An interview with Mark C. Crowley
author of Lead from the Heart:
Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century
- [0:01:04] Employee engagement.
- [0:13:16] Hiring people with heart.
- [0:18:56] Connect on a personal level. Manager as a coach.
- [0:21:43] If you don’t give a shit about people, none of this is going to work.
- [0:24:28] Maximize employee potential.
- [0:26:27] Flow.
- [0:32:25] The boss who doesn’t care about you.
- [0:34:10] Value and honor achievements.
- [0:37:17] The heart is a feeling, sensing organ.
- [0:42:23] Work From Home.
- [0:49:44] How the wrong people get promoted.
- [0:55:58] Organizational culture and values.
[Andrew] Hello! My name is Andrew Everett and today my guest is Mark Crowley. He has 25 years in the banking industry followed by extensive research on employee engagement. He speaks to global audiences about organizational culture and leadership. He’s written more than 25 articles in Fast Company magazine. And he’s written Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century. Thank you very much, Mark, for coming on to talk today.
[Mark] I’m thrilled to be here Andrew. It’s fun to see the book like that.
[Andrew] When it’s a four-color tangible book it kind of comes to life.
[Andrew] In your book you talked about some pretty dismal statistics about employee disengagement. I think that really kind of sets the framework for why a new approach to leadership is so important. So why don’t we start with that. On page 10 you said, “How we lead people today — how we seek to make people productive in the workplace — is so detached from the new reality that it’s actually become a destructive influence.” And you quoted a Towers Perrin study that said only 21% of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs. So the corollary to that would be that 79% must be disengaged. It’s a huge productivity problem. And I read an article that you wrote subsequently that said the problem’s gotten even worse. I know you’ve spoken to the people who’ve actually conducted the research for the Conference Board and you’ve spoken to the CEO of Gallup. So you have really gone on a deep dive into this employee engagement research. So maybe we could start with that.
[Mark] Well I think the big picture is that we’ve had this traditional view of workers. We’ve really only been having companies and corporations for basically only about 100 plus years. So what we typically thought to do was to bring people in and treat them like machines. And the funny thing is that we’ve created this language around “our employees are our greatest asset” but we treat them like a liability… So the idea has always been let’s pay people as little as possible and squeeze as much out of them as possible and that’s the way that we’re going to drive the greatest revenue and income for the owners, whether that shareholders or somebody owns the business. Up until recently people were willing to do that. It didn’t necessarily mean that people were happy doing that, but people were willing to take that exchange because it allowed them to meet their basic needs for food, shelter. So meeting their basic needs and supporting their families and making sure that they had an income, people were willing to go to work every day and get a paycheck and companies basically took advantage of that. They offered their employees very little in exchange for their work beyond that. So big picture is that 75 years ago psychologist named Abraham Maslow was really the first person who laid out this idea that people need and want much more than just meeting their basic needs. But if all you have in front of you is the challenge of meeting your basic needs then what Maslow was talking about was irrelevant. So now you fast forward 75 years later and most people in America… so we’ve reached a point Andrew where most people… and this certainly has been blown up by the Covid pandemic. We’re really talking in the big picture here… But what we have is a society that can afford to put a roof over their head and put food on their table. And as a result of that they’re looking at work very differently and they’re saying I need to have much more than just a paycheck. I want meaning. I want purpose. I want growth. I want to be recognized and appreciated for what I’m doing. I want to work with people that I enjoy. I want to feel cared for. I want to feel valued. And so what we have is this old model and we’ve continued to pass it on from generation to generation. My granddad managed this way. My dad managed this way. I’m managing this way. And so we fought any change which basically says, “what if what we’ve been doing no longer works? What if it never really worked all that well, but what if today the circumstances are very different?” And so I think the validation of this is that the engagement numbers across the world are really bad. And they haven’t gotten much better. They were improving a little bit heading into the Covid pandemic, largely because companies were paying people, which sort of undermines my whole argument. But when people are getting more money pay is still a driver of engagement and people are making more money so they’re feeling a little bit better. But the numbers were still very low.
And I’ll say this just to sort of lean into this conversation. But I’m changing my opinion on this. Because now we have the pandemic, and engagement is still an issue, but I think well-being is becoming an even bigger issue. Because I think people have been forced to work remotely they’re away from their people they don’t know when this is going to go over mental health issues have become a very big crisis in this country. And they were leaning into that before. So we haven’t really made the transition. So my principal argument is we need to basically erase the whole whiteboard, start all over. And it starts with hiring people who really truly care about the success growth and well-being of other people. And you can drive great performance that way because it matches up to what people need and why.
[Andrew] It’s like treating people like human beings instead of human capital.
[Mark] Well I mean the thing is that people keep saying we need to be more human in leadership and I just totally disagree with that. We need to be more humane. Humans have good sides and we have not so good sides. And the dark side is what comes out under stress. So if your company isn’t doing well or if your company is being pressured to hit a quarterly number you look around and you go what can we do? Well we can’t drive revenue that quickly so let’s lay off 100 people. That’s the dark side. Or let’s cut pay. Or let’s cut benefits. Or let’s do something to take away from employees. And the minute you start taking away from people, you destroy trust. Because people are saying I’m killing myself here and the first thing you do is go to me? You want to take advantage of me in order to meet this? So I think it’s really more about being humane and about truly being caring about people. And it has to come authentically. It has to come from here.
[Andrew] You mentioned layoffs and I think that in terms of talking about the long-term trend. The classic thing about your grandfather or your great-grandfather could go work for General Electric or IBM and stay their whole their whole life at one company. We have a much more transient workforce now. Companies get acquired and then lay off 20,000 people and their stock goes up. Silicon Valley is kind of a revolving door of people wanting to go to the next startup to get in and on an IPO. Seems like there’s just a climate of the company’s less loyal to me so I’m less loyal to the company. Do you think that plays into it?
[Mark] Yeah, I mean I think every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if you have companies that are you know instinctively laying off people or taking away benefits or making people feel vulnerable. When you go back to Maslow besides food water and shelter the next most fundamental need that people have is for safety — emotional and psychological safety. So every time we do something that you know destabilizes how people feel people feel like well wait a minute here I’m the next guy out the door if something else happens here. So screw these people I’m going to go somewhere else. That’s kind of our instinctive reaction. So now you’ve got people that are saying what I’m looking out for my own career and I’m not going to get caught up with that. Interestingly my father spent 42 years with General Electric. Worked his way up to one of the most senior level positions in the company and that’s sort of unheard of but today. But what’s interesting is that I think there’s enough science around this to show that all of this rapid turnover is not only costly to organizations, but it’s really disruptive. And they ultimately don’t perform that well. Like, there’s no evidence that if you lay off 10,000 people that suddenly your company is going to turn around.
[Andrew] You lose your institutional memory for one thing.
[Mark] You do. You lose your institutional memory. And not only that you have you lose people’s hearts. And I meant what I mean is that if all you’re doing is undermining the well-being of people then people start to feel that. And everything is reciprocity. If you do something generous for me I’m going to give back to you. And if you take from me and make me feel threatened I’m going to give that back to you too. So we reap what we sow is really what it comes down to.
[Andrew] The conversation so far is kind of focused on in terms of the reasons for this being more profit driven but I’m wondering does this phenomenon exist also in the non-profit and government sectors. Government employees are the only sector that still has pensions basically so people stick around for a long time but do they stick around… There’s actually a great quote from another book I read that says “the only thing worse than somebody who quits and leaves is somebody who quits and stays.” That was from James Autry, author of Confessions of an Accidental Businessman. But anyway, I guess the question is do you see this disengagement problem only in the for-profit sector or is this across the board?
[Mark] No, to use the word now appropriately, it’s a human issue. So if just think about it. If I hire you and I bring you into a government position or to a non-profit and I give you the luxury of saying well if you stay here for 30 years you’re going to get a pension. Five or six years into that you’re like, Hey that’s only 24 more years so I’m going to hang in there. So what do you do during those 24 years and how committed are you? And how creative are you? How innovative? How hard are you willing to work for that organization? And so what it really comes down to is that if you have a manager who truly cares about you, who truly invests in you, who challenges you, who gives you opportunities for growth and opportunities to take bigger responsibilities even laterally, all that suddenly means I love going to work. And when you have people loving going to work they’re going to do great stuff. If you have people that are just turning out the calendar pages, 23 years, 22 years, you can just imagine the kind of work that those people are doing. They’re just phoning it in.
[Andrew] 3000 days to retirement. 2999 days to retirement.
[Mark] I spoke at one of the largest, I won’t say which, United States government agency that really had a need for this kind of information and I have to tell you these people were just phoning it in. Every single one of the people that I work with was just phoning it in. Because there was just no inspiration there. We had technical difficulties and they were trying to solve it and everybody in the room was calling their spouse at four o’clock saying I’m not going to be home on time because we’ve got this problem. And I was like wow like you’re just rushing out the door at four o’clock. I can’t get home to walk the dogs. And I’m like I was just astonished by how uncommitted they were. It was all about the clock. It wasn’t about trying to solve the problem or sticking it out and doing the right thing. So it just struck me this is an agency that has lost heart completely.
[Andrew] We’ve started out on a negative note defining the problem. Let’s turn it around and figure out what to do about it. You have your four practices of leading from the heart in your book. Could we go through those?
[Mark] Sure. You want to start?
[Andrew] [#1] So the first one is hiring people with heart.
[Mark] What this really means is a lot of times we have an employee and they do well and they’re working well for us and then we have another opportunity. There’s another job totally unrelated. And we go well you know Bill’s doing a good job here, let’s put Bill into this job. And what we don’t really think about is Bill like excited about this kind of work? does he want to make this kind of a move? Is this something that’s in Bill’s best interest to do this? Has Bill even got the talents for this? So we just sort of I and I’ve seen this throughout my career, this idea of just filling positions as opposed to filling it with people who like really love that kind of work. And holding the discipline of saying I’m not going to fill this position until I have someone who not only has the talent for this but who has the heart for it, who really is passionate about it, likes this kind of work. Because that’s really what makes the difference. Sometimes we hire people that don’t have the talent but I think most of the time we do a good enough job in the interview process to put people in who have the skills to do it. The question is, did they get up every day and say I really enjoy this kind of work and I’m going to do my best at it. It’s important because there are certain attributes that we need to look for in every job and if we don’t have the discipline in saying “what are those attributes?” and then making sure that we hire people with those attributes you’re going to end up with people who may have the talent but really aren’t passionate about doing that kind of work ‒ and it’s dead on arrival. You just can’t elevate people who just aren’t really excited about doing the kind of work. So it takes a lot of effort to know what you’re looking for and then you’re feeling pressure because there’s goals that have to be met and just go let’s just fill this with just hire that guy and then three months later he realized that guy isn’t the right person. And so now you have to start all over and you’ve disrupted the team and what do you do with that guy? Sorry but that didn’t work out. Well that’s a leadership problem. So it’s really having the disciplines to hire people who really love the kind of work that you’re doing. And the interesting thing is, there are people that embalm bodies for a living in mortuaries. That’s a job I wouldn’t want, but when you talk to people who are doing it, you’ll say well our family’s been in this business for a hundred years and we’re extremely caring and people want to bring their family members here because of the way we treat them. And so it’s like, oh, well it’s a totally different experience that I would be able to relate to. But those are the kinds of people that you want to hire in a mortuary. So it works the same way.
[Andrew] Hiring seems like it’s a really critical and very difficult aspect of management, not only in terms of getting the person capable of doing the individual job, but being a part of the organization as a whole, fitting in with the culture of the organization.
[Mark] Well I found that the best way to solve that problem is to take highly talented, highly successful people in the very role that you’re hiring for and bring them into the interviewing process and to give them a true say. I used to be in financial services and I would have managers reporting to me and I would bring in two or three or even four other high-performing, I’ll call them actualized, people that really understood the job, who get it really well, and who understand all the dimensions of it. And what it takes from a personality standpoint to work with the people that were already there. And I would interview people and then I would bring in my final candidates. So I’m basically saying any of these people could do this job. Which one do you want? And they would have the instinct of would the rest of the team like this person? Does the person have the right personality for this? Do they have the right drive? Are they going to cooperate versus compete? All those kinds of nuances that they can pick up in an instant. And I’ve had many times where I went in thinking it’s going to be candidate A that everybody loved, and find out that the last thing in the world they would want to do is hire candidate A. I always went with their recommendation and never backfired on me. So thoughtfully hiring is a very important part of this.
[Andrew] Do you think that that’s because different people ask different questions and surface different issues or do you think it’s more about just the chemistry of the personalities?
[Mark] Let’s face it. You go into a job interview. Your goal is to impress. You want to win the job. But I think that somebody who’s in the job already doing the job can pick up from just the conversation and how people are thinking and how they’re responding to me. I’m the more senior person so the person they think that they have to impress is me because I’m the big chief in the room. And they’re looking to see if there’s integrity with that. Like, would you give me the same answer? I think that’s intuition. There’s an intuitive sense of whether or not somebody’s going to be a good fit or not. And when you get three of them in the room and they all have the same answer, you’re very wise to let them make that choice.
[Andrew] [#2] Point two was heart to heart, connect on a personal level.
[Mark] We’ve always thought that leave your troubles at the door. And I don’t really care that much about who you are. I mean I know who you are and I know you have some kids and I know you like to hike but basically I don’t really get into those conversations. That’s sort of the relationship. Our relationship is work. I give you your assignments. You do them. I give you rewards. I give you a review. I give you some bonuses and incentives and whatever. And that’s really our relationship. And I’m saying it can no longer be that. A manager’s role is to be like a coach. I’d actually like to take any manager of people, I’d like to just reinvent that and say we don’t have that anymore. What we have is a coach. Because a coach is an advocate. A coach is someone who wants to get to know you. I don’t mean go for Sunday dinner at their house or have go have beers with them. I mean get to know the person what their aspirations of work are and what are the challenges that you face in doing your work. Do you have an elderly parent? Do you have a kid who’s struggling in school? Are you going through a divorce, if they want to share that with you. Just knowing what’s going on in their life gives you insight, but only if you’re going to use that insight. Let’s say you have an hour-long commute. It’s an hour-long commute in a normal day but some days like Mondays everyone’s on the road it takes an hour and a half and you get into work at nine o’clock and you’re frustrated. What if I said, Andrew why don’t you why don’t you leave your house at nine o’clock? You want to work till six o’clock or seven o’clock and avoid the traffic? Come in an hour later avoid the traffic. What if you have school kids that want to be taken to school. I don’t mind it. Just get your work done. I don’t care what hours you’re working. It’s having some flexibility. So the point I’m really trying to make is the more you understand what’s going on in someone’s life and understand what their individual interests are in terms of growing in their career, you can then do things for them. So I’ve had people come to me and say I want your job. And I’ve had some people say I’m very content in the job that I have. So the developmental opportunities for those people is different in the sense that I’ve got to do some things to challenge the person who wants my job and give them real clear opportunities to help them get there if they’re qualified, but the other people… What’s something you might still like to learn? So let’s do some things to get you deeper so that you feel even better in this job even though you have no growth aspirations beyond that. So you’re managing people uniquely as a result of this. That’s really what this is about.
[Andrew] Clearly it has to be sincere. It’s not just kind of get to know people.
[Mark] Yeah. It’s interesting because before this I received a tweet from Tom Peters. Everybody’s heard of In Search of Excellence. I tweeted something out about this new Ohio State study. When somebody’s upset about something, if you just say to them “I can understand why you’re upset with that Andrew” that it instantly changes their state of being and eliminates the negative emotions that they’re experiencing. And that in the control group that those people that were angry about a situation that didn’t have somebody intervene and say that to them, marinated in the negative emotions. So that’s what the study was. I tweeted that out. Tom Peters responded immediately, and said “Yeah, but…” He calls this give-a-shitism.
[Mark] If you don’t give a shit about people then none of this is going to work. And so I’m saying well I’m not really managing to the lowest common denominator. I’m hoping that the people that are interested in my work are already on board with: I have to care about my people. I’m interested in how do I do that. But you start off there. If you don’t really care about people, and I have an interesting stat on that in a second, you’re never going to succeed as a leader any longer. I fundamentally believe that. And Gallup has shown interestingly that basically only a third of people on the planet have what I’ve come to call a caring gene. There’s plenty of people on the planet that just want their own money. They want their own growth. They want their own success. They’re not really interested in what happens to other people. It’s like, “Good luck to you Andrew. It’s not like I don’t want you to do well, I just don’t care about it.” But if you’re managing somebody that’s not a good attribute. It’s interesting because when you look at engagement it’s right about a third of the people that are engaged in America and then you Have only a third of managers that really care about people. If you aggregate this. So it’s sort of an interesting statistic. So it validates my whole theory. If you don’t care about the success, growth, and well-being of other people you shouldn’t be in a leadership role.
[Andrew] A good summary of that would be something that you tweeted recently which is, I like this phrase, “emotional curiosity.”
[Mark] Yeah! What do you like about it?
[Andrew] You tweeted, “emotional curiosity: a desire to learn about and to know what motivates and inspires other people.” So I think it kind of summarizes exactly what you were just saying.
[Andrew] [#3] Number three is empower the heart, maximize employee potential.
[Mark] This is really about growth. One of the things that we’ve learned and I’ve as you started off earlier, I’ve gotten to develop quite a relationship with Gallup. A lot a lot of people just poo poo the whole engagement thing and think it’s hokum and doesn’t really mean anything. I totally disagree. Although as we talked earlier about this shift into well-being, I think that’s really where we need to go because how Covid and the pandemic has been this catalyst. But one of the things that Gallup has really been able to prove is that the sense that I am “growing” is one of the greatest drivers of engagement there is. So whether you’re the guy who or the woman that wants to take my job, the example I gave you a minute ago, or you’re the person who just really wants to just finish their career doing what they’re doing, they still want to grow. They still want to get up every morning knowing I’m learning, I’m cultivating new skills, I’m being challenged. And so a job of a leader now is really to make sure that people are constantly being nudged, even being pushed, not in a bad way but pushed in a very positive way, to be learning. So that could be taking classes. That could be given temporary assignments that broaden their abilities and work with different people in a different department or a different area or whatever. It could be reading books and discussing them. There’s a million ways to keep people engaged from a growth standpoint. But if you don’t do that, once people start to feel stale and they start like I’ve learned this job and I don’t really have anything else to do and I’m just putting in my time, people are dead inside. So the way to keep them alive inside is to keep them growing
[Andrew] Interesting. What this reminds me of is… Are you familiar with the concept of flow?
[Mark] Of course.
[Andrew] I’ll butcher the pronunciation but it’s a Hungarian psychology professor. Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi. To be in a state of flow you have to have high competence and high challenge.
[Mark] It’s a very good point that you’re making. You’re keeping people in flow regardless of whether they’re their aspirations… Sometimes you think that growth has to be like this. Right? From a career standpoint the only way you’re going to be happy is if you keep getting promoted, promoted, promoted. And that’s just not true for most people. What’s true is, you get up and you go to work and you find out that “hey, we’re going to give you this opportunity.” And by the way, the learning doesn’t necessarily have to be job related. This is a mistake that a lot of managers make. You’re in accounting. So we’re going to send you to an Excel class and you’re going to master Excel because that’ll speed up your work with accounting. Okay that’s good. But what about teaching me how to buy a house? What about teaching me how to buy a car? Refinance a home? Or here’s some insight on how to be thinking about your retirement and your investments. And bringing people in to speak about that. How about speaking about mental health and your well-being and diet. And all kinds of things that are unrelated seemingly to the work itself, but what happens is that people just feel so grateful that you’re making that effort to teach them and it broadens them. I believe anytime you improve one discipline in life you’re automatically improving all disciplines of life. Knowledge doesn’t stop. I just learned this information but I can only apply it here. So they become more able to have more intellectual conversations with people and they it influences their thinking and ultimately people do better work. So that’s what I mean.
[Andrew] How does this how does this relate to the concept of mentoring?
[Mark] Well like I said it really comes down to the word coaching. I’m indifferent to coaching, mentoring. I like the idea of a coach because a Coach is ambition. Like Mike Krzyzewski, who’s arguably the greatest college basketball men’s college basketball coach in history at Duke University. When there’s two minutes left in the game and they’re down by five points he doesn’t say hey I’m taking my suit off and I’m going into the game. He has to teach the people who are his players how they can go and spend the next two minutes and get those five points back and win. So a lot of times in business you know you get into struggle and the manager basically just steps in and tries to handle it and take it over and that’s that works occasionally. But most of the time you want your own people to be able to solve their problems in front of them versus you having to come in and solve them all the time. So this idea of a coach is basically Saying I need to teach my people to be able to respond to whatever comes their way whether that’s an emotional intelligence point of view, whether that’s a skill set, whether that’s a cultural thing. Here’s how we handle those kinds of situations. Whatever that is, it’s teaching and training, and coaching and reinforcing knowledge. I think of mentoring as perhaps having somebody outside of your job, like outside of your boss, being someone who takes you under their wing and tries to teach you. And I’m totally an advocate for that. In terms of management, I think the manager’s role really needs to be the mindset of a coach.
[Andrew] Makes sense. In terms of building skill sets… It was interesting that you talked about things that are outside of the job, but the parts that were within the job, sounds like it’s focusing on their current job function. What do you think in terms of helping people with career trajectory?
[Mark] Like I said it goes back to this idea of knowing your people. So if what it is that they want to do. Obviously sometimes I have ideas. I’m in with you, I’m spending time with you, I work with you every day. I start to go hey Andrew’s a talented guy and so we may have conversations about “Hey would you ever want to do this? Would you ever want to try this?” Those kinds of conversations. Some of it’s on me. But a lot of it is on the person and in understanding what their goals are. I had somebody literally come to me and say I want your job and you’re not doing enough to help me. I wrote about her in the book. I thought I was doing enough but what she was really saying was chop chop. You’ve got to help me here. I want to get this sooner than later. I don’t want to be 90 years old when I get it. My job existed in the company in other geographies so she was willing to move and she ended up getting it by the way. But what she was really saying to me was I want dedicated coaching that’s going to help me get to this job. And so I sat down and just started thinking it through. Like what would it take? For whatever reason the job that I had I sort of instinctively knew how to do. It was the right thing for me. For her she needed to grow and develop certain skills. And so I knew what those were and so we built the plan, she executed the plan, and she got the job. I think that’s very much part of the manager’s job. You can’t be indifferent.
[Mark] And by the way, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked for people who didn’t give a shit about what happened to my career. They were only interested in their own and they used me as a means of justifying their own career, getting their own recognition, their own pay, visibility within the company. It was always about them.
[Andrew] Take credit for everything.
[Mark] Even sometimes insincerely going well my team did a really good thing, but the people themselves we could all feel that we were being used and abused. And interestingly that person ended up going to another organization and tried to recruit a lot of the people that used to work for him and to a person everyone said oh you know I really can’t move right now or I’m kind of happy doing what I’m doing right now or I think I may have another opportunity in a year from now so I’m really not going to move. What they were doing was giving excuses. They never wanted to work for this guy again. Because they didn’t want to be taken advantage of. We can feel this. That’s big part of my whole thesis is that the heart is a feeling, sensing organ that’s connected to the mind. And the heart is constantly sending out signals to the mind. So if I’m working for somebody and I suddenly have this feeling that, wait a minute, this guy doesn’t really care about me. He just cares about himself. That sends the mind mayday messages. Like, whoa, wait a minute here. You’re working for somebody who’s really self-serving and that’s not a good place to be. Now, he was able to drive results because people were at a senior level, people were being compensated. But as I said inevitably it caught up with him because people said I’m never going to work for that guy again.
[Andrew] [#4] I actually had a point about that. We’ll get to that later. I don’t want to get off course with the four points. The last one was inspire the heart, value and honor achievements.
[Mark] Every manager, if you go up to them and you say how important is recognition, they go it’s hugely important. Everybody knows that. But what I saw through the course of my career is that many managers (truthfully most managers) gave very little attention to what truly matters to people. It’s not to say “Andrew good job. Thanks for getting the project done.” That’s the low hurdle. And a lot of managers miss it. Andrew knows I care about him. Andrew knows I appreciate his work. I don’t need to tell him. There’s still that attitude out there. But what I’ve learned is that what people really need, particularly when they’ve worked on something for a while, like you give them a month-long project, you give them a goal by the end of the quarter we need you to hit this number, and people get there what happens? Managers when they get to the end they go “Okay good job Andrew. Now we’re two weeks behind on this other project so I really need you to get on that.” And so people are like wait a minute, that’s it? You’re not even going to thank me for this? But it’s deeper than that. What people really want to do is be able to savor it. And they want to know that you know they came in at six o’clock in the morning for two weeks in order to get this done. Or they didn’t go to their kids little league games. Or they worked weekends. They made sacrifices. What they really want is for the manager to say “Andrew before we talk about the next project I really want to make sure you know how much I appreciate what you did on this one. And don’t think for a minute that I didn’t see you come in on weekends don’t think for a minute that I didn’t know that you were in early. I just want you to know how much I appreciate it. And what did you learn? Tell me, is there any part of this experience that was really great for you?” Now people are speaking and they’re telling you well I got so excited and I started talking to other people in the company. You can feel like wait a minute like this is exciting. And then when you say to them now we need to get onto this project. We’re two weeks behind. They go, sure, I’m totally ready. But if you just jump. With the same guy I was telling you about earlier, he would jump. In the middle of recognition in a meeting one time he looked at his watch and he goes oh my god we’re way behind. We’ve got to stop here. So he literally stopped the recognition. Which told everybody it was insincere in the first place it was just something on his…
[Mark] On a checklist, exactly. And people feel that. And when they feel that they turn on.
[Andrew] So making people feel genuinely valued as opposed to just being used.
[Mark] The word genuinely is the issue. It has to be something that people can feel. And we all have an inner bullshit detector and we can tell who to trust, who not to trust. So in my language if this isn’t in your heart, don’t try to fake it because you’re only going to make it worse.
[Andrew] So when I was reading your book I came to the part about the heart research and I wasn’t expecting it. It was really fascinating research so I’m wondering if you could share some highlights of what you’ve learned about how the heart is more than a metaphor.
[Mark] It’s interesting because when I had somebody say to me something so somebody just sort of triggered this idea of you really need to pin down what it was. So I’ve been managing people for over 20 years very successfully. And managing people profoundly differently than anybody around me and my peers. And as I continue to ascend and get higher and higher level positions the greater the difference. So I’m this caring, supportive guy who’s driving great performance. Everybody else was this kind of a manager. And so as I started to understand this I was asking myself well what was the impact? What was I doing that was influencing people? And ultimately I came to realize that I was affecting the hearts and people. I remember the day that it happened because when I had this this epiphany, you would think, oh well hallelujah you know where to go with this. And I went and told my wife I’ve wasted almost a year of my life because the idea of leading with any degree of heart is the most preposterous laughable idea in the world that I just came from. In fact when the book came out there were people when they heard the title Lead from the Heart, they were like “What happened to Mark? did he have a religious breakdown?” I’m not kidding. They didn’t understand. No one ever looked to see what I’d been doing all along, they just saw the guy knows how to get results. No one ever looked under the hood. So when it came out they were like “did you have a spiritual awakening or something?” But, in the process I reached out to a world-class cardio-surgeon and basically laid out my thesis. I just said look I just want to know, is it possible that I was affecting the hearts of people? Is that in your reality? Or am I just making this up? And she said you have figured out something that we’re just figuring out in medicine right now. That we believed for many years, hundreds of years. When they first opened up the heart all they saw was the bumpity bump — the pump. And there was no evidence of intelligence there and there was no way of detecting it so they just closed the body up and said guess what the heart is where the pump is. The mind is where all the cognitive ability is. And now 300 years later science is learning that that’s just not really true. That the heart is this feeling, sensing organ and that it’s actually connected through what’s called the vagus nerve and it’s sending more signals to the brain than the other way around. But what people are sensing in any given moment is influencing our minds to make decisions about it. So if you’re working for somebody who’s caring you’re feeling safe, you’re feeling supported, and that says keep going. This is great. And if you’re working for somebody like I was describing who you could feel like was threatening to you or somebody who wasn’t really that caring or authentic about it that’s sending a different message. So this woman, who was this cardio-surgeon, introduced me to this organization called the Institute of Heart Math. And one of the founders actually agreed for reasons I don’t understand – just generosity – mentored me to have this understanding of what the science was that they were the ones who were actually producing. And they’ve become quite famous since the book has come out. Now people are using their tools, and it’s helping to moderate their heart rates, and keeping them healthy. But in the essence of what I was looking for, what they confirmed was, everything that I was doing in terms of managing people from my career, was influencing them to marinate in positive emotions. And because all emotions are short-lived, whether they’re negative emotions or positive, people need a steady diet of positive emotions in order to thrive. And the world is brutal. So we’re always experiencing some negative emotions. Someone cuts us off in traffic or you know we get delayed on a phone call we don’t want to be on. We’re upset. We’re frustrated. Or the boss doesn’t like our first draft. So we’re always having negative emotions. You can’t take them out, but what you need is this offset for people to thrive. So by caring about them, by teaching them, by coaching them, by appreciating them, by being an advocate for them, you’re these people are marinating in positive emotions and you’re setting them up for optimal performance. And that’s what the Institute of Heart Math told me. So they’re saying, Lead from the Heart? Yeah. It’s the most important thing we could do because it’s aligned to human nature. It’s aligned to what keeps people thriving. And when people are thriving they’re going to do their best work.
Excellent. You talked about Covid before but work from home has sort of been thrust upon a lot of people. It strikes me, as a segue from Lead from the Heart, one of the one of the points in the in the book about the heart research was that the heart actually gives off electrical signals. It’s not just internal. People can feel that.
[Mark] Yeah. I forget what the distance is, but it’s five or six feet. So if you’re around someone you can actually pick up their energy. And it’s hearts picking up on the energy of other hearts.
[Andrew] That’s completely lost with work from home.
[Mark] That’s a really interesting comment that you just made. Because I’m in the minority here. Everything says we have proved that work from home is great and we proved that people want it. And I’m from Missouri here. Show me. I don’t really believe long term that this is what people really are going to want. Now interestingly, in the technology world there are some jobs… If you’re coding all day long, you’re an introverted kind of a person, maybe those kinds of jobs. So you’re seeing some of these organizations like Twitter and Facebook say you can work from home or work remotely indefinitely. But interestingly yesterday or the day before the CEO of Google said we’re not having to come back until September. But he didn’t commit to letting people work indefinitely. And I think people are beginning to realize that the connection part, which is all about the heart, is so essential to people. It’s not just the synchronistic conversations that people have by the theoretical water cooler. I’m sharing ideas with you and you’re sharing with me now we go off in in a new enhanced direction. That’s important. But what’s really important is just being with people. We need that to thrive. And that’s been taken away from us whether we’re whether we’re working from home or not. We have far less… Don’t go be with your family at Christmas. Don’t go be with your family at Thanksgiving. It’s like, wow, what a takeaway that is. Don’t be with your colleagues for 10 months. Don’t see them. Don’t be with them. Be with them with Zoom I just don’t think I think truly what’s going to happen is that we may say Andrew once a week or every other Friday work from home, but I need you in the office. That’s what I think is going to happen. And simply because that’s where people… It’s a community that we spend 10, 11, 12 hours a day there. This is our family. Even if you don’t like some of the people, it’s still part of where you’re getting your human connection. And I think it’s such an essential need. And I think what we’re looking at now in terms of mental illness, mental health, stress, anxiety, the numbers are going like this. And you go, well what changed? I think what changed is that people don’t have the connection that they used to and it’s destabilizing. I could come into your office and say I had this fight with my wife last night. I don’t know what to do about it. Now you can say well I’ve had fights with my wife and she’s done this before and that helped me. And so now all of a sudden you’ve changed me. Am I going to have that conversation with you on Zoom? Am I going to call you up? No, I’m just going to deal with it on my own. And it’s sort of this weird example that just popped into my head, but it’s really just this example of the kinds of conversations that you might have with someone that you would do over a cup of coffee or sticking your head in their office or walking down the hall after a meeting. And they’re meaningful. They’re like really meaningful.
[Andrew] And relationships build through that serendipity as opposed to by Zoom appointment.
[Mark] Correct. Right. It’s out of sight, out of mind. I have the idea right now I walk in and ask you because you’re my friend. If you’re not there I’m not going to do it. I have somebody that I’m really close to, someone who’s done tremendous work for me, but he’s like a dear friend of mine and I realized we haven’t spoken in like three or four months. We’ve emailed. But we haven’t really talked. Because I think, you just get into your “I’ve got to get this stuff done today” kind of a mode, and nobody’s going, “Hey Mark do you have a second?” And we miss out on that. But you’re talking about the heart sending energy back and forth. There’s something going on there in terms of what we need in order to feel something from other people.
[Andrew] I have another comment about work from home. I made a note. I heard a Scott Galloway interview where he was talking about proximity is a key component of relationships. Also he was referring to proximity to the power centers. If you’re working from home you’re not you’re just not part of that dynamic.
[Mark] Yeah. I mean I keep tweeting this stuff out because I’ve had people, sort of, I won’t say attack me, but they think I got it all wrong and that we’re all going to be working from home and no one’s going back to their offices. And I just think well let’s just ride this thing out. So in the meantime there’s all sorts of research. And now what people are saying is kind of what you were just talking about. One is, the longer I work from home the less my boss knows what I’m really doing. So he probably thinks I’m doing laundry or watching Netflix and I’m really killing myself here and he can’t or she can’t see me. So that creates this sort of anxiety for people. The other is, that by being out of sight, out of mind I’m not going to get considered for an opportunity to grow. My belief is that the ability to work from home is only permissible because of our being connected in person. I know you, you and I have had meetings, we’ve gone out to dinner, we’ve worked on projects together. Now all of a sudden we’re forced to work from home that’s seamless. We can we can sustain that for a while even though we’re not getting the real human connection. At least I know you, I know what to expect from you, you know what to expect from me. So now this thing keeps going and we hire somebody new. You don’t know that person. How are you how are you going to cultivate a relationship with them? It’s much easier to do that in person. And it’s much easier to brainstorm in person and have conversations as teams. What are you going to do? No, I want to do this. And somebody wants to insert themselves into a Zoom call and by the time they’ve made a joke or made a comment, people didn’t hear it. What did you say, Andrew? Oh never mind. It’s just lost and lost in…
[Andrew] In the ether.
[Mark] Yeah, exactly. You just took the words out of my mouth. It’s lost in the ether.
[Andrew] You wrote a Fast Company article titled How the Wrong People Get Promoted and How to Change It. And you quoted a Gallup study that says managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. This is the point I wanted to come back to when you were talking about that that boss who doesn’t really care about anybody except himself. Reminds me of the phrase “people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses.”
[Mark] That’s true.
[Andrew] I wonder if you wanted to comment on that particular article or anything related to the idea of bad bosses.
[Mark] Yeah. It’s interesting. A Columbia University professor wrote a whole book on this after this article came out. Basically what it says is that, just because you’re a really great individual contributor doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great manager. It often means you’re not going to be a good manager at all. And here’s why. The skill set that it takes, let’s say, I use this example when I speak, and I call it Susie the number one sales person. So think about Susie. You go by her cubicle and she’s got all the sales results up there and you can see Susie’s name circled and all the notes from senior managers going “Way to go Susie! Number one again!” And so Susie knows she’s number one, wants to be number one, thriving on being number one. So all of a sudden the sales manager for the team leaves the company and management gets together and says what are we going to do? Somebody goes I have a great idea. You know, if we don’t do something about Susie, she’s going to end up leaving. Some competitor’s going to come in and take her. So what we should do we should make her the manager. Because if we make her manager, we’re going to give her a title, and not only are we going to give her a title, but she’s going to go make everybody else on that team just as good as she is. So everybody’s high-fiving each other saying what a great brilliant decision this is. They make Susie the sales manager and Susie is an awful sales manager. So you ask why. The reason is because Susie’s motivations are almost the antithesis of what makes a great coach and manager. If they’re singularly focused on being number one, if somebody gets close to them, they’re going to step on their hands. They’re not going to be the one to say, hey here’s what I think. Here’s some of the tricks of the trade. Here’s some things that I’ve learned that have helped me close more sales. Are they going to share that information? Are they going to say, “hey come on in here I want to teach you what I know”? No. They’re threatened by other people. They want the recognition for themselves.
[Andrew] And it takes time away from them meeting their own quota.
[Mark] All of that. But there’s a competitive instinct there. Like,
“Hey, do you have time to teach me?” Well I’d like to but I really don’t have time. So it’s like Susie’s off limits. But when we make her the manager does she change her stripes? Does she instantly say, oh I’m in a different role now and I need to behave differently. No. So what happens is, the big boss comes in. Now Andrew is our number one sales person and Susie’s the sales manager. And the big boss comes in and goes “Andrew, you’re the new number one! Congratulations!” How does that make Susie feel? You would think well she should be proud because Andrew works for her. But instead it’s like well I used to get that recognition. I was the one who was number one. So now I’m going to compete with you. And this is one of the big complaints from people is they feel that their boss competes with them. Andrew’s trying to get my job or Andrew’s getting all the recognition that I used to get. So am I going to help Andrew? No. Am I going to help everybody else? No. So Susie continues to sort of bring the personality and attributes that she had before she became a manager into that role. And Susie is an example of the salesperson, but… we shouldn’t expect just because someone’s a great architect that they’re going to suddenly be a really good manager of people. So what we need to look for is someone who has the competency but not necessarily the excellence. You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable person to be a good manager. What you need is an orientation to help people grow and develop and feel good and bring teams together and teach them. My best my best example of this is a guy named Bruce Bochy who was a backup catcher for the San Diego Padres, one of the most mediocre programs in major league baseball for the last 50 years. One of the few teams that never won a world series. But Bruce Bochy was the backup catcher. So he’d back up for a horrible team. So he made it to the major leagues but he was never a star. But what he was good at was bringing the team together and helping other people learn. He’s still in the major leagues for nine years. That’s remarkable right he just wasn’t a star. But somebody saw in him this like ability to identify talent and to teach people and put their arm around them. And the San Diego Padres made him their manager. What does he do? He took them to the World Series. They hadn’t been in the World Series in 14 years. They got clobbered by the New York Yankees. Four games. The Yankees killed them all four games. What did the Padres do to reward them for getting them to the World Series that they’d only been in one other time in their history? They fired him. They said he should have done better. So the San Francisco Giants hired him. And what did he do for the San Francisco Giants? He won three World Series in seven years. He’s going to go in the hall of fame as one of the greatest baseball managers of all time. So the lesson is Bruce Bochy. Was he Barry Bonds this home run hitter? Was he the star player? No. What was he was a professional baseball player for nine years he understood the game but he had an orientation of assembling the right people, teaching the right skills, making people collaborate, know their roles, and inspiring people to do great things. That’s what we’re looking for. So find another way of rewarding your top performers because they don’t necessarily make good managers.
[Andrew] You do public speaking and consulting. I read in your bio one of the things you talk about is organizational culture. I’m wondering if you could talk about what it is that you mean by that and what you do for your clients.
[Mark] Well I’d say that in a nutshell the big picture is that what values you create for your organization as long as you live to them is really what defines how you want people to behave. And there’s all sorts of… You look at Amazon. It’s this kind of ruthless organization where people are working for money, they’re working for an opportunity to do interesting work because they’re still on the cutting edge, they’re looking for the beneficiary of being a stockholder owner, and stock has made a lot of people rich. But when you talk to people who work there very few will ever tell you I really enjoy going to work because of the culture. But people are willing to go there for all those other reasons. In most companies, on the other hand, people want to know that their values match up to the way the organization is run. And so what I help to what I help organizations do is to identify “who do we want to be?” And it’s largely aspirational. Because you’re never going to get to the end. But what you want is to be able to say these things these values is really the filter that we use in making all of our business decisions. So if you want to say you’re fair and caring, for example, and you make decisions that are unfair and people routinely feel uncared for, well then their culture is bullshit. And actually what makes things even worse is when people see values espoused and then seeing your managers behaving in ways that are totally unaligned. So what I say to the CEOs and the senior managers is don’t bother with this exercise if you’re not going to commit to it. Because it forces you to… You would make a different decision, if your decision is to be a fair organization. And you kind of go well my nephew just got out of college and I think I really want to help him get a job and so I’m going to catapult him into a management role that he doesn’t really have a background for and that’s going to take away for people who’ve been killing themselves for the last five years. Am I going to hire my nephew? Not if you truly want to be fair? So it’s really challenging organizations to think about who is it that you want to be? Because if you truly live the values people are totally engaged. Because it’s like this company stands for something. This company this company truly means what they say. That’s the trust element. And so I help organizations not only identify what their values are because every organization is different. It’s not like everybody wants to be fair and caring. Those are two elements that should belong in some organizations but not necessarily. But ultimately what you decide, I’m challenging the CEOs to say don’t go out there and communicate this if you’re not going to live it. And if you do live it it’s going to elevate you. But we talked about this at the beginning. Humans are tempted by the devil on this shoulder to say I’m still going to hire my nephew. And the minute you make that decision, you’re no longer fair.
[Andrew] It reminds me of other intangibles that companies talk about like quality or brand. It’s not what you say you are; it’s what you actually do.
[Mark] Correct. And that’s really the point. The purpose of having values is to clarify them so people can see, oh that’s what we’re trying to be. But if you work for a boss who doesn’t emulate those in any way, shape, or form then they go out the door. So there has to be this constant reinforcing. I was at Google. And one of the things that’s happened to Google is they started off very small and then all of a sudden they were 1000 employees and 5,000 employees and 10,000 employees and they started to realize that you know sort of this the culture that they had created intentionally was being diluted because people were coming in from other organizations it hadn’t been anchored on the values of the company. So people were coming in and behaving in ways that really weren’t aligned to the values. So what they did was very smartly they kind of had what I’ll call a brand ambassador. They picked people who had been with the company since the beginning and they said we want you to be a brand ambassador in the sense that you’re reinforcing what we’re all about and reminding people what we’re looking for. So this woman said to me, “I had to tell somebody the other day that their behavior wasn’t very Googly.” I thought well that’s really good. So the employees themselves are the ones who are holding up those values.
[Andrew] I read on your website that your that your book is assigned reading in nine universities. Congratulations on that. Maybe that’s a good sign that maybe that the problems that we talked about in the beginning are going to be addressed in the way that managers are trained.
[Mark] It’s interesting because education embraced this idea long before business did. So they’re basically saying this is the future and we see it and this is what we want to be teaching. Business is the one saying oh no you don’t bring heart into business. So I’ve gotten much more resistance from business than I ever got from education. Education just seemed to get it from immediately, which is good. Because now the people who have read this book who had to write papers on it and do other readings that are related to it, they’ve now gone off into companies and they’re going to start to manage people. And what’s interesting is that I participate with a lot of these students. Not all the universities have me involved, but I’m very active in an undergraduate program at the Northern Arizona University and then with a PhD educational leadership PhD program at Brandman University, which is part of Chapman University. And by interacting with them, speaking to them, reading their papers ‒ all of that ‒ one thing that’s been really clear is I don’t get students saying this is bullshit. I’m getting students saying I work. I have a job outside of school and I’ve never been managed like this. And this is the future. So that’s been very encouraging for me when I get business saying this sounds like kumbaya to me. You know, this is this is serious what I’m talking about. It’s not just nice to be nice. And it’s really not about being nice at all. You have to be demanding. You have to set expectations. You have to set a high bar. Leadership is about driving performance. I’m saying this just happens to be the best way to get there.
[Andrew] Excellent. Well thanks so much for the great conversation. Again let me get the book up there. Lead from the Heart. There’s a review on thekeypoint.org, I have links to Amazon. I’ll put links in the YouTube description.
[Mark] Andrew thank you so very much and happy holidays.
[Andrew] You too.
[Mark] Take care.