come up with a plan to make sure I did the bare minimum every day. I wish I could say I was more ambitious or I was more positive. My problem is this, I am not entirely sure that collectively, we can work together to solve some big problems.
I don’t know if collectively we’ll do it. I know that the only real leadership that I know works is individual leadership. That’s what I hammer away because I’m like, “If we can all get together on it, there’s a pandemic. It exists. I’m not sure. I do know that even with people with whom I have vicious political arguments, there is an ability to create human moments that all of us have. What’s happening, unfortunately, in the world is that we’re being told by small groups of people with a lot of power that certain people in this world don’t even deserve you to create moments of impact for them. They are less than. They shouldn’t be treated well.” I was guilty of sometimes buying into that when you watch the news or read articles anywhere else.
Again, there’s that possibility that says the only real leadership that we control is our own. My belief is that while we can’t control other people’s behavior, we can influence it. We can model what is acceptable. If more and more people model a certain type of behavior and embrace leadership as creating positive moments of impact, that is where we create a global cultural shift. That’s possible. The key would be, do we use the technology at our disposal to highlight this type of treatment of one another, which we do to some degree. Humans of New York, for instance, is a wonderful example. There are always these videos that people put online. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s a young kid, a rugby player, where one of his teammates is saying, “I’m too small. I suck.” This kid TED Lasso’s the guy. He’s like, “You’re amazing. You’re spectacular.”
There are always those moments. Was it Mr. Rogers who said, “Look for the helpers?” There will always be the helpers. For me, it’s hard sometimes to cut through all of the noise and the negativity and see that in others. I want to try to create it around me. When I say the bare minimum, what I mean is most days, you have to pay more attention to your to-do list than your to-be list. You know you want to be a good person. You want to live your values. You want to create a positive impact, but you have to get stuff done because you have obligations to your family, partners, and work. We fill in our to-be list when we have extra time of which there’s never a ton.The ability to create individual moments of impact, compassion, forgiveness, and empowerment is a power accessible to all of us. Click To Tweet
The Zeigarnik Effect
There’s going to be an awful lot of days where nothing goes the way you want. Any plan I give you to try to be a better human and le that only works when you’re having a good day or when you’ve got some extra time, it’s not going to work, let’s face it. For me, what are the six values you want to stand for every day? I learned from some psych professors that putting an unanswered question into your brain changes your behavior without your knowledge. You stick a question to your brain. You never give up on it until it finds an answer or it makes one up.
That was your brain refusing to let go of the question. It hates unanswered questions. Here’s the problem. If it couldn’t have found that answer, it would have made one up and convinced you that it’s true. A lot of the decisions we make are based on the fact that we’re not dealing with facts. We’re dealing with the fact that our brain didn’t have an answer and it said, “This one might make sense.” What that means is that instead of telling myself, “I want to be someone of courage, I want it to be somewhat of self-respect or class or empowerment,” instead of going out every day, trying to do something that lives those words, I have a question for every one of them.
Courage is what did I try that might not work and I tried it anyway? Impact is what did I do today to recognize someone else’s leadership? Self-respect is what did I do today to be good to myself? Empowerment is what did I do today to move someone else closer to a goal? When did I elevate a situation instead of escalating it for class? What happens is behavioral psych says, I stick those questions up in my brain. Maybe even if I put them on my phone and three times a day, they pop up as a reminder, one of those recurring meetings, that I’m significantly more likely to engage in behaviors that live those values because I can’t answer the questions without living in the value. If I recognize someone else’s leadership, I have lived in impact.
I have created a moment where they feel better off. If I have an answer to what did I try now that might not work, I take action in the face of the possibility of loss because it might not work. For me, each of the questions, I have a six-question test that I call the leadership test. Each one of them drives a behavior that’s tied to the values I care about. Every day I try to pass the test, three questions out of six. I get up every morning and act like I have to prove I deserve tomorrow. Imagine if your boss stood at the doorway of your office. Before you left, he gave you quiz or she gave you a quiz.
You have to pass it or you don’t have a job tomorrow. The key is that you’re given the questions in the morning. If you came into work and your boss is like, “You need to have three answers out of these six questions at the end of the day, or you’re fired.” The questions would be non-negotiable. That is what I try to do with my process of leadership. Here are the values. Here’s what they mean. Here are the questions. Every single day, I try to get 3 of those six questions. What behavioral psych tells me is this, if I have a question in my brain, even if I’m not thinking about it, it says, “What did I do today to recognize someone else’s leadership?” What will happen is the instant an opportunity appears where I could do that, my brain goes, “Do it.”
Where before, it might’ve let it slip by. I might’ve been distracted. Even when the question isn’t present consciously, as soon as an opportunity to answer it shows up, your brain jumps all over it because it wants to relieve the psychic discomfort that exists from having an unanswered question. The brain doesn’t like unanswered questions, and it hates unfinished tasks.
Anybody who’s ever tried to chill out and watch a movie when you were starting to do, you know you feel uncomfortable. That is a scientific term. It’s called the Zeigarnik effect. That unfinished tasks weigh on you psychically until they are completed. It’s much easier for you to recall and pay attention to them than tasks you’ve already done. It’s also why, even if you’ve done 80% of your work, you’re still feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything because there’s still the 20%.
We leveraged that to make our brains do the crap that we wanted out of ourselves because life, work, school and relationships all get in the way of us being who we want to be. All of my questions, I don’t answer them on top of my work. I can answer them through my work. It also is a principle. Even when you’re having a meeting and we’re debating what to do, inevitably, somebody can say, “Which option answers the most questions?”
For what it’s worth for managers or executives, we have a lesson when it comes to integrity within my organization, which is as you’re discussing different courses of action if the word technically is used to justify one of the courses of action, don’t do it. As soon as somebody at the table goes, “Technically, we’re not,” I’m like, “Don’t even finish the sentence.” If the word technically is being used, you’re doing something shifty.
Your passion is so clear. The distinction of the questions makes such a difference.
Honestly, it’s weird. What I was starting to say is that when you do what I do, like you go and give speeches on creating powerful modes of impact, the idea is that you’re super upbeat and optimistic. Maybe this is why it resonates with some people, is it’s almost driven from a cynical place, which is if I don’t have a process to make sure I close the gap between the person I want to be and how I’m behaving, I won’t do it. I don’t think I’m that good a guy, but what I’ve tried to do is I want to do good things. I feel bad when I do things that are less than the man I want to be.
You got much better looking after seventeen, too.
I look at it this way. I’ve tried to give myself tools to arm my better angels against the demons in my life because my demons seem to be incredibly well-funded and supported from many places. What I tried to do is acknowledge that you don’t have to be a good person. You don’t have to be morally pure. You don’t have to be the type of person that when your friend asks, “Can you help me move this weekend?” Your first thought is, “No.” That doesn’t make you a bad person. There’s this toxic positivity out there.
If your instinct isn’t to do the right thing right away, then what you need to do is clean up your character and figure out how to embrace this world with love. Everybody who doesn’t know how to do that yet feels like they’re failing. For everybody out there, I seriously talked about creating moments of powerful interpersonal impact. I honestly am not a super optimist. I am not someone who’s like, “The world needs to be driven by love.”
I’m like, “The world isn’t driven by love all that much.” Am I going to bitch about it, or am I going to try to make sure that at least three times a day, I have a non-negotiable set of behaviors that even at the end of the day, when I’m like, “Everything sucked today,” but three times I was the man I wanted to be?” Some days it’s all you get. We don’t have an answer to, “Why do I matter?” because at the end of e day, we can’t look and be like, “They’ll tell you something.” Every answer I write them off at the end of the day is evidence that I matter. Forever I thought it took arrogance and cockiness to be willing to say that at the end of the day. I’m mad, but I literally can write down three reasons I matter now.
I don’t do it to be awesome. Does it save days for me? I’m not like, “I matter these three ways.” That deal that I completely blow doesn’t matter. No, it still is. At least at the end of every day, I can stop making it so that the phrase I’m the type of person who is frequently followed by a lie in this world. “I’m the type of person who,” No, you’re not. No, I’m not. I tried to cook up a belief in myself that if I can identify three moments in every day that I lived the value I stand for, then I mattered.
I might’ve failed, I might’ve sucked, I might’ve screwed up fifteen things, but I generated momentum. We want to matter. We want to lead. We want to make a difference. I honestly think we to plan to matter, plan to lead, and plan to make a difference. You don’t have to be a good person. You just have to want to do good things. A lot of us are like, “What’s the point? I’m a bad person.”
So much gets into beliefs. Jason would be proud. It’s about choosing dynamic personal responsibility and compassionate responsibility for yourself because you’re not going to be perfect. We all have our flaws and demons who are hard to slay, but the better angels are there. There’s proof of it all the time. We get to say, “I’m going to engage my angels more.” That’s what you’re doing and teaching other people to do. If we get programmed into the system for the first twenty years, we need people like you and others to show us a new vista, something that could be better, more fun, and more free with greater possibilities. It’s beautiful. Before I ask you my last question, are you up for a few lightning-round questions?
As you can guess, I’m not great at the lightning round, but yes, fire away.
If you could orchestrate a round table of people to will invent the new world, who is invited to this party? You can choose three.
First off, I want me out of there. I got to be honest. I probably don’t know the three best people to do that. If I knew I had that, the consultation process ahead of time would be remarkable. I’m not trying to be clever here, but I swear to God, the first thing I would do if I was put on a panel on how to create the new world is recused myself from that panel and ask if I could pick somebody else and then go about finding that person. I don’t know enough. I do worry that I don’t have enough hope some days where I’d be the right person for that. You’re going to want a cynic or two on the panel. You can only have idealists. There’s a difference in being a realist and being somebody who craps out other people, but I wouldn’t make that decision. I don’t think I’m qualified for it. I know that’s a cop-out.
No, it’s a fair answer. There’s no wrong answer in the lightning round.Great leaders separate from good leaders because great leaders create opportunities. Click To Tweet
The three most powerful words and leadership are, I don’t know.
This one might be even more difficult. Can you define your life’s purpose in one word?
The last one I would ask you is, what do you think is the most important quality of being human?
Empathy. The ability and the willingness to attempt to see anything, a thing, an activity, an emotion, a perspective from another creature’s perspective is relatively human. I don’t know if there are other creatures that can do that. I shouldn’t speak out of turn, but all the research shows how crucial it is for leadership. The easiest way to look at the answer to that question is what is missing in the worst places in humanity. If you take a look at the worst places where the worst things are happening in the world that has happened, what is the thing that’s missing in those things?
Empathy would be a common answer to that. The ability to see other humans as humans and the ability to not only see them as human but recognize that they have a perspective on the world that is not necessarily identical to yours and being interested in capable of attempting to figure out what it is. Usually, when empathy goes, humanity goes.
Part of the fundamental mission and purpose of the Compassion Lab is to help raise that level of understanding and empathetic consciousness to know that we are all in this together. Can we all solve problems equally? The diversity of our uniqueness, the question that I answered you on why I matter the fact that we’re all unique, makes that difficult, but we can seek to understand the beauty and that we’re all in this thing together in creating and inventing. Thank you for that. Before I ask you my closing question, I do want to make sure people know how to find you. They want to know more. They want to hear the TED Talks or hear more about what you’re putting out in the world. Where do they do that?
The best place is DrewDudley.com, and on pretty much all the social media that all people use. I am @DayOneDrew. TikTok isn’t included. I don’t think vines are a thing anymore. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, @DayOneDrew. Middle-aged social media, that’s where you will find me.
Last closing question. Drew, you have shared so much heart and passion. You’ve covered a lot here, but what would be one piece of wisdom you would leave our readers with? It might be something that you received from a great teacher. It might’ve been in the a-ha moments. Again, you shared a lot, but what would you want to leave this conversation with?
In my book, I talk to veterans I met on a train who had met on D-Day together. He told me not to use the word best or greatest. He said greatest is the enemy of great because the way he looked at it is that everything that happens in our lives, we immediately slot into where it ranks on all of the experiences in our lives, which means we have one greatest kiss and one most beautiful sunset, one of the most delicious meals.
Numbers 2 through 50 are pretty great, but because instantly, as soon as we have an experience that isn’t the best ever, we devalue how good it was because of this number three, but it was spectacular. He said so many of us ignore the great things in our lives because they’re not the greatest thing. My lived experience makes it hard to answer it. There’s nothing wrong with it. Every time I do it, Jimmy and Earl, I have a picture of that in my head.
What I do in my book is I talk about one of the ways of surfacing our values is to come up with your edge of the bed advice, which is if your son or daughter or someone you love so much, you want their life to be better than yours was about to leave your house for good. They asked you to sit down on the edge of their bed that night and be like, “What do I need to know?” Exactly what you asked, but not just one, because one is so much pressure. I wrote 30 down as part of my book. I asked people to write 30. For what it’s worth, Jimmy said, “Anytime you get asked what’s the best, tell people about the great line,” which is in your head you draw the line. It’s the great line. Whenever you have an experience, all you ask is, “Was that above the great line?” If it was, that’s it.
No ranking, no highly compares. Throw it in the great. In answer to your question with a long preamble, here are a few above the great line. One, greatest is the enemy of great. I liked that a lot. There is nothing in this world that cannot be made better by a sleep and a shower. I’m not saying it will be solved. There are a lot more Rosalin in this world than there are Juliets. For those of you who don’t remember grade ten English, Rosaline is the girl that Romeo cannot live without at the beginning of that play.
In the whole first scene, he’s pining over this woman. She is his sun, moon, and stars. Not only do we not even meet this woman, we don’t hear about her again because he met Juliet. Most of the stuff in your life that you want is a Rosaline, not a Juliet. The last one is it is important to remember that both Romeo and Juliet die at the end of that story. Here is an unfortunate but important life lesson, love does not conquer all. Love, however, has an incredibly good winning percentage. Love is LeBron James. You should adjust your expectations for life and love accordingly, but love doesn’t conquer all.
If you go into life believing that it does, at some point, you could get hurt badly. It doesn’t conquer all, but it makes everything better. When you get it, honor it and respect it for what it’s worth. It shows up on its own damn timeline. I was 38 years old before I fell in love for the first time. One piece of advice I would give everyone is that major life milestones happen on everybody’s own schedule. There’s no hole in your life that cannot be filled with self-respect. Let’s make that the last one.
When you talk about the timeline, it goes back to what we talked about earlier. There is the system and the way and the rules, and then there’s your own unique, beautiful, fierce, courageous path that happens in its own good time. Thank you, Drew. This was so much fun and rich with depth and provocative thinking. I appreciate you.
You got me when I’m tired, which means I probably said stuff I should not have at some point. Thanks for asking great questions. It’s so much fun to explore ideas. For the last one, for anybody who’s reading, the story is the basic unit of human than understanding. Many of the smartest and best stories I’ve ever gotten came from people who didn’t want us to tell them because we think our stories are boring, unimportant, or less impressive than others. You have no idea when your story will hit or who it will hit, but please put it out into the world. I know that sounds cheesy. That sounds like a motivational speaker, for what it’s worth. I have had my life saved a couple of times by someone’s story that arrived at the right moment and they didn’t want to tell it because they didn’t think it was important.
Tell your story. Somebody out there will hear it and it will matter. Often, you do not know. We’ve got to stop keeping a tab with the universe. “I put this much in. I should get this much back.” Do not keep a tally with the universe. It will not pay you back just to piss you off. Don’t keep track. Just put it out there. I can’t guarantee it will come back. Reach for the stars. You’re not going to get them, but you’re not going to come up with a handful of mud either.
You never know how it’ll come back. With all the amazing things you’ve shared, my challenge to everyone reading as we end this conversation is to know that you matter, to know that your story is worthy of being told, and to know that you have the power moment by moment to change someone’s life. Go forth and do it. Make that happen. Thanks again, Drew.
My absolute pleasure. It was an honor.
- Drew Dudley
- This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- @DayOneDrew – Instagram
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About Drew Dudley
Called one of the most inspirational TED speakers in the world, Drew Dudley is on a mission to redefine leadership. With more than five million views, his TED talk “Everyday Leadership (The Lollipop Moment)” proved that leadership is not a characteristic of an elite few, but one that lives within us all. Through his high-energy talks, Dudley shares practical and actionable insights on creating cultures of leadership that lead to higher levels of pride, productivity, happiness, and retention. He empowers audiences and equips them with the tools needed to make a difference, at home and work.
Dudley is the founder and Chief Catalyst of Day One Leadership, where he has helped organizations around the world increase their leadership capacity. His clients have included such dynamic companies as McDonald’s, JP Morgan Chase, the United Way, and more than 75 colleges and universities.
Prior to founding Day One, Dudley spent eight years as the director of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto, and served as a national chair of one of Canada’s largest youth charities, which mobilized 35,000 volunteers to raise $1 million dollars annually in support of Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
Dudley’s passion for personal leadership has inspired millions of people worldwide to embrace the belief that leadership is something that we all can and should aspire to. He has been featured in The Huffington Post, Radio America, Forbes.com, and TED.com, where his talk was voted “one of the 15 most inspirational TED talks of all time”. TIME, Business Insider, and Inc. magazines have all named his talk one of their “10 speeches that will make you a better leader”.
A bestselling author, Dudley’s book This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters debuted at #6 on The Wall Street Journal bestseller List and has gone on to become an international bestseller.
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