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Transcript: How to Overcome Ego & Win (EP55)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Voiceover: To all of our loyal listeners, The Culture of Things podcast will now also have specific episodes produced for YouTube. To ensure you don’t miss out on this exclusive YouTube content, head on over to YouTube, click the subscribe button and hit the notification bell. Now, let’s get into the episode...

Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things. This is episode 55. For those on the live stream today on YouTube, I just have to apologize. We've had some slight technical difficulties. We're very, very early in our live streaming journey, so thanks very much for being patient with us. A little bit of user error as well from my part because Andrew Bartlow, who's our guest here, mate, I sent you the wrong link a week or so ago and then I only sent you the correct link last night. My apologies, buddy.

Andrew: Hey, I'm just glad I'm here. I'm really glad we're doing this.

Brendan: Mate, so am I. This is a fantastic topic. What I want to do first of all is just read a bit of your introduction, your bio, just so people get a bit of a flavor for who you are, and you've got some credibility around this topic. Let's let people know a bit about that.

Andrew: Sure.

Brendan: All right. As I said, today, I'm talking with Andrew Bartlow. Andrew has 25 years of HR and talent management experience at organizations across a wide spectrum of sizes, maturity stages, and industries. He leads Series B Consulting, which helps businesses to articulate their people strategy and accelerate their growth while navigating rapid change. He also founded the People Leader Accelerator, which is the preeminent development program for startup HR leaders, and is the co-author of Scaling for Success: People Priorities for High-Growth Organizations. Busy man, Andrew, busy man.

After working with hundreds of startup founders, Andrew has discovered that ego holds back many of them from achieving true success. They often focus on irrelevant things that will make the company look good and forget about the most important foundational work. Founders also want to meet or exceed the expectations of customers, employees, and investors. The challenge happens when they start comparing themselves to companies that are lightyears ahead of them.

Andrew loves to share real stories from the field of working with founders one-on-one, to help them overcome ego, prioritize better, and achieve success. Andrew, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Andrew: Thank you, Brendan. It sounds so good when you describe my background. Boy, I appreciate it.

Brendan: Mate, it's a pleasure. My guest last week, actually for our first live stream, he actually said, jeez, I'd love to meet that guy, which I thought was quite funny, actually.

Mate, I'm loving the background. How cool is that? Tell us a bit about not your background, which has been [...] in the background that you're sitting in front of.

Andrew: I just moved into a new house, been a big remodeling project, so I moved some of my little girl's art over with me with the rainbows, unicorns, and the dinosaurs shooting selfies. I have a copy of my book up over one shoulder and a bunch of other books that much smarter people wrote on the bookshelf behind me.

Brendan: Mate, it looks fantastic. Actually, thanks for the reminder because I know we had to postpone this episode just a couple of weeks because you were in the thick of moving. How is the move going? At least the section you're in now looks very, very tidy.

Andrew: Every box is unpacked.

Brendan: Are you serious?

Andrew: Yeah, it was a gut remodel, six months. On day one, I had every box unpacked. If that tells you something about my personality and my quirks, take it for what it's worth.

Brendan: Mate, it tells me quite a bit straightaway, to be honest. It also tells us that if there's a friend that we need to invite over for a barbecue after moving, it's you.

Andrew: Hey, I'll take it. Burgers, beers, I'm in.

Brendan: I've got to remind our listeners and our viewers today as well that we are operating under Covid safe conditions because in New South Wales and Greater Sydney, we're actually under a lockdown. Through our enormous The Culture of Things budget, we've been able to fly you over to San Francisco so that we're more than 1.5 meters away.

Andrew: Quite some distance, cross continents.

Brendan: Absolutely. How is life in San Fran at the moment with Covid situation? I'm not up to speed with where it's at over there.

Andrew: It feels like the world has opened back up, at least personally, with restaurants open again, movie theaters open again. Offices are pretty spotty. That's been a hot topic of conversation around when, if, and how workers return to the offices. I think we're likely to see a lot more hybrid situations for a long time.

Brendan: Absolutely. We've got a similar situation here, lots of office space spare and I think lots of businesses reevaluating what they do longer term with this space. Mate, let's get into our topic about this overcoming ego in winning. You've got quite some experience in this area, there's no doubt about it, in the last 20 odd years, 25 years or so. For those of us that aren't clear—I'm sure there are a lot of people that aren’t clear on—what is ego?

Andrew: I think ego would be the motivations that are driven by self-interest. Ego is trying to look good in front of others. Ego is trying to have your own way. Boy, I'm in no way of saying that we need to lose all of our ego and chuck it out the door. I've never been accused of lacking my own ego. It can be a real challenge for leaders of companies, for startup founders, as they grow and change. It's a pretty consistent challenge that those startup founders run into.

Brendan: We'll dive into that really, really soon. Just for my own understanding and for others too, ego is a pretty common term. We hear this humility or lack of humility. In your books, are they similar or actually different, those two terms, ego and a lack of humility?

Andrew: I really don't pull apart. Humility, arrogance, ego, this is just more about how you, as a leader, make great decisions without putting yourself and how you look at the forefront of those decisions. As you become the leader of a company, it's about the success of that business rather than the success of you as an individual. The ego is about the I and the id. Companies become about the us, the we, the investors, the employees, and the customers. That's different when you started that company out of your own home office, out of your own bank account, et cetera, so things really change.

Brendan: Let's dive into that area, specifically the founders. You've had a lot of experience there. I guess you probably just touched on a little bit, but let's dive into that. Why are founders in your experience seem to be more susceptible to this ego factor?

Andrew: In so many ways, they are the company and the company is them. It becomes a real challenge to try to differentiate the two, especially for the founder. As it grows and evolves, it's like letting your children out of the house or the birds out of the nest. It took such tremendous drive and single-minded purpose to start that company, to attract the capital that funded it, to create the vision that brought the early employees and early customers to you. So much of the success of an early stage business has to do with the founder. That's the ego challenge. It's creating a bit of separation between the person and the entity that is this business.

Brendan: With that again, there seems to be some positive attributes around ego. Do you find that founders without ego actually don't succeed as well, at least to start with to get the company up and going?

Andrew: I in no way want to suggest that complete lack of ego is what we're going for. You've got to have that drive, you've got to have that purpose. The animal spirit of the entrepreneur makes it happen. Then being able to create some separation so that you're making decisions as a business person, not just as a person. There are some risks, there are some traps. We don't want to eliminate the ego, but we do want to harness it.

Brendan: What are some of those traps? Let's focus on the individual founder at this stage. We'll get into how that impacts decisions and others. What are the individual traps that you've come across?

Andrew: In my book, I referred to in somewhat light-hearted archetypes, the prophet and the mule driver.

Brendan: I did see those terms and they're very interesting.

Andrew: Yeah. You know what, I'll actually wait to describe those a little bit. There's the prophet at a very high level, heavily visionary on execution. There's the mule driver who really wants to own and control everything, all the decisions. Those are the two archetypes that I talked about in the book.

Other ego traps that are really common is this idea of my company, my team, we're special snowflakes. We are so unique that everything's got to be special for us and different. It can't possibly be similar to the way any other company's been through it.

Another ego trap is holding on to the past often for too long, whether that be around cultural elements of your business, how decisions are made, how you delegate.

Last two ego traps might be looking good to others, looking good specifically to employees, and looking good to investors. Each of these areas—I would love to talk a little bit more about them—can have some risks and some downsides, so just being aware can really help you out as a founder.

Brendan: Maybe, first of all, back to the start of your answer, unpacking that mule driver and the prophet. Again, I love the terms. I love the terminology. I'll have to bring that into my own language if you don't mind me taking what's in the book so anyone can grab it. Explain that a little bit more.

Andrew: You need to see the images in the book, too. Again, light-hearted, but… Think of the prophet as the visionary leader, the long white beard on a mountain top with the staff, who's talking about the big ideas, the incredible visionary that was somehow able to attract capital, attract investment, attract employees through the power of that vision. That's great. That's wonderful.

The risk of over-indexing on the prophet archetype is that that prophet doesn't leave the mountain. I don't think they chiseled their own stone tablet. It's actually executing, getting into the weeds, making decisions, making some of the tough calls that prophets are quite reticent to do.

I've worked with more than one prophet before back in an in-house job. I won't name any names, won't name any companies on this. We will protect the not so innocent. Execution and decision-making really becomes a challenge in that archetype. That leads to spinning and frustration by their teams. That's the first one.

Mule driver is just about the opposite. Imagine someone sitting on a cart with the number of donkeys chained up and they're cracking the whip. A mule driver makes the decision where to go, how fast, where they're going. They might treat those donkeys really well. They might feed them well, pet them, and sing them songs, will have a good time down that road.

But the mule driver is the sole decision maker, the sole idea generator, and everyone else on the team is there just to service their decisions. That, as you can imagine, can lead to an inability to delegate, lots of bottlenecks, learned helplessness from the team. Those organizations really struggle to scale.

They get a lot done in the early stages. The mule drivers tend to have incredible capacity as individual contributors and drivers. It's hard to scale managers and managers of managers in an organization that the founder refuses to delegate. Those are the first two.

Brendan: Thanks very much for explaining that a little bit. Let's go to the prophet, first of all, because that one seems to be in my experience, maybe someone who's more common. Would that be fair to say for a founder?

Andrew: I haven't looked at any studies and I should create my own around these archetypes. Are you a prophet? Are you a mule driver? Are you door number 3? That actually be kind of fun.

Brendan: Maybe for those on the live stream at the moment, you can just put in the chat. If you're a prophet or a mule driver, we can start the study now.

Andrew: I like it. I would speculate that a seasoned entrepreneur, somebody that may have been in industry, may have reached some level of financial independence, they're starting a company later in life. I can imagine there being more people in that category who bring the big ideas and then they want the team to go execute for them. Maybe somebody that stepped out of Fortune 100 environment and had relationships in venture capital to go fund this company that they have credibility around.

What I tend to see, on the other hand, more so in the valley—I, of course, live in the San Francisco Bay Area—there are a lot more technical founders that are really early in life and really early in career. Those folks tend to be the coders who are hustlers, who are trying to come up with the product themselves and hire the people. They tend towards the mule driver archetype. Out here, I'd say it's probably 70/30, maybe 80/20 more of a lean towards the mule driver with the technical early life founders.

Brendan: It's really interesting you say that, because as you were talking, that's what was going through my head. Are there industry-specific patterns that are coming up around prophet versus mule driver? You've just explained that. What are some of the benefits of these ego-type prophets, let's say for the starting point of a business? Because we're focused on founders.

Andrew: The benefits of having a prophet helming your organization is that they are a magnet. They're a magnet for talent, they're a magnet for capital, they come with immediate credibility. That's a huge plus. Again, it's not the death of your company if you have tendencies towards either one of these poles, but being aware of some of the risks can really help you out.

Brendan: We'll go into the risks as well. What are some of the benefits of the mule driver as a founder?

Andrew: Can I swear on a live stream?

Brendan: Absolutely.

Andrew: Wonderful. You get [...] done. As a mule driver, you know where you're going, you make decisions, and the team will get you there. You know every little thing that's happening because you're making those decisions. In terms of execution and being able to deliver on a vision, whether or not there's the big vision and you are connected to capital, and you're able to attract talent or not, you can absolutely execute on whatever your ideas for your product or service, because mostly you're doing it.

Brendan: Tell us about some of the risks then, from a prophet perspective.

Andrew: If prophets aren't willing to roll their sleeves up every once in a while, or robes, or get their beard out of the way, then their organizations can drift. They'll have all this great talent, all this capital ready to deploy.

I've worked with a couple of prophets who are really concerned about making the wrong call, or they don't want to break a tie between two investors or two high-profile employees. They bring the vision. That's their strong suit, but making the tough calls, rolling your sleeves up, knowing the technical elements of your business, prophets tend to be on the mountaintop. That's where the risk comes from. If you're not close enough into the details, that has some challenges, particularly in early stage companies.

Brendan: Then obviously, the mule driver. Let's talk about or share some of the risks in your experience around that.

Andrew: People often don't really love working for mule drivers. You can burn through some people fairly quickly. If folks don't feel empowered, if they're not delegated to, if they recognize that they're along for the ride. Some people will be willing to ride with you for a long journey. You're pulling a rocket ship. You have a really successful company and a little bit of equity will be life changing, or you have a great opportunity ahead of you. But it can be difficult.

I think about Daniel Pink and his book, Drive, which talks about human motivation, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you don't have much autonomy, and most of the people that work in mule driver-driven organizations don't get a lot of autonomy, then you probably won't feel really excited about being part of that team.

Brendan: You've started to move down into the impact of people, which is fantastic, because that's definitely the next level I want to go to. Back to our prophet, the white beard, robe person that you've described before. What are some of the impacts as the organization grows? Hopefully these founders, their businesses are growing and succeeding. What are some of the impacts on the people that are there in a prophet-founded organization?

Andrew: In a prophet-founded organization, again, you get the talent, you get the funding, you get the investors, you have the great ideas, you're able to attract publicity and press. Those are the benefits. You know what a good pitch looks like to your board and your investors, tend to be masters of the pitch deck, wonderful sales people of ideas and investment dollars. Those are all positives.

What that can do for an organization is it can often extend a financial lifeline if it takes longer for that organization to figure out what the heck it's actually doing. It can also be really risky for an investor where they hear somebody that appears to have a lot of credibility and they're telling us, wait, wait, wait, or the product roadmap is struggling, or we're pivoting. This person has so much credibility that you're not willing to pull the plug. You can gather up a lot of dollars and a lot of people in the wake of a prophet that may not end up ever being executed on or ever being realized.

Brendan: Which is a very concerning place to be, I suppose, as your business grows because it's very common for us to maybe surround ourselves with like-minded people, they feel right, all of those things that we're attracted to come out. What is the impact from a customer delivery perspective?

Andrew: Prophets tend to promise a lot. They tend to sell the vision, sell the future. If you think about how many times you've dealt with a SaaS company or some technology company that says yes, we will get right to that, yes, we've already thought of that and boy, that will be coming out in our next release. Big promises. As a customer, you'll hear all the things that you want to hear, but do you actually receive what's been promised to you? That's the challenge. I'm encouraging people to be aware of some of these archetypes so they don't stray too far afield and become that archetype.

Brendan: It just sent me on a flashback many, many years ago, when I was involved in a global system implementation rollout. This was in the review stage. We actually had probably one of those prophet-type founders of a business who we'd flown in to do the presentation. He had his offside of it. Literally, they were doing coding through this meeting. Input was head by the team itself. I'm thinking, wow, that's unbelievable. Fantastic that we're making changes very quickly, but talking about promises on the go.

Andrew: Yeah, big promises come with prophets.

Brendan: The impact on people in the mule driver, and again, you touched on it, but how does some of that impact through the customer side? I'd imagine there are a lot of positives from a customer perspective for a mule driver.

Andrew: Yeah. Customer comes first. Delivery happens, but it's really hard on the team. It's really hard on the internal team. It's not at all a bad thing to be a customer of a mule driver-driven company. Customers get what they're promised because those promises end up being very realistic and execution is the focus.

Where there could be a gap or where there could be a risk is if attrition and turnover on the team, which tends to happen at a much higher rate—employee turnover. If that sets back a product roadmap, or if that has customer impacts, if people just get burnt out and don't enjoy working in that internal mule driver atmosphere, that can even exacerbate the pressure on the remaining employees. It can really result in a pinch that has the potential of leaving customers in the lurch.

Brendan: If I'm just going to sum this up a little bit in the conversation we've had today, if I was thinking about a prophet-type leader in a founder-type organization, then potentially, if I'm understanding what you're saying correctly, there's probably a really great feel internally in the organization that people are quite inspired by that prophet-type leader, but maybe there is some disgruntlement amongst customers in overpromising and under delivering potentially. Whereas the mule driver, it may be that they've got some really fantastically happy customers, getting reviews, and their businesses growing, but internally, it's like people on the rat wheel and they're probably not liking as much the environment that they're in. Is that a fair assessment?

Andrew: Well said. Really well said. If the two poles are visionary, and executionally-oriented, I think you really, as a leader, want to capture some elements of both, but learn to reside in the Goldilocks zone, in the middle there.

Brendan: Great again. Let's go, whether it's the Goldilocks zone or whatever. I want to talk a little bit about you and your experience. You're working with these types of founders, hence, you've been able to write a book and co-author a book about it. How do you have these sorts of conversations when you're starting to work with either one of these founders and take them through a process so that they get some awareness? Because my belief is you have to have some awareness first before you can actually deal with situations. Unpack that a little bit for us, mate.

Andrew: I usually get involved as a result of the symptom of one or more of these issues.

Brendan: Why is that so common for all of us?

Andrew: CEO founders don't seek me out and say, my ego is too big. Fix me. Boy, I need to make you a coach because I'm a prophet that can't execute. That has never once happened.

Brendan: Let me say after this interview, they watch it and they're thinking of founding a company, that will start to happen.

Andrew: I'm ready for those. What tends to happen more so is that a team will talk to me about role clarity. We're bumping up against each other, we're trying to figure out who owns what, we're not getting as much done as we should, and it's really frustrating. That's a keyword for me. It's really frustrating. If the team is struggling with this, that is often driven by lack of a clear decision-maker.

Maybe that's the founder-CEO making the decisions to decide who will make decisions. That's okay, too. Maybe they're no longer running the company. Maybe they're an executive chair of the firm at that point, but they're still heavily involved. That happens a lot. It's that frustration where the team is trying to figure out who does what. That is typically indicative of a prophet situation.

Mule drivers don't look to the outside for help very often. When they do, it might be more oriented around culture. The culture is changing. How do we go back to the way things were when we were small? This goes unsaid but it's implied, and I knew what everyone was doing. I want to monitor and manage the work, we're growing and scaling, and my leaders are not succeeding.

What often happens in those cases is the leaders aren't set up with the empowerment to be successful. They're being second guessed by their mutual driver leader. That ends up being some of the underlying issues around the symptoms that I'm often tapped to try to help with.

Brendan: How are you dealing with those symptoms? How do you help move people through this process?

Andrew: It depends. Each situation has its own interesting elements to it. First just talking to the team and trying to get a handle as clearly on what their current context is. That's it. That's a concept I don't think we talked about in the preview in the show notes.

Context matters way more than content. There's no such thing as the right answer. I'm not going to try to sell somebody on, oh, just follow this checklist or do this survey, and you'll know whether you're a mule driver or prophet. If you are, then do these three things. It's not that easy. I wish it were that easy. Everybody else wishes it were that easy.

It is really necessary (if you're looking for a good solution) to understand who the players are, what the needs are. I do lots of one-on-one interviews, but most of it over video nowadays. I have a couple of surveys. I like Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team stuff.

A couple of certain light surveys, but mostly it's talking to people and asking open-ended questions. What's working well? What can be working better? What's your leader doing that's helping? What's your leader doing that's hurting? You gather that up from enough people and you start to see some things. That usually leads you down the path of role clarity, delegation, communication, but every situation has its own eccentricities.

Brendan: I'm with you 100% there. Before I push you on a story—again, you said at the start of the interview, let's not throw people under the bus, and names and stuff—I do want you to refer back to any story you've got, maybe a story of success. Let's keep this really positive. One of the things that through the book and in our notes about avoiding the founder ego traps, there was a point there around RACI and six questions for clarity. Can you just go into that as an area?

Andrew: Sure. This is one of the tools that can be really helpful in addressing a prophet-like scenario. Let's say you're in an organization where you're full of bright people, lots of stuff to do, everybody's working on stuff really hard, you're working hard. Alignment is something that you're lacking on. Maybe you have lots of meetings and lots of discussions, but they never really seem to get finalized. It's unclear whether the decisions made or whether you actually need 100% consensus.

In situations like that, there's a tool called a RACI. It stands for, R is responsible, A is accountable, C is consulted, and I is informed. It's a business school tool and there are lots of different ways. Different people use different definitions for some of those acronym letters. I've heard of ARCI and you can have whatever. The point is, that you're being clear about who does what, who makes decisions, who's involved.

Whatever acronym you use for that, you should have some simple, lightweight way of making that clear to everybody, like what's your decision making process? In the absence of that, particularly in prophet-driven or prophet-led organizations, the team drifts. You need that clarity to get stuff done. The RACI is one of my favorites. You tend to see a big need for that in a creative environment, in an environment where relationships win out over execution. RACIs are great.

The six questions for clarity, those come from Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage, a bunch of great business books. Part of the reason I love them so much is that they're easily consumable, they're easily understood. I frankly haven't seen a great management science tie-in, but they're so dang practical and easy to work with that I just lean on it pretty heavily.

The six questions for clarity, again you could make it four, you could make it eight, whatever it is. The idea is getting aligned with your team, making it clear, and coming to a conclusion. Who are we? How do we behave? What do we do? What's our purpose? Who must do what? There are different questions and he's had a couple of variations of those, but it's all about clarity.

That's what prophet-driven organizations often lack, that clarity in alignment, in purpose, in what's most important right now. That's so valuable in a high-growth organization where there's always too much to do and everything could always be better.

Brendan: Yeah, mate. There's so much to what you're saying. I am a massive supporter of Lencioni and use a lot of his stuff as well. RACI, you're a little bit kinder. You said ARCI, I think. We referred to in Australia as ARCI. We just felt that that had a nicer ring to it and people would remember it.

Andrew: Yup. All right. I'm going there.

Brendan: Go ARCI, mate. Definitely the way to go. People will love it. They may not like the process around developing and stuff, but at least the name rings a bell and they’re like, all right, great, this doesn't sound too boring.

Andrew: I like it. I saw some versions of it with Lord of the Rings characters. Frodo was responsible and Sam was, I forget exactly. Gandalf was the approver. It was a really fun way to explain that RACI.

Brendan: That's a classic. First of all, let's get back to your story. I want you to cast your mind back and hopefully be doing that once you've been asking the question. Tell us the story of success that (I guess) you're most proud of supporting one of these leaders, whether it's prophet, mule-driven, to really RACI awareness, come out the other side, and really make sure they're getting the right people around them at the right time in the growth of their business to take them to the next level.

Andrew: Sure. We've been talking about prophet a lot. I can switch over to the mule driver story.

Brendan: Great option.

Andrew: Again, company and leader to never be named, but you know who you are if you're listening. I worked closely with a founder-leader, who was very much an archetypal mule driver. A high need for control, incredible drive, brilliant, and just got [...] done. I don't know when he slept but got [...] done, and built a very, very successful business that had a tremendous exit and tremendous outcome for him and many other people, that he continually struggled with delegating, empowering, giving enough direction, and then letting the team go.

This was a journey of quite some time, in terms of both working with him and working with the leadership team to interpret what was going on. Often just naming, like, hey, our leader, we know how he's wired. We know that he needs to control and he's a driver. That doesn't mean he's a bad guy. Once you can wrap your mind around, this person might actually mean well and probably does mean well.

They're not trying to put you on the spot. They're not threatening your livelihood, your family's mortgage, and your kid’s school. They just really, really want this company to be successful, and they really want to be successful, and they want to keep their promises. Keeping their promises, I feel like that's a key factor with a lot of the mule driver motivation. They just really want to deliver. They want to get to that destination and might whip the mules from time to time, even though they really mean well.

It was a regular conversation. In this environment, I was in-house. This leader was my manager. You've got to be particularly sensitive when you're telling your manager that they're an [...]. More so, I spent my time working with my peers. The executives are trying to help them understand the context. He's not really a bad guy. This is just how he's made up and we can work with this.

I think that being able to separate myself enough mentally from that situation prepared me to be that advisor to my peers. It's hard to do that. You can't expect every HR leader inside a company that has a really executionally-oriented leader to be able to step enough outside of themselves, take a risk, and just acknowledge like, hey, yeah, this is kind of icky behavior, but we're going to be okay. We can do this together.

Brendan: Let's talk about tools that you may like to use in that process, because there's definitely the thing around genuine conversations, the ability to have genuine conversations.

Andrew: Authenticity.

Brendan: Absolutely. Is there any tool or tools that you would recommend to help founders and teams create that environment to get to know each other a little bit more and to enable those conversations to happen?

Andrew: Yeah, there are a thousand styles and approaches, tools from The Predictive Index to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. There's a DiSC profile, there's Ambry Genetics, their AI. I've taken probably 20 of these things and seen 25 more. Whatever, the tool doesn't matter. If you can get yourself and your team into a place where you can talk about styles, approaches, and intentions, and if you're a mule driver, if you can open up a little bit and be able to acknowledge just how much you care, and help people see you as a person and a human, then they'll give you a lot more latitude. It might soften you up a little bit in the process, too.

Brendan: Mate, I have to say I love how you say that the tool doesn't matter because I am so with you on that. It doesn't matter what the tool is. It's the ability to have the conversation or those tools can help facilitate conversation. Well said, man. I think too many times, we as leaders or people trying to help leaders, maybe you want to jump to a tool because there’s some safeness in that rather than using it to facilitate conversation.

Andrew: Yeah, I have a strong and somewhat controversial professional opinion about these psychometric tools. I think they're more dangerous than they are useful. At best, it's a waste of time if you're using it for anything other than a lively discussion.

Brendan: When do they become dangerous?

Andrew: When you make decisions based on that. Boy, I can't tell you how many times. I've had on my calendar some work time to write a blog about selection processes. If you want to use any one of these survey instruments for hiring, just stop, please. Time out. Don't do that. All the people that are trying to sell you these tools will explain why it works. Please. I'll get a blog out. I'll give you more details about this later.

I'm a master's degree, industrial organizational psychologist. I'm qualified to administer and interpret all of these various psychometric tools. I've done it professionally for 25-ish years. For hiring purposes, you're just not going to get it zeroed in on your population at your company in your context right now to make it relevant enough that it actually helps. Yes, maybe you can get some blanket salesperson's skills survey. Is that going to be the right fit for you right now?

Just stop searching for the silver bullet. It's a grind. You got to talk to people. You got to get to know them. You got to do the interviews, which are not that effective overall. It's some of the work that I do though. I do some executive assessment to help PE and VC firms figure out who's more likely to be a more successful hire.

In some ways, I'm a professional interviewer. You can't expect that startup engineering leads will be super skilled at that. You do your best, but don't go to the shortcut of a survey instrument and expect that that will tell you who to hire for “culture fit.”

Brendan: Yeah, mate. I think we're on a very similar page there as well. Let's talk about this word, trust. We can link it back to genuine conversations. I'd love for you to throw an angle around how important trust is, or particularly developing trust in the founder, having trust in their team. Maybe it's around the mule driver, I'm thinking a bit more, because they're a driver. They probably know a lot about what's happening in the business and the details. What's the importance of them trusting others in growing their business?

Andrew: It's really hard to scale. It's really hard to get things done through others if you don't have some level of trust as a leader. You can inspect what you expect. You can trust, but verify. If you're willing to not sleep, it's probably 20 people where you as a single founder can have a pretty good idea of what every person's working on all the time.

You can talk about certain sizes of populations that break down communication barriers, about 150 people. You can't even really socially know a group larger than that.  Dunbar's number. Dunbar's number is 100–150 people.

If you're the CEO, you might see their name on a spreadsheet someplace, but you don't really know something about these people, or what they're working on a daily basis. If you're going to scale, you have to have some measure of trust. Set up the processes, set up the structure to allow the verify, trust but verify, to allow you to inspect. If you don't have trust, you'll never be able to grow enough that other people can actually do stuff. Otherwise, you become your own mule at that point. You're the only one pulling your cart if nobody else can do the work.

Brendan: How do you have conversations with founders and help them realize that it's actually okay that people in the organization will never love the business as much as you do? Founders treat it as their baby, this is their child. They love it, they want to grow it, they want to nurture it and stuff. That's a conversation that I've had with founders before, and it's a really difficult thing to get them into action with. They can sit there, nod their head and acknowledge, and stuff like that. Are there any tricks or tools that you have that may help that conversation flow into some different action on the ground, not just an acknowledgement?

Andrew: I think there's so much of this rooted in getting to know people and having conversations. If you can encourage that leader, that founder, to have real conversations with people that aren't them. When I worked at giant organizations where people were well paid, they were deep in their career and all of that, we used to refer to that as, not everybody has a vote. If you're the Senior VP of whatever, you lack with mostly—

Brendan: Really? You don't have a vote?

Andrew: Yeah. If you're the Senior VP of whatever and you interact with mostly Senior VPs or the people on your team that are still well paid, deep in their career and whatever, you have different motivations, you have a different lifestyle. You're more similar in terms of motivations and lifestyle. Then when you think about a small company, where you're the CEO, frontline receptionist, or you're a QA analyst who's in the country on a J-1 visa, what are their motivations? It's probably less like your own as a founder and CEO.

The more that you can encourage some of that friction, some of that interpersonal friction,

the more those leaders will understand where their people are coming from. To your point, you can point it out as much as you want and it's less likely to stick unless they make a real human connection at some point. Surveys won't do it.

Brendan: They're not all they're cracked up to be, are they?

Andrew: Yeah.

Brendan: Now you're talking about people making money. Surveys do make some consultants a hell of a lot of money every time. It doesn't actually necessarily bring the result that the clients are looking for?

Andrew: Yeah. It sounds like you're talking me into starting a survey business.

Brendan: You're experienced enough, in a way, but it's always interesting. Those that get training or really understand this stuff inside out, that sometimes eventually, they realize that it's not that it's not cracked up to what it'd be but people can start to misuse tools and things like that, which are tools that aren't always used for what they're intended to be used for.

Andrew: That's fair. One of my favorite conversations in the People Leader Accelerator, the development program for HR leaders is, don't fall in love with forks. The idea there was, if you're trying to eat a bowl of soup, a fork's not the right tool for you. I really like Culture Amp. It's the best thing since sliced bread. Well, great. Use Culture Amp, but when, why, and where? Understand the problem that you're trying to solve before you go implement the tool, technology, process, or whatever. I come back to, there's no such thing as a best practice. There's what's best for you right now, and that doesn't necessarily translate from company to company.

Brendan: Mate, great analogy. Unfortunately, anything I was thinking about then was, I wish my son who's actually 18 would fall in love with this fork and stop using his bloody hands to eat his dinner. I don't care if he falls in love with the fork, the spoon, the knife, whatever, just use some utensils.

Andrew: We had a great meme. It was like a cartoon fork with a big red circle and an X through it. We got to do one of those in the show notes.

Brendan: I think you might need to get your daughter to draw that so you can put it up behind you as well.

Andrew: I like it. My older one is colouring inside the lines now that we've got a shot at.

Brendan: How old are your daughters? I should have asked earlier.

Andrew: This summer they turn 6 and 8.

Brendan: Great ages.

Andrew: Yeah, they're a lot of fun.

Brendan: Absolutely, mate. Congratulations on that. The prophet and mule driver, again, we've spoken a bit about each. What I'd like you to do, though, is let's go back to the prophet. If you could give a prophet-type founder or somebody who thinks that they're maybe a little bit more prophet-founder-inclined, just one piece of advice that can help them on their journey of business, growing, and scaling, what would that advice be?

Andrew: The most common issue that the prophets have is around bringing clarity to their team, around making decisions. I would generally encourage that prophet to identify today, what are the three most important things at your company? Stop at three. Don't outsource that. Don't delegate that to somebody else.

So many prophets go hire a COO to make decisions for them, but then the COO doesn't actually get to make the decision. Decide today, what are the three most important things for your company, and tell everybody. Make it really clear. Those prophet organizations tend to just drift, and everything's important, and nobody's sure who's doing what. A RACI would be wonderful, an org chart would be a cherry on top, but start with what are the three most important things for your company, and commit to it.

Brendan: Great advice. I probably should add—you can tell me if this is correct—that it's not the three most important things this hour or this day, it's for an extended period of time. Would that be right?

Andrew: Bingo. Maybe that's over the next year, maybe that's over the next quarter. Chances are, it's in your beautifully drawn up investor pitch deck. Just take it out of there, but make sure that everybody's really clear on what those important things are and then start to line up some resources to deliver against it. You can't deliver unless you're really clear on what that short list of things to do is.

Brendan: Well said, mate. Conversely a mule driver, what would be that bit of advice that you want to give that person who's more inclined to be the mule driver to help them?

Andrew: That's a tougher one, frankly. I might go back to talk to your people and make sure that you're having real human, authentic conversations with people. If you can show that you're human to your team, they'll give you a lot more latitude, and you'll get to know them better. By the way, you'll get to know what they're working on which you want to do anyway through your natural tendencies.

Another idea—this is a hard one—would be to find somebody that can call you on your own [...]. Maybe you're lucky enough to have that in a spouse or significant other. Maybe you have an investor that can do that with you. Not usually, investors don't do that. VC investors tend to bring money and roses, not critical pushback.

It's hard to find that in-house, it's hard to hire an HR person or a COO when their paycheck is dependent on you to really call you out. That probably has to be a third party. Find that third party that you will allow to call you on your [...]. That will help you with your awareness around it.

Brendan: Absolutely, mate. In your HR world experience—you spent a lot of time there—have you had that situation where, I guess you've been that person that has needed to call you on your [...], for want of a better word?

Andrew: Yeah, I try to be kind about it. It's not about embarrassing anybody and you don't do something in person, you don't do something in front of a big group. I did that twice today with leaders. It's about calling out like, do you think that this approach is the best approach to get to your goal? You said that you want to accomplish this. You've said that you want to empower this team. Do you think that by you stepping in and getting involved in that discussion, that that will be the result? You're just holding up a mirror. In this particular discussion, the leader said, nope, you're right, I don't need to be part of that.

What was the other one today? There were interpersonal dynamics going on, always are. In this case, I just encourage, how about you have a drink with this person? We can see each other in person nowadays in the States. Why don't you get together and just talk about this and see where their heads are at?

You can just see the energy and angst just seep away, like, oh, yeah, I don't need to think about how to construct the sharp email to convey all the feelings that I'm having. I can just talk to this person. That's what it looks like in practice. I'm probably throwing around a little bit of bravado, like calling them on their [...]. You can be direct, and you can still be polite, and you can hold up the mirror and say, hey, is this going to get you to where you want to go?

Brendan: I think it's Brené Brown that made famous that kind conversation. Not about being nice or being kind, and that sort of really calling people and stuff because you care enough. The other thing I think, by the sounds of it, you've got, again, two daughters and probably a lovely wife, and I've got a lovely family as well that call me, and they probably call you on your own [...] quite a bit. Is that right?

Andrew: I could handle a little less calling on my own [...].

Brendan: They get into the stage of knocking at comfort itself. They're knocking your ego.

Andrew: Yeah, by being called a little less on it.

Brendan: I know, mate. I know. I've got some really great friends around me that helped boost me up a bit because when I go home, I'm getting the ego knocked all the time.

Andrew: Like professionally, oh, I do this stuff and at home, you're just another guy. You're just that guy that washes the socks.

Brendan: I'll tell you what. Again, our very first live stream last week, you can't see it in here, but I had a bone color pair of pants on. I rang my mom and said, what did you think of the live stream or whatever? She's like, yeah, it was really good. The interview went well and stuff. I didn't like your pants though. Well, okay. Thanks for the feedback.

Andrew: Glad I could work on that. I can't see what colour of pants you're wearing now. You're at the [...].

Brendan: I've got jeans on, mate. It played on my mind and even though I figured that people wouldn't see my pants today, I still change them.

Andrew: She's having an impact on you.

Brendan: I'm almost 46 years of age and my mom is still getting in my head.

Andrew: It never stops. It never stopped.

Brendan: Mom and dad, if you're watching, I love you guys.

Andrew: We love you, mom. Me too.

Brendan: I have to say too, today is the 2nd of July. It's actually my sister's 50th birthday. Once again, happy birthday to my sister, Carly as well. I haven't spoken to her for quite a long time, but happy birthday. I do love you as well.

Andrew: That's great. That's sweet.

Brendan: Mate, thanks for indulging me with that. All right. Mate, I know just to be conscious of time as well for everyone. It was almost like that critical question at the end. What has been the greatest impact in your own leadership journey? If you'd like to share that for us, that'd be fantastic.

Andrew: Should I disconnect again now, now that I'm on [...].

Brendan: I thought you would try to find the book?

Andrew: Authentically and vulnerably, starting my own business. I am truly walking in the shoes of the founders that I advise because I founded three of my own businesses., and it is eye-opening. It is something that you can understand to an extent, but you can't live it until you've lived it—some of the pressures, stresses, and ego. What you do professionally reflects directly on who you are as a person. I think that has been the most significant part of my leadership journey is walking in the shoes of the people that I hope to support, help, and advise.

Brendan: That's a great example of impact. I can certainly second that in my own journey of starting my own consulting business when I left the corporate organization. It's a challenge. It's a great challenge that we like to take up. Certainly, if we don't want to grow every day, we have no choice, we have to grow and develop. Otherwise, we will go out of business very, very quickly, won't we?

Andrew: Absolutely. I have my mule driver tendencies. I'm thinking about, hey, should I hire somebody to do marketing and somebody else to do operations for me? How do I want to organize that? How am I going to make sure they do it? How am I going to have my opportunity to see every little thing? Why am I hiring anybody at all then?

These are the challenges that the founders and leaders really have, because it's your own money, it's to your own reputation. Being able to more than empathize, but really live the experience that the people that you're trying to help have lived, that's been just super eye-opening for me.

Brendan: Well said, mate. You're authentically living the journey every day, as you said, with those people that you're helping as well. You're putting yourself in their shoes. Great stuff.

Andrew: Thanks.

Brendan: Mate, we're going to bring this interview to an end. I've been so looking forward to this conversation. For me, it hasn't disappointed as well. I wasn't expecting you to disappoint, so don't worry there. The topic is so relevant. All of us have challenges with our own ego.

I think for me, it's always around intent. I think you said it really nicely near the top of the show that we still need some ego. We've got to be able to drive ourselves, and push things forward, and whatever. Probably when we're using that ego to override decisions and we're talking more about benefiting us rather than benefiting others, that's when they can have a real detrimental impact, particularly when you're growing a company.

Mate, fantastic. I really appreciate your patience with us as we drop out there, but this conversation, mate. Well done on your own journey and what you're doing through Series B Consulting, and the People Accelerator that you're doing, and the book. Mate, it's behind you there, Scaling for Success. We'll put that in the show notes. It's up on the screen at the moment. Congratulations. Well done, and I look forward to continuing our relationship, mate. Fantastic to have connected through LinkedIn.

Andrew: Really appreciate it, Brendan. Thank you.

Brendan: Absolute pleasure, mate. And good luck with the drawing that you're going to be getting your daughter to do.

Andrew: Inside the lines. I'll watch her closely.

Brendan: Well done, buddy. It's a great job.

Andrew: Thanks.

Brendan: If you’re a leader in a start up organization, you have to get a copy of the book Andrew co-authored. ‘Scaling for Success - People Prioritise for High Growth Organisations’ could easily become your bible for all things people related as you scale.

Andrew has almost 25 years experience in organisational effectiveness. He has been involved in many mergers & acquisitions, scale ups, and IPOs. He’s a man who knows what he’s talking about.

These were my 3 key takeaways from my conversation with Andrew.

My first key takeaway: Leader’s get clarity on the problem they are trying to solve. I love the phrase Andrew used - don’t fall in love with forks. Meaning, don’t jump to your favourite solution when you aren’t clear on the problem. Leaders must always answer the question - what problem are we trying to solve? Only when you take the time to understand the problem, can you implement the best solution.

My second key takeaway: Self-awareness is King! You may be a prophet, or a mule driver or maybe even a special snowflake. Your style doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re awareness of the behaviours around your style. If you have self-awareness, you’ll know your strengths and weaknesses, and be able to bring in people to complement you.

My third key takeaway: Leaders value human connection. Getting to know your team as real people is critical. Using leadership, team or behavioural tools can support this by facilitating conversations. Using them for anything other than this is fraught with danger. Nothing replaces the value of human connection.

So in summary, my three key takeaways were: Leader’s get clarity on the problem they are trying to solve. Self awareness is King! Leaders value human connection.

If you want to talk culture, leadership or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, leave me a comment on the socials, or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com

Thanks for joining me and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.