Transcript: How to Work With & Motivate Disengaged Team Members (EP56)
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Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers. Today, we are recording episode 56 and I'm talking with Erin Jewell.
Erin is a Thrive Global Top 10 Coach of 2021. She's an executive mindset and performance growth coach, an international speaker, and a professor of leadership at Villanova University. Erin has over 20 years of leadership experience in the healthcare sector at Fortune 500 companies like Pfizer, Boston Scientific, and Medtronic, and was the founder of her own health care start-up.
As a global director, Erin was responsible for $80 million in revenue and managed 200 direct and indirect reports. Along the way, she developed multiple strategies on how to optimize team performance. As a coach, Erin is passionate about empowering leaders to get the most out of their teams. So they can achieve the results they deserve.
The focus of our conversation today is how to work with and motivate disengaged team members. Erin, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.
Erin: Thank you, Brendan. It’s great to be here. Thanks for the thoughtful introduction.
Brendan: Well, my pleasure. I did have a little bit of a tough time trying to reduce the intro down, you're achieving a lot. We're really lucky, we're having a lot of overachievers on The Culture of Things podcast.
Erin: Listen, I'm definitely an overachiever and I don't know how proud I am to say that. I was recently reflecting on how I need to slow down a little bit. I need to slow down the pace a little bit for the next 10 years or so and just give myself a chance here.
Brendan: You know what, you've just given me an idea. I think what I need to do is prepare some badges for all of our guests and send them an ‘I’m an overachiever’ badge that they can wear on the show.
Erin: I will wear it, I should wear it. I'm not going to deny it. It exists and my entire livelihood is very selfish and centered around offsetting that.
Brendan: We love it. People like you that are actually making a difference in the world. We need more of those people that do stuff. Less people talking about it, more people taking action is important.
Erin: Well, I’m doing it.
Brendan: Good on you. I want to ask you about this Thrive Global Top 10 Coach of 2021. That is a fantastic achievement. Well done. Tell us how that came about?
Erin: Thank you, I appreciate it. What I'm most proud of about that recognition is what I believe to be an opportunity for other members in the coaching community to be recognized for their efforts who aren't necessarily the Tony Robbins up on stage with so many resources. That's what I'm most proud of is I’m a coach who has a focus and a passion. I was recognized for that, being one of the Top 10 Coaches to help you thrive in 2021 comes in part from a focus I have on mindful leadership.
A lot of the work I do as a coach and consultant are around mindfulness, mindfulness practices, how we can show up more mindfully with each other. And I also do have a passion and a focus on working with women specifically, so female leaders in healthcare. Although I do work with all humans, it is an area of interest for me. I have a little bit of a niche in some respects and I was grateful to be recognized for the work that I am doing. So, thank you.
Brendan: Yeah, look, that's absolutely awesome. Obviously, you are doing some fantastic work because to be recognized by an organization, your peers are fantastic. Well done, whatever you're doing, keep it up.
Erin: I appreciate that, thank you. It's evolving though. Every day gets a little bit better, I like to think.
Brendan: Erin, you also mentioned off air and I said it in your introduction, you've had a fair bit of experience in the healthcare space. You spent time in that space yourself and you're working with leaders around that space. How has that been in the last 12–18 months given this pandemic situation we're all in?
Erin: It’s so funny, Brendan. When you reminded me that I worked for Medtronic as well but Pfizer at one point in time, I drew the connection. It's really funny because it's been so long since I've been there. Yes, I do work with leaders in the life sciences sector. That includes pharma, clinical research organizations, medical device, med-tech, biotech, and I have worked with individuals who have been very close to the vaccine projects over the last 18 months.
It's been really fascinating. There's been a lot of energy and buzz, and when other things were completely coming to a standstill, these individuals were working round the clock and everything was amped up for them. It was a very different reality and it just really served as a reminder that it's like we all kind of live in our own little worlds, but there are so many layers to the experience.
During a time when people were losing jobs and businesses were closing down, any company that had anything to do with any of the vaccines was in production mode, creation mode, accelerating approval processes mode to respond to humanity's call for help.
Brendan: Linking back to our topic today about disengaged employees and motivating them. In my world and probably in yours, nothing brings people together and maybe engages them better than a crisis, not that you want to have this sort of crisis. But did you notice that difference in this space that all of a sudden this crisis happens in people that may have been disengaged? It sort of really brought them to the fore and they hadn't really no choice but to be engaged, did they?
Erin: Yeah, it's a really good point. I tend to attract clients who have an appetite for things like conscious communication, taking a mindful approach, a desire to be respectful, and honoring of teams and other humans. I tend to attract leaders with that appetite. That being said, I generally work with leaders who have been in this space for a long time.
It does vary. But absolutely, there were individuals that were kind of not going through the motions necessarily, but doing what they do so well, whatever that was. Then all of a sudden, the entire landscape shifted overnight and everyone's being all humans on deck. I noticed a lot of excitement from these individuals during the process. There was definitely an energy to it and enthusiasm about it.
Obviously, many details weren't shared with me about what exactly was going on. But there's just this energy of excitement and passion, and the fact that these individuals were able to be part of such an amazing humanitarian effort in some ways, right? Regardless of the political aspects and nature of the vaccinations. The original intent was to help some humans out, right? That energy was definitely showing up with some of my clients. It was really cool to be a part of for sure and still is really.
Brendan: I'm going to go to the definition of engaged versus disengaged soon, but on the flip side of that scenario, did you have any clients that you're working with that maybe became disengage because the impact of this pandemic has really hurt them and their business and they're struggling in various areas?
Erin: One hundred percent. There are layers, right? Our view and our experience is our experience and it tends to be quite myopic. So we have leaders who were so enthusiastic and really high-energy, very close to the vaccination projects. Then we have other individuals who were maybe working at companies where they had been burning the candle at both ends for so long, and during COVID, it was their first time for a pause.
One of my clients who is an executive, at the beginning of COVID, said to me, “I can't tell you the last time I took a vacation and I can't tell you how nice it is to be forced to stay home. I love my house. It's so nice to be able to actually be home.” And throughout COVID, there was this awakening that happened for a lot of individuals, not just clients, but a lot of humans here in the US where there's a name called ‘the great resignation’ that's been borne out of it.
One of the angles or one of the theories behind this is a lot of people have been leaving their jobs because they've recognized that they have access to so much more. And also have recognized that their career has been the only bucket they've been feeling for some time. When COVID slowed things down, for a lot of people, that bucket was emptied. There was that realization that, wow, I've been putting all of my eggs in one basket so to speak, and that is not a stable way to go about it.
I have clients and connections who began to diversify their income during COVID. They began to look for teaching opportunities. They began to look at even different just consulting opportunities in addition to the work they were doing to spread things out a bit more. I did also have clients and connections who left their roles without having another job to go to, which is actually leading to a very interesting job market because there is a huge, very highly capable talent pool in place right now in the United States.
So there are a lot of very high talent individuals who are going to either be looking for work very soon or are already interviewing. It’s kind of an employer’s market right now because they have access to a lot of top talent.
But going back to the great resignation, what I'm grateful for in all of this as a coach who focuses on mindfulness and mindset, I'm grateful to see that humans are recognizing that they can have access to more. I don't necessarily mean, oh, I'm realizing I could have everything I want. It's not so much about that. It's more about humans are recognizing that they can have a better experience. I think there was a lot more tolerance and there was a lot more settling.
Companies, by the way, are responding to this because what's also happening now is employees are asking for more. They're asking for more flexibility. I was sharing with you that we have a lot of companies that are bringing employees back into the office physically at this time, and that is creating a whole set of challenges. That's something we can get into as well. But yeah, the great resignation.
Brendan: Yes, I know you mentioned to me off air. It’s a great term and something I hadn't heard of before. I look forward to watching that space, and we will double back (I think) to that term the great resignation because it can come right through this conversation. But let's explain in your own words and your own experience, what is engaged versus a disengaged employee?
I need you to start to articulate that because those words are pretty buzzy words, right? They’re always in corporate settings and we've got to get employees more engaged and all this and they bring in these consultants to do stuff and whatever. What is it, engaged versus disengaged? What does that look like?
Erin: It's a great question. Talking about engagement, so an employee who's engaged, whether they are frontline, formal leader, informal leader, they are going to exhibit certain qualities. There’s going to be that quality of trust that shows up in their environment and their world. So they are going to display behaviors and take actions to demonstrate that they trust leadership, that they trust their peers, that they trust themselves.
Anything I talk about as it relates to behavior with leadership, if we're seeing anything in our team, it's usually a reflection of us somehow. I just want to put that out there. We can explore that further if it's relevant to the conversation, but we have trust.
We also have this attitude of carefronting. What do I mean by that? We don't have somebody who's confrontational but we have somebody who's comfortable with carefronting. Conflict exists in the workplace. Let me explain what I mean here. Conflict exists in the workplace is actually a very healthy and very normal part of any organizational culture. There are three types of conflicts usually at play: one is relationship, one is process, and one is task.
When somebody's engaged, you see them involved in conflict here and there in a way that's healthy. They're working through some type of conflict in a process or task, or one of the more common forms of conflict—relationship conflict. You may see them having conversations with a co-worker or leader to try to navigate and find a way through those challenges.
The other thing is you're going to see a lack of ambiguity with somebody who's engaged. They're going to have this attitude of commitment. They're going to be considered as kind of reliable. I mean, I want to be very careful with that word, but they're going to also be very results-driven. So you're going to see them engaged and present during meetings, you're going to see them asking questions, not just making statements or even sharing ideas. They're going to display a certain curiosity.
Curiosity is a really, really big one with that engaged employee. Are they asking questions? Another thing I'll share is that you've got that results-driven attitude, so there's growth happening, they're meeting their objectives, and then there's this advocacy. There are things that they are passionate about that they believe in that they are bringing to the attention of their working environment, whether that's their leaders or engaged employees.
It doesn't mean that somebody who's not speaking up all the time is not engaged. That's not where I'm going with this. But somebody who's engaged is in some form or fashion advocating with their behavior. So they're advocating for the things that they believe in with their behavior, and that can be verbal, it can be nonverbal, it can be material, which means how they set up for meetings or how they present themselves, things like that.
Those are all qualities and characteristics of an engaged employee. I'll pause there in case there's anything that you'd like to comment on with regard to that.
Brendan: There's a number of things that I think we can unpack, but again, we'll probably be here for two or three hours, which is maybe not appropriate. But one of the things you said really at the start, you didn't use this term but it just sparked in my head because I use that a lot—culture is a reflection of leadership. It's sort of how we're leading. If you're seeing something in your team or behaviors in people, we're going to look at ourselves, which is a fantastically important point.
We’ll unpack some other stuff. But just reverse that again onto the disengaged employees because I want to take us to how do we get there?
Erin: The disengaged employee, right off the bat, there's going to be a lack of trust, so you almost take all of the words and we flip them. There is going to be a lack of trust. This employee is going to question a lot of things. They are going to display behaviors that indicate they're not trusting. So they might hesitate to ask for help, they might hesitate to offer help, it might be that employee that is sort of just checking the boxes somehow. There's a lack of trust happening, they're not trusting in the process or in themselves enough.
There's also the sphere of conflict. You're going to see with the disengaged employee, it could be a fear or it could just be a desire sort of an apathy or almost like a resignation of sorts like an attitude of resignation where it's like there might be an opportunity to navigate through some challenges, but they're not doing it. They're not engaging in that, they're not engaging in the normal healthy conflict that's taking place at work. There's going to be a lot more ambiguity with somebody who's a disengaged employee. They're going to have a hard time making decisions.
Remember, we're talking about this at all levels of the organization, so this can go all the way up to the top. There's a lack of decisiveness and clear decision-making. There's also an avoidance of accountability with somebody who's a disengaged employee. So you're going to find that as things can and do come up, this individual is going to be likely to either place blame on others or not accept the blame themselves if they're not feeling engaged in the process or in the organizational culture.
Then you're going to have somebody who's not results-driven. They're going to not be meeting their MBOs, management by objectives, whatever they're called, KPIs. They’re not going to be ticking the boxes and driving results. It's not going to be profitable. Generally, you're also going to see—when you have a disengaged employee—it really does affect the other members in their space. It can be on their team, it could be leadership, so you'll tend to see a change in morale as well.
Brendan: The thing that's really sticking out to me—and again, maybe because it's involved in a fair bit of the work I do—is the disengaged employees, by the sounds of the explanation you've just given, means higher dysfunction in the team. More engaged employees generally mean minimal or minimize dysfunction in the team. Would that be fair to say?
Erin: One hundred percent. That's exactly how I would describe it, it really is dysfunction. It’s function versus dysfunction, engagement versus disengagement. It has a direct impact on the outcomes of a team, 100% every time. Regardless of whether or not you're a manufacturing line employee, you're part of a creative process for the branding strategy at a pharmaceutical company, or you're involved in a clinical trial. This is not a digression, but it's a little bit of a different angle.
There's a company called HeartMath that researches the heart and provides scientific data to suggest that where we emotionally have this impact is like a 15-foot radius around us. Whatever is happening in our heart, there is data to suggest that it affects those around us, so I very much look at any of the work I do that way.
When we have somebody who’s in an emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or even physically challenged state—if that's their perception—it's going to have an impact on how committed they feel. That is absolutely going to impact the people around them. Whatever state my heart is in, whatever emotional state I'm in, whether or not I say a word, it's going to have an impact on those around me.
Brendan: Let's link that back specifically, Erin, to a leadership lens, so a leader leading a team. Depending on how they're feeling, how their hearts go—I really like that explanation as well. How they're feeling, how they're acting, if I'm an engaged employee and I'm following a leader, as a leader, what could I do that actually makes me become a disengaged employee? I imagine that could happen quite a bit. People get excited about starting a role, they may be quite engaged, but over time, they become disengaged. How does that happen?
Erin: I will answer your question and I would also be totally remiss if I did not mention the McKinsey study briefly. This might be something that the listeners are going to want more of. I don't know if you've seen this article and I forgot to mention it to you. In fact, I was just looking at it earlier today for something.
McKinsey & Company do a lot of surveys and publications. They talk about something called the meaning quotient and they’re equating it to EQ and IQ. It's called MQ, meaning quotient, and it's a number. What it does is it calculates the sense of purpose that an employee feels they have (and this will be a segue to answer your question) in an organization and the impact it has on their productivity.
What it says in the article is the higher the MQ, if somebody works in an organization where there's a high EQ, IQ, and MQ, when they're at their peak performance rate, their productivity is five times above normal when they’re at peak performance when you have MQ involved. So, just having that one additional factor of MQ increases productivity by up to five times. It's a fascinating article and it really quantifies a lot of what we're talking about.
Coming back to the leadership team and Brendan you said, what is it that the leader can do or what is the leader identifying when their teams are disengaged? I just want to make sure I have your question correct.
Brendan: The question is more related to if I'm a leader looking at the leadership lens, what are those behaviors or things that I shouldn't do but I may do, which actually moves an employee or a group of employees I'm leading from engaged to that bad state of being disengaged, or on the journey of being disengaged.
Erin: I think it might be important here to touch base briefly with the definition of leadership as I see it, and this is not original content but this is how I work with the words.
Leadership is a process of social influence that takes place through communication. So being a process of all influence that takes place through communication, leadership is a little bit less romantic and then becomes more reflection of the followers. It kind of becomes more based on the assessment of the follower. If a leader wants to become more aware of any behaviors of the team, whether that's a team that's on its way to being disengaged or anything like that, they want to understand a few things about employees.
For example, studies show that only about 20% of employees feel like their strengths are being leveraged in the workplace, which can obviously have a tremendous negative impact on somebody's feelings of sense of purpose.
The other thing, there's a term called professional isolation. Harvard Business Review has a lot of really good content on this actually. I talk about this quite a bit in the Strategic Organizational Leadership class that I teach. Basically, professional isolation is a tricky one because solitude is important. But if I'm a leader and I'm isolating, it's going to reflect on my team.
When I'm isolating, if I'm looking at my team and I feel like my team is not sharing information with me. If I feel like my team is kind of giving me lip service, if I feel like my team saying yes to things or let's say I'm having really boring meetings as a leader. I have a meeting and my team just sits there quietly, I'm talking the whole time, and all of a sudden the meeting’s done, there's a really good chance that I am actually isolating myself. I may be keeping those doors closed a little bit too much.
There's a really good chance that I'm not allowing voices to be heard on the team. I might have some type of implicit or unconscious bias toward certain personalities on the team where I might defer to certain more dominating personalities on the team.
There's a lot of really interesting things to consider with this, but as a leader, if the team is acting, like I said, bored in meetings, results aren't happening. They're not driving the results, there aren't really many team meetings or one-on-ones or a lot of interactions. If I don't, as a leader, feel like I have a pulse on what's happening with my team and/or if I don't feel like I have a pulse on what their strengths are, then we're on our way to some serious problems.
Brendan: When you see a leader like that or you're engaged to support a leader through a journey like that, is there one thing that you like to focus on as a starting point to start the journey on the upward trajectory (can I say)?
Erin: Well, there's got to be a willingness and an open-mindedness on behalf of the leader. It's a tricky situation because even as a coach, there's this perception that coaches are for people that are having performance issues. Personally, I prefer working with people who want to work with me, not those who need to work with me. Even though I have relationships with companies where I am brought in to work with certain individuals where it's been requested, generally, that coaching partnership is only effective when the leader is expressing an open-mindedness and a willingness to really change behaviors.
Trust is huge and trusting that there's an opportunity for the leader to show up even more powerfully. Listen, I don't believe there are good and bad leaders, which every time I say that somebody in the room is like, what are you talking about? But here's the thing, my biggest growth spurs have been from my greatest times of adversity. Even those “bad leaders” teach us way too much for us not to give them at least some credit. But it really does start with self-observation.
Once you have a leader who is willing and open-minded, you then start talking about ways for them to observe how they're showing up. In order to be the observer or ethnographer, as I like to say sometimes, it really requires the leader to come from a place of non-judgment. Taking that judgment cap off, putting on that cap of observation because we like to wear out hats, and beginning to self observe. Eventually, that self-observation turns into self-awareness, and that self-awareness drives behavioral shifts. Those behavioral shifts lead to more effective leadership.
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Brendan: What does that look like practically? Self-awareness and self-observation, I get that. But just to help us all make this tangible, what does it look like? Give us one or two examples if you can.
Erin: Absolutely. I work a lot with leadership stories and core values. Writing a personal leadership story (and that can look a lot of different ways) is actually an extremely difficult task for many leaders to do. They become very adept at knowing what organizations like from them. They've become rather disconnected from what their leadership story looks like. Many times, they aren't very proud of what their leadership story has become, so they're not really interested in writing about it, or not even that, it's a lot more benign than that.
It's not important. Somehow, the personal narrative has become a lot less important. A lot of leaders really struggle with self-promotion too. They either do it unnaturally a lot or they're not doing it at all. Really taking a look at what the personal leadership narrative is.
The second thing is core values. Values evolve over time and it might even be more appropriate to say the things that we value, we become aware of over time. There are things that we value that we may not even be fully aware of and depending on what chapter of our lives we're in, and a lot of times leaders haven't touched base on that in a long time.
Bringing that mirror up and giving the leader, actually holding space for the leader. This is where the conversation shifted a little bit because I do want to say this. There is way, way, way too much pressure put on a leader to have this thing all figured out.
What I want to say about that is, how much space is being held for the leader to really grow and to really be in that learning mindset? I had this one client who basically was such a phenomenal technical expert that a whole business was divested and given to him about 30 years ago. He became the CEO. He went from individual contributor to running a company, and he did it for a few decades.
Because the boxes were ticked, the numbers were hit, and the bottom line looks good every year, nobody ever felt the need to have him invest in his professional or people development. After a few decades of that, he was at risk of losing his leadership team. He had just never developed the desire or the ability to manage people or focus on the people. He thought it was an HR thing, and the truth is he was given a people leader role as a technical expert.
Who's to blame for that? It's like leaders are so often put in these positions where they're expected to just deliver, deliver, deliver. The work I do with leaders is literally giving them 30–45 minutes every two weeks to get really selfish and start thinking about what matters to them. What kind of a leader do I want to be? What is my leadership story? What do I value?
Then taking those core values, by the way, when we talk about values-based leadership, how do the things I value align with what the organization values. Do I even know? Core values and leadership stories would be the two places I would start from a self-observation perspective.
Brendan: I love it. I call that your leadership personal code or your leadership code, so I'm right on board with what you're saying. Going back to that CEO example, Erin, this is a million-dollar question because if you have the answer, if I had the answer, we'd be living off that for a long time.
How do we change or tip the conversation into moving people's mindset from leaders is they're probably going to be a good leader because they're technical experts, which we know is very wrong thinking. How do we shift that conversation in your view to say just because you're a technical expert or staff before, it doesn't mean they've got the right mindset to lead. If they haven't got the right mindset to lead, they're never going to be a great leader for their people.
Erin: This is actually something that hits really close to home for me. It's the inspiration for a lot of the work that I do because once upon a time several years ago, I was promoted from an individual contributor and informal leader role into a formal leadership role and very little development.
I had gone through the company leadership development programs and definitely developed a very strong executive presence. But when it came to actually managing people and taking that strength-based approach, there was a huge gap. I struggled tremendously in the role and I think I'm a really good example of something that happens quite often.
I was a top-performing sales rep, I was promoted into the international side of the business, and I took overtraining. Everyone loved me. I was great at creating content and delivering the material. I'm bilingual. My work ethic is strong. I didn't mind putting in the work. Putting me in the role where all of a sudden I'm responsible for three P&Ls and all these people made a lot of sense and there was a big gap.
The gap was helping me during that transition to really build trust. Here's what really stands out for me. When people go from the individual contributor role to the formal leadership role, there's something really important to keep in mind especially if you're taking somebody from the commercial organization who has for years been trained to chase a number and to be recognized for individual contributions, think about the actual world.
When you have someone who has learned to receive praise and recognition based on individual accomplishments and then you put them in charge of a team where it is no longer about their individual accomplishments. What now matters is they leverage the strengths of the team and that they let the team be the entity to drive the results. That is a huge shift in mindset and one that quite frankly I would agree is not very natural and is also something that is taught.
Just like teaching someone to be recognized for their individual contributions. Think about us as kids, we were raised to be recognized. We are praised when we get good grades. Then we get to the workplace and we're given awards for accomplishing a sales target, meeting a sales target, or doing these other things, then all of a sudden we're in charge of a team. If we're going to be good leaders, we're actually supposed to just really lift up the team, that takes training.
This is actually exactly the kind of work I'm trying to do today. It's been a very interesting journey, but talking with companies specifically about what are you doing to support the individuals that you're taking out of the individual contributor role, technical expert, putting them into the formal leadership role?
Listen, some companies have programs, but it tends to focus a lot more on executive presence, presentation skills, verbal communication, how the individual is showing up—still individually focused. The fact is we've got to talk more about listening. We've got to talk more about leveraging strengths. How do I leverage the strengths of my team when I don't have a high emotional quotient?
If I'm not able to understand and determine my own emotional state or the things I'm good at, how am I going to be able to read my team? When I'm out as an individual contributor hoping to be recognized by my company for achievements, I'm not really paying attention to my emotional state and my company tells me what I'm good at. Do you see what I mean?
It's kind of the other end of the spectrum and it's totally doable. How often do you hear people say, oh, gosh so and so continues to be in these leadership roles, but people just don't enjoy working for that person? Why is that happening? Because they're checking some important boxes. We also, as organizational culture, have an opportunity to place a lot more value on supporting that individual contributor as they transition.
Brendan: Absolutely fantastic point. Unfortunately, I can also relate to your own personal journey you've shared as probably a hell lot of leaders can. Focusing on you a little bit here, what helped you in that transition from individual contributor to leadership?
Erin: Meditation and qigong.
Brendan: I know meditation, I don't know qigong. What's that?
Erin: It's like Tai chi’s sister, that's the best way to describe it. I'm serious though, mindfulness techniques just to help me have a little more composure and to help me have a little more peace of mind. I had some really supportive employees and I had other employees that were frustrated and felt like it was never enough, and that I was always pushing them to do more and more. In fact, I recall an employee saying to me, you asked for me to give you the color blue, I gave you the color blue, and it's not the right shade of blue. I'll never forget that.
I had these unrealistic standards that I could barely meet. As a high performer and a high achiever, it is definitely part of the contrast of these really gifted talents that I have, and that is I can absolutely be inconsiderate of other people's ability to perform. I can ignore my own body speaking and just burn the candle. I was doing all of that.
Eventually, when I thought it was all quackery, initially, I started to get into meditation. Listen, meditating 2–3 minutes a day was not something I had time for. My entire experience was fast-paced, late nights, early mornings. I always have had running as a saving grace, but it really was the mindfulness technique when I started eating better and taking better care of my body. These were the things that really helped me.
As far as the role is concerned, it was selling products essentially. I was managing people, but I was capable of doing that job. It was not that I was incapable. Where I struggled was dealing with emotions and challenges. I had some challenges with gender bias in the Latin American market. The way I handled it was very direct. It was let's get HR involved, and let's just face this thing, take it down.
Brendan: You became a [...] breaker, didn't you?
Erin: Oh, I just dove right into that. The people that came to me for support in the first place denied everything. That's not how they wanted to handle this. Being a female who was about 12 years younger than every other leader from the United States—one of four people from the US on the leadership, one who is the president—I was kind of the minority.
I'm fluent in Spanish so that took me a long way, but it's mindfulness, meditation, yoga, qigong, running, and eventually asking for help. It's interesting because the number one fear of executives worldwide, a study shows, is incompetence. We hear people talk about imposter syndrome, I certainly had that and I felt very much ill-equipped. I was intimidated by my leadership team, but I wasn't going to say anything because if I came across like I was incompetent, my story in my head was I will be kicked right out.
The opposite is true and I talk with leaders about this. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be afraid to get your hand up, and ask for help in the beginning. I had extremely capable people on my team with a lot more experience than I had in those markets who are very willing to help me. I made the decision to show up as the leader and say, nope, I got it. I got this figured out and ultimately backfired.
Brendan: There are a couple of things once again sticking out for me, but before I move on to that, I have to ask, are you okay with The Culture of Things shade of blue on the logo? It's just been playing on my mind ever since you talked about shades of blue.
Erin: I am, for now.
Brendan: I feel very comfortable now. My anxiety levels were increasing.
Erin: We'll see how I feel tomorrow.
Brendan: See how you wake up tomorrow?
Erin: I'll send you an email about it.
Brendan: Please do. We'll be sure to change it just for you.
Erin: This is intense stuff. The leadership thing is no joke.
Brendan: Once again, it reminds me, I had a conversation with a leader I do some work with and have been working with for some time, but a book my wife gave me many, many years ago was called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. It was a book she did buy me when I was very early on my own journey of leadership. I can't remember any specific exams of shades of blue or the wrong color paper clips and stuff, but it was really that. You had to let go. You had to be vulnerable and that's really one of the things I took from what you just said before.
As a leader, you need to be vulnerable, but what helps you was that level of self-awareness and how you got self-awareness maybe through some meditation and these sorts of things. Self-awareness is so important to set that foundation to be able to build from. Am I right to say that summed that up in a way?
Erin: You're catching me on a research day. I was doing some research for some upcoming articles that I will be sending out to my mailing list. There's one and I believe it's Forbes. It specifically talks about self-awareness. There was a study done on 5000 business professionals and they had established certain criteria as an indication of self-awareness. Although the majority of the individuals who are surveyed found themselves to be self-aware, the survey results indicated that about 10%–15% of the individuals who were surveyed demonstrated self-awareness based on the criteria.
It goes on to say that self-awareness is absolutely essential and I do think that we underestimate in the corporate sector, what self-awareness is about, gets to be about, and how it really developed. Because self-awareness occurs when we are able to be free of judgment. How many of us are able to find ourselves in a place of non judgment?
It's funny I say that and I run into these often where I start working with someone or even in conversations. I will bring up the conversation of judgment, and the response will be I'm not judging myself. I'm not judgemental of myself now.
It's funny because I actually thought the same way. Back in 2012, somebody said to me, I said no, and he said just to watch it for the next couple of weeks. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself, what you say, and things like that, and see what comes up. I did and sure enough, every meeting I walked out of, it was like, you could have said this, why didn't you say that, why weren't you more quiet?
After lunch it will be like, oh my gosh, why did you just eat that? Why don't you eat something else? When I got home late at night, oh my gosh, you could be home hours ago, why didn't you stay at the office tonight? Literally, my whole entire monologue was coming from a place of judgment—negative judgment.
Self-awareness is so important and I believe, in my assessment, self-awareness is happening when we're able to step out of judgment.
Brendan: I think we've really cleared the path from the self-awareness piece, vulnerability piece, having the openness, the vulnerability to ask questions, to seek help, having the self-awareness to be able to do that. That's really a solid foundation for moving. If you're leaving a team at that time, moving people from disengaged to engaged. How do we link this back to what you said earlier that other foundational piece about personal code leadership code?
There's a lot of effort, work, and thinking that needs to go into that from a leader's perspective because I really got to uncover lots of things themselves, sit on some of that stuff for a while and reflect on the stuff that they’re saying in the workplace or the way they're making decisions. Once we’ve got that bodywork with the leader, what do they actually need to do to keep on this path of helping lead people so that I've got an engaged team?
Erin: That's a great question. Once a leader has a leadership story that feels good to them and once the leader feels a strong connection to what they value, that means that they are actively and consistently listening to themselves and listening to their hearts, quite honestly. As a coach, I've learned to talk about matters from a head, heart, and hands perspective. There are certain things that I need my head for, there are certain things I need my heart for, there are certain things that I'll need my hands for.
When it comes to things like self-awareness, our leadership brand, what we value, that's a conversation with the heart. Once the leader has accessed that and has had that conversation with the heart, it's time for them to listen. It's time for them to listen to their teams, they've now listened to themselves. It's time for them to listen to their teams, to their peers, to their leaders, and it's time for them to apply that listening to self further.
You just don't write the story and have the values, then you're good. It's a constant daily practice. It's, do I need to put my hands up and ask for help today?
Brendan: Sorry, I’ll let you continue, but you're telling me we don’t just stick them to the wall, leave it there, and not do anything with them? Surely?
Erin: I'm telling you, I’m the same way. If I don't pick this up real quick, let's move on to the next thing. That's very much part of the US culture I think in general. I don't know much about the Australian culture, but I know that's the way it is here. It's like, oh, I tried it two or three times. I'm good, next.
Brendan: We've busted the myth, Erin. The myth has been busted. Whether it's a leadership story, personal values, company values, you don't just go through an exercise, tick the box, and put them on the wall and do nothing. You say you got to live and breathe that stuff. Is that what you're saying?
Erin: Yeah, and here's why. It’s exactly right. You have to apply it over and over again. It becomes a part of your practice. It becomes a part of your leadership practice. You find ways that make sense for you. Here's why, and somebody said this to me once. She said, you're not going to be successful if you have this vision of wanting to change the world. She said, you are going to be successful if your mission is to change yourself and be the best version of yourself.
The reason for that, my interpretation of that is, if I spend my days focusing on fixing everybody and changing everybody around me. If my focus is external, then on the day-to-day, the people that I'm interacting with that I can really have the most impact with, nothing's going to change there because I'm not changing.
Think about the leader that is focusing on the team all the time and I have had this happen. I have had a client that it's always about the team, it's always about the team, it's always about the team. And it's like, okay, I get that. What's happening with you?
Not to say there are things to fix, it's simply a process of becoming aware. This is why it's important to apply and have a practice with the leadership story and the core values because it's like when I'm applying it and when I'm practicing it, the people around me that I'm capable of having the most impact with are going to see my behaviors and they're going to see the integrity with which I act.
There's a really good chance that they're going to make changes as a result of that versus me quite frankly not practicing what I preach.
Brendan: Erin, the words that are ringing clearly in my ears are from a mentor of mine and he said, “Brendan, leadership is not about you, but it is about you.”
Erin: Yeah, and I think that's the trick because here's the thing. You know Brené Brown, right?
Brendan: Yeah, I've heard of her.
Erin: I'm glad. If you have answered no to that I’d be sending you a lot of YouTube videos after this.
Brendan: I have a good friend Sonia who is a really avid supporter and friend of the podcast and she loves Brené Brown as well. She also sends me all sorts of stuff. She bought me Brené Brown’s book actually as well.
Erin: That's wonderful. Brené Brown talks about this study they did to identify who the most compassionate people were in the whole world and it's a great myth. Here's the thing, the most compassionate people in the world had something in common, and it was a set of criteria they had decided on to make for what they consider to be the most compassionate person.
There's one thing they all had in common and that was the boundaries of steel. The most compassionate people in the world were also people who were able to, in an open-hearted way, protect themselves from taking on too much of what was happening around them. There's something called the Karpman Drama Triangle, and this is all connected.
There's something called the Karpman Drama Triangle so you have a rescuer, you have a pioneer, and then you have a victim down at the bottom. Many leaders fall into either the rescuer pioneer category and some of us travel all around. When we are in rescue mode as leaders, we are focused entirely on the team and we're doing it to the extent that it is a distraction from us having to go within. A lot of leaders do this and they can resist and resist.
I would be lying if I said I do not have client relationships end because it's just the leader was not expressing a willingness and open-mindedness towards doing a little more self-discovery and really truly believed that the problem was the team.
By the way, when I say that it's not that the leader is the problem. I don't want that to be the message here at all because we're hard enough on ourselves and there's so much pressure put on the leader. But what I like to do is I like to give the leader their power back and say, you know what, you can't really fully control the actions of your team, but you can control your own. How can we look at this? How can we respond to this differently? What are some of the things that you can do differently to take your power back?”
All of a sudden you have a leader who's acting with integrity, all of a sudden (even more than ever) you have this leader that's showing up so powerful that it not only motivates, but it inspires the team to do better.
Brendan: Again, you touched on it, the leader is important in this whole process. We've really pushed that through. The other thing I just want to touch on in this journey of disengagement, engagement, or moving between the two is what responsibility does the team member have in this journey?
Erin: I’m so glad you asked that question. I had a conversation with one of my classes a while ago about this. We were talking about the statistics that 20% of employees feel like their strengths are being tapped into at work, and this guy said, listen, I'm responsible for 650 people. I cannot possibly expect to know the strengths of every single one of these people, where they want to go, and what their career paths are.
There is 100% accountability on behalf of the employee to express their needs and preferences, to put their hands up and ask for help. If they are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that they're being given, not being afraid to ask for additional time and not being afraid to over-communicate. The employee's responsibility, it's like a relationship, it's like a partnership. We're not here to read each other's minds.
In fact, there's a lot of codependency in that. When we're expecting our leader to have it figured out for us, there is an energy of codependency, and codependency is unhealthy and toxic. As the employee, we also have the responsibility of voicing our opinions, of expressing our preferences. Set up those one-on-ones with the leader. Don't be afraid to send the email asking for more time. Don't be afraid to share that you're feeling isolated or disengaged and that you want to re-energize your career pathway.
Don't wait for your leader to come talk with you about your career pathway. The leaders who do that I don't think are in the majority, and if they're doing it, a lot of times it's because they are being tasked with doing that. It's not because they don't want to do it. It's just when you think about the list of priorities that a leader has, that's not always at the top and it really shouldn't be.
I think I said this earlier, people struggle with self-promotion and there are a few reasons for that, but working through that and walking through that. Getting a coach, somebody who can help you as an employee to identify opportunities for expansion and growth. Coaches aren't here to give advice and guidance. Coaches make the assumption that you have the answers you need and there are just questions that might inspire or provoke you to maximize your potential. Invest in yourself. There's a lot that the employee can do.
Brendan: You mentioned two or three examples of what the employee can do to start that conversation. How much of that input comes down to the core of your relationship and that famous word you mentioned numerous times—trust?
Erin: It's huge. If you have a leader that's coming off as unavailable or inaccessible, it can be really hard for the employee to feel comfortable doing these things. Unfortunately, I guess I'll say the challenge here too is that a lot of times the leader is accessible but the employee is so used to this hierarchical structure that they feel intimidated and they don't want to ruffle any feathers, but managing up is a thing.
I never like to say responsibility because I like to stay away from applying more pressure, but employees have an opportunity to manage up and to work through some of those stories they might have. Because you might actually have a leader who is accessible but in your mind, they're not.
Even if it feels really uncomfortable reaching out to them, now if you reach out to the leader and there is good documented evidence that they are not being responsive or accessible, then that's an opportunity for you to go to an advocate in the organization and get some advice and guidance on what the best steps would be for sure.
Brendan: Well said. What's the line that we need to get clear on as a leader and as an employee as well. We talk about engage to disengage or disengage to engage, but there can also be an element of disengaged employees that aren't just the right fit for whatever reason.
From a leadership lens perspective, what helps the leader get to a point of being clear on? That maybe it's less about them and less about the organization, but it's just a bad fit. How do they get to that decision? What do they need to have in place to get there?
Erin: This is a really good question. Generally, organizational structures are such that the hiring process is kind of fast and furious where the leader that will eventually have that direct report doesn't necessarily have a lot of time for a conversation about expectations to really be intentional and thoughtful about what that journey is going to look like.
The focus tends to be a lot more on the deliverables for the organization than it is the relationship with the leader. The problem with that is when there are not those preventative, proactive conversations about the relationships, about the expectations, about the leadership style, what the leader wants to see, what the employee wants to see. When that breakdown begins to occur, it makes it a lot more challenging for the leader to really comfortably transition that employee out of the organization.
In fact, I'll say this, the employee would be probably less likely to disengage in the first place if they felt heard by their leader. It's really a good place to start as a leader (from the get-go) to really engage that employee early on, have a conversation, be thoughtful, be intentional, and be present.
Don't have a one-on-one with an employee and be doing email, checking your phone, or taking calls. If a call comes through, do not take that call. Show them that they matter and how much they actually matter and be honoring and respectful, not being too busy.
I do think a lot of it happens in the beginning. If you have an employee that didn't happen and you find yourself in that challenging situation now, I don't think it's really ever too late to build that rapport and trust. It might be a little more damage control and you might have to put a little more effort into it.
If you hired an employee who is very capable and talented for the role and they're disengaged, there is a way through it, usually. If it's not a fit anymore, it's a situation of trust, and it's an environment that is healthy, it's probably not feeling like a fit for the employee either where it becomes more of a mutual conversation, which is easier for the leader.
Brendan: Erin, so much of what you have said through this interview I just so align with. That's a good thing, but also, it's good to get opposing views as well. We don't want to go with groupthink, but that's why this last question is really important. I can't wait to hear what you say. I want to ask you about what's that one thing that has the greatest impact on your own leadership journey?
Erin: Self-actualization is very important to me. Just knowing that I am an evolving model.
Brendan: I love that—evolving model.
Erin: I'm an evolving model and I make mistakes. I tell my youngest stepson that whenever he makes a mistake and he gets upset because there's some type of consequence, I’ll look him in the eyes and I’ll say, how many mistakes do I make a day? He'll look at me and say, thousands. I’m like, yeah, that's it.
Brendan: He thinks you're a bad mom.
Erin: Yup. I'm like, I make thousands. I am all about self-actualization. This journey of self-discovery has allowed me to become the human that I am today. I've learned so much and I've had so many growth spurts. I'll say this, my Aunt Mary, she died at 103.5, and on her 102nd birthday—and she was witty as anything all the way to the end. Her physical body was just done, but mentally totally there.
I said, “Aunt Mary, what kept you here so long?” She looked at me and said, "I'm a slow learner. It takes me a really long time to figure things out," and I love that. I want to be a slow learner.
Brendan: Fantastic, I’m with you. That is brilliant. Self-actualization and a great story of your own. I think the other part of that story, again, is your stepchild coming in and being open to sharing the fact, a bit of a joke but thousands of mistakes. To me, the underlying story there is that when you have a level of relationship that's connected and that quality of that relationship is strong, you can have those sorts of conversations with each other and help each other improve.
If you haven't got that level of relationship, i.e. back to that word trust, which you mentioned many, many times in this interview. If you haven't got that, there's really a weak foundation to build from. You need to build that trust, build a relationship, help self -awareness which helps create the level of relationship you need. Then really it doesn't even matter if you screw up from time to time, which you will. People will be more accepting of that because you're human, right?
Erin: That’s it. You introduce the human factor. We got to let people know that we're not aliens and we're not robots. Leaders get to be relatable and the best leader makes mistakes.
Brendan: Absolutely. Erin, one final question, what is the best way for people to get a hold of you if they want to have a chat?
Erin: Absolutely. My website, erinjewellconsulting.com. There are a few ways to get in touch with me on the website, but if you go to the bookings tab, you can schedule a virtual coffee. You can schedule a consult. If you've listened in on the show tonight and would like to have some time with me to talk a little bit more about anything that we've discussed, feel free to set up a consult for free. I'll be happy to engage. I also have some free guided meditations on the website as well as some few blogs and some other fun information there. Feel free to go there.
Brendan: Absolutely. I can vouch for that. I've been to your website more than once. There's some pretty handy information there, so well done.
Before I close up, I just want to give a shoutout to our producer, Mark Charette, part of Central Coast Digital Media. He’s enabled myself and you to have this conversation in this format today and still be able to live stream. Because unfortunately, on the Central Coast here in New South Wales, we’re under some lockdown conditions with COVID again. We would not have been able to do this the way I’ve wanted to do it and to give you the level of professionalism without Mark’s help.
Mark, thank you, buddy. I really appreciate your support and the support of Central Coast Digital Media.
Erin, thank you very much. As I said before, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this conversation. The mindset that you’ve got, you’re so intune with how I like to think. I love how you’ve answered those questions. Thank you for sharing. Well done on the fantastic you’re doing and well done on the Thrive Award as well. That is a fantastic achievement. Keep doing that fantastic work that you’re doing. I look forward to developing this relationship a lot further. Thank you again for being a guest on the podcast.
Erin: Thank you so much, Brendan.
Brendan: Early in the show, Erin mentioned the great resignation happening in the US. People are leaving their jobs because they’ve now realized they have access to so much more. How do we slow the great resignation?
One way, by having the ‘great leadership reset. People will be motivated and engaged in their work environment when they know their leader cares about them as a real person. They also need to understand how their role makes a difference, and they need to feel that they are growing and developing. If these pillars are in place, people are less likely to leave.
The 'great leadership reset’ involves helping leaders become more effective. This will significantly improve engagement levels across the globe. These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Erin.
My first key takeaway: Leaders focus on being the best version of themselves. Self-awareness is essential to this happening. Stepping out of judgment and seeking feedback from others will guide you on your self-awareness journey. As Erin said, we are all evolving models. Your level of self-awareness will dictate how much you evolve towards being the best version of yourself
My second key takeaway: Leaders impact employee engagement. What you see in your team is a reflection of you as the leader. Your attitude and behaviours will flow through the team. If you see an employee that is disengaged, reflect on how you have impacted it and make the change. This will help you impact employee engagement in a positive way.
My third key takeaway: Every team member is accountable for their own level of engagement. Even though the leader impacts engagement. Every team member is accountable for their own level of engagement. If something isn’t working for you as a team member, you must speak up. Provide the leader with feedback. Be proactive, manage up, and be accountable for your level of engagement.
So in summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders focus on being the best version of themselves, leaders impact employee engagement, and every team member is accountable for their own level of engagement.
If you want to talk culture, leadership or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, you can leave me a comment on the socials, or 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.