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Transcript: The Culture of COVID-19 (EP9)


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.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. This is Episode 9.

In this episode, the roles are reversed. I have become the interviewee and a friend of mine is the interviewer. Quang Nguyen or as we know him, Q, from QN Coaching & Training asked me to come onto a video series he's running during the COVID-19 period to talk about culture, leadership and teamwork and the impact this crisis is having in these areas.

I have to say, I really enjoyed being on the other side as a guest. Q is a great guy who really helped to make the conversation flow, so I decided to turn this interview into an episode on this podcast. During this episode, I share my definition of culture and the impact leaders have on it. We talk about the level of support needed for new leaders, the impact of remote working, and I share my number one piece of advice for all leaders. Q also shares a great story about his time as an Assistant Principal and one of his key learnings.

So, sit back and enjoy as Q opens up the conversation. 

Quang Nguyen: Today's guest is someone who I know on a personal level. Not only is he a Leadership and Teamwork Coach, he's also a co-host of a networking group here called LinkedInLocal and he also has his own very cool podcasts, The Culture of Things.

Guys, please let me introduce you to Brendan Rogers.

Brendan Rogers: Hey Q. How are you, mate? Thanks for the introduction. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

Quang Nguyen: My pleasure. Look, thank you for saying yes to me. (Laughing)

Brendan Rogers: It wasn't a difficult decision, mate. You're a good man so again, yeah, we’ve known each other for a little bit of time, so always happy to help out.

Quang Nguyen: I really appreciate it. I know I've given everyone the really brief version of you, but can you just take a moment now just to expand on that and just tell us, you know exactly a bit more about yourself and what you do and how you help the business community.   

Brendan Rogers: Look, I'm a Leadership and Team Performance Coach. What does that mean? I help leaders create conversation and opportunity for conversation, really focused on creating healthy team performance. So that's one aspect. That's lots of conversation. You know, lots of people in a room and working through tough issues. ‘Cause I'm a big believer that teams exist to solve issues primarily. So, that's where the team side comes in a lot. And there's a lot of work with leaders off the back of that as far as coaching. But the other side of my business is very much working with individual leaders and helping them not become the limit on their team's performance. So, you know, you can get to this stage where a leader may be learning and growing and, but it is possible and I've seen it where they can reach this level and the team's improving and then all of a sudden, the leader becomes the limit on the team's improvement and performance.

So, it's really about working with leaders to make sure they never become the limit on their team performance. And as you said, I'm involved with a couple of good friends of mine and that's how you and I met through LinkedInLocal Central Coast. So, we love that community. It's full of fantastic people and just trying to help each other and build strong relationships on the Central Coast and particularly to help each other and maintain success in business.

And over this COVID period, it's actually been quite good for me. You know, I've still been quite busy, like a lot of people, a different form of busy, but the podcast, mate, it’s given me some time to get that up and running. It's called The Culture of Things and again, it's just talking all things, culture, leadership and teamwork, which I love to talk about.

I love to get insights from real people, from people that are living and breathing. They're on the frontline, like the health workers now that are doing such a great job, you know. They're on the front line, they're experiencing things. You've got pressure on your day-to-day and then thinking about culture and how I can be a better leader and how I can get my team working. You know, that's a really hard balance to have when you're trying to do your day job as well.

Quang Nguyen: Most definitely. And mate, I just want to add to that, cause I'm a big Mariners supporter. Short story when we moved to the coast.

Brendan Rogers: I'm sorry, mate. I'm sorry. (Both laughing)

Quang Nguyen: We moved up to Terrigal on the Central Coast here about four years ago now and I love football and we used to live in Southwest Sydney and we were following the Western Sydney Wanderers. And then I feel like, you know, you love it. You were a member down there. Why don't you become a member for the Mariners? And they weren't, let's be honest, they haven't been traveling well. Not at all. And she, and I was like, I’m umming and ahhing. I said, “Hey, but I don't really want to follow like losers and, there's no pressure for me. You make up your mind.” But she goes, if you do sign up, I don't want to hear you complaining every week about how crap they are. (Both laughing)    

So, I bit the bullet and my first two years were taking me, taking my oldest son. He was only three at the time, and now as a whole family, we all go and it's great. And I wanted to point that out because your first podcast is with Josh Rose, who was a superstar for the Mariners when he was playing and to hear, and you talked about getting insights, to hear his insights on a winning culture and a losing culture, it's chalk and cheese. And to actually hear in the professional environment, the professional sporting environment is a context that you don't normally get to hear. So yeah, mate. Guys, if you do get a chance to listen to that podcast, because you'll be able to hear real life experience and real life conversations from a whole heap of different people.  

Brendan Rogers: Thank you, mate. Look, Josh is a great guy. Josh and I first met quite a few years back. I think I  joke on the podcast, who would've thought we met 20 years back playing football together in Brisbane. And you know, 20 years later we're doing a podcast together, which is a bit crazy. But look, I've got some fantastic plans for the future with the podcast. And I've been really fortunate through, you know, being on the Central Coast and I guess my own football experiences, but also some work experiences. I've had a lot of interaction with, you know, past players and former players of the Central Coast, both when they were in their hay-day and their glory days as we said, and maybe not-so-glory days. But you know, there's people that have got really good insights into, you know, into teamwork in a sporting environment. 

They've also, you know, they're making their way and successful in business. They've got philosophies around team performance, around improvement in youth development around football but sport in particular. Another lady I’m catching up with, we haven't locked in a date yet, but Joey Peters. She was the Matilda’s Captain for many years and one of the most capped Matilda's players. And another lady I know quite well, she's so passionate about, you know, youth development and kids and sport. And again, you know, around football in particular, but she's doing great things up in Newcastle.

So, yeah. It's just really great. I'm so privileged to talk and know and just tap into the minds of these people, like, ‘cause they're real people, you know. They are people like you and I, just trying to make their way, do some good things and really help other people. So, really fortunate, mate, to share some insights with these sort of people.  

Quang Nguyen: Yeah, definitely. And just the last thing on that. They’re real people like you and I, but what's different is they've lived a different life. They bring a different perspective and that's how we get to broaden our world as well, by understanding and learning from people who have lived these different perspectives. So, yeah, highly recommend it.

But mate, talking about culture and teamwork. That's what you specialise in, it’s what your expertise is in. Culture. It's one of those things where people say, “I want a good place, good workplace culture. I want to have a great culture at my business”. They just say it, but then they don't follow it up.

Can you define what is culture? Because it's kind of like you can't touch it and you can't see it. You can't feel it. So, people kind of just say it and then dismiss it. Can you expand on that a bit please?  

Brendan Rogers: Yeah, it's a good point. And that's the thing that's scary for leaders. It can be hard to measure, it can be hard to quantify. It's not like a KPI, right? You know, where you've got maybe a sales target and you've either met it or you haven't met it. So it's, you know, I like to say it's not so black and white, it's a bit grey and a bit muddy. And that's the way great cultures evolve and develop. I always say there's a quote there, “Weak cultures rise out of neglect. Strong cultures rise out of deliberate intent.” And that's the thing with culture. You need to be deliberate about what you're doing. It's a, you know, they say it's a strategic decision to focus on culture and teamwork and I 100% believe that it's not something that is just going to magically happen.  

You know, here's the magic wand. You know, some fairy dust, and we've got a great culture. It doesn't work like that. So that's the first thing to really understand. You need to be deliberate about creating a culture, a great culture and teamwork. The other thing that's really often tough for leaders to wrap their head around is, “Culture is a reflection of leadership”. As you can imagine, leaders do find that a little bit hard to stomach and you know, they can take that a little bit personal. And it should be. ‘Cause at the end, it's not that leaders are trying to create a bad culture. Again, mate, we all have blind spots. You know, we have weaknesses. Some of us a little bit more attuned to those weaknesses than others and that's where it comes back to conversation. You know, what I try and help create is environments where people can give each other feedback so that we don't have blind spots. 

You know, you may be doing a certain thing a certain way and that's really detracting from the team's performance and you don't know and the team's not telling you, so how can you do something about it? It's really those conversations that become really, really powerful. That's really culture. You know the, it's the behaviours that you accept or behaviours that you don't accept. And it's like setting a standard, right? Go back to that KPI. The sales target example. That's a standard, right? This is the standard. This is what we're going to try and meet and we do what we can and we take steps and hopefully get supported to do that. Well, culture and behaviours are no different. What's the standard that we accept in our organisation from a behavioural perspective that's going to help drive the right behaviours, which drives the right culture?

Get clear around that. Yeah, get some clarity. What are the core values around that and that's where core values can sometimes be seen as a bit of a wank word. That's because in my opinion, people don't understand it well enough and I don't understand the value that it brings. If you really do that well. It sets a standard. You can start to have conversations to that standard. It takes emotion out of the equation. It's like, “Hey Q, we said we're going to have open and honest conversations cause we're trying to get the best results. I didn't feel like you'd been that honest and open in that”. You know, “What's holding you back?”

You know, they’re really meaningful conversations to have. That’s culture. Again, a bit hard to measure it, a bit hard to put your finger on it, but you can be really deliberate about setting it up and making it very strong in your organisation. And what happens then is when you've got a strong culture, the results, the smart people start tapping into the smarts of everyone, okay? So you've actually maximised the performance in your organisation because people are feeling safe, they're feeling supported, they feel valued and they contribute so much to the organisation. And that ultimately ends up, the bottom line is much better if you're getting the best performance out of your team that you can.

Quang Nguyen: Oh, most definitely, mate. We often forget that in most businesses, the biggest expense with the biggest allocation of resources is people, the human resource. Because when business owners start to think of, “Oh, what can I do to grow my business?” They start thinking of, you know, what can they buy? What's the new system they can put in place? What's a new product they can sell? But actually, if they had taken the time to one, as you said, I love what you said because leadership and culture, they’re intertwined. If they're taking the time to invest themselves to become a better leader, which then allows the workplace culture to become more refined and more cohesive, then as you said, the workplace environment is going to promote risk-taking, creativity, essentially better productivity and then there's going to be a sense of accomplishment all around, not just from the leader who's actually looking after the KPIs and meeting them but also on the ground level where they're going to feel they're engaged in the whole process. Every single step of the way they've been given the freedom to be able to do what they need to do and they're going to feel supported. In that, ff there is a mistake, the appropriate feedback is going to be given so that they can find a way to tweak it to move forward.

Brendan Rogers: Absolutely.

Quang Nguyen: I read something recently that, I say recently, but it was probably about two years ago. (Both laughing)

Brendan Rogers: That’s recent enough. (Laughing)  

Quang Nguyen: I don’t read often. They said, our leadership skills come from our childhood, where our parents are our leaders and the only type of, and it's no slight against, you know, older generations or parents because we only know what we know. But they said, you know, their type of leadership was whenever we couldn't do something, they would just tell us how to do it or they would just tell us no, or just just forget about etcetera, etcetera. So, as we grow up and evolve into the workforce ourselves, that's all we know. So, we kind of give feedback that way or we lead on that front, you know, authoritarian manner. But as you, and something that triggered, because I read a post, would have been about three days ago, a question that we've all heard. “Is leadership natural or is it made?” I would like to get your insights on that, mate.  

Brendan Rogers: Well, mate, again, it's really funny that you mentioned that because the podcast just released last Monday. We had a guest on called Melinda Reihberg. Melinda's a friend of mine. Haven't known her a long time, but she's just a great person, and really easy to talk to. And she's been a corporate trainer around that leadership space for 20 years, almost 20 years, worked in businesses like Ford, Volkswagen, Holden, Myer, Barbeques Galore, you know, some pretty big companies and you don't do that sort of training and hang around for too long in those organisations if you're not getting some sort of results. So, she knows her stuff pretty well. And yeah, the question was, “Are leaders born or are they trained?” And cutting a long story short, you know, if you want to know more detail, go and listen to the podcast. But at the end of the day, leaders are trained. Mate, you know, there is an inherentness around motive around leadership and there is two forms of, or two sides of motive.

You know, there's leaders out there that they want to be leaders because it's more a reward-centred approach. You know, “Look what I've achieved after all this hard work”. And in my opinion, that's very much the wrong approach and the wrong motive to have and that motive will come through in all their decisions, in all their behaviours, which, you know, is not ideal for setting a strong culture. The other side is that servant type leadership, like, you're there because you're there to serve people, okay? And that's where, you know, when you reach the role, or the leadership level that you're wanting to aspire to, then you know you're working even harder. You know, it's like a sporting person. If I want to be an A-League player and I get signed by an A-League club, well, am I going to sit back and say, well, hard work's done or am I going to work my butt off because I don't want to let the team down. I don't want to let the manager down. I don't want to let the fans down. And that's where you're doing something far bigger than yourself. So that's, you know, leadership and having that motive, or the right motive. And if you have the right motive, then particularly around that servant-type and the serving-others approach, then you’ll work hard at improving leadership.

Again, you know, leaders are trained. There's some practical skills. And Melinda mentions a few of those. Delegation was one of her key things. It's the skill that you can learn, but ultimately, it's like, “I believe anything in life.” If you really have a strong desire and a want to learn something, then you can learn it. If you make the time and you've got the commitment and the focus to do it, then do it.

Quang Nguyen: So true. And just to add on that, there are some behavioural or personality types that make it easier for them to become leaders. But yeah, a hundred percent leadership is something that you can learn and some people learn it up off the cuff. Some people actually make a conscious effort. It's, if you want to become a good leader, you have to put the effort in. There's no doubt about it.   

Brendan Rogers: Absolutely. And look, Melinda touched on it and again, I just so resonate with what she says because, you know, I first started, I was really fortunate from a sporting perspective. I led teams early, you know, in primary school and then, you know, when I started playing semi-professional football, I was still crazily the youngest State League Captain in Queensland at 21. I was leading a State League team and so, I was in these leadership positions early, but I first led a corporate team at 24 and yeah, it was the same old story, you know. There were other leaders around, managers, but did I get the level of support I needed to succeed? No, I screwed up a lot. In hindsight, those experiences of screwing up have helped me today and hopefully, that's helped me help other leaders not screw up as badly as what I did, but if I didn't have those opportunities, I probably wouldn't have got the message and the learning as strong as what I did, but you still need the right support. 

You need some coaching, some guidance, some help. Again, that's where coaching, that's where mentorship comes in really handy. You know, we should all have that to help us be better. We all got blind spots as I've said and sometimes it takes somebody else to give you that feedback to say. “Hey Brendan, you know, when you do this, this is the impact that it may be having.” And that's where, you know, leadership is very much around self-awareness. You've gotta be really self-aware. You touched on personalities. You know, we can all use different personality profiling tools. And I personally use DISC. Again, I've done a podcast episode with a client on that. And it doesn't matter what your personality profile is, you can be a great leader, but you need to have self-awareness about where your strengths are, where your weaknesses are, your struggles and how you work through that. And also, how you, more importantly, how you adapt your style to work with other people. Because as a leader, there are higher  expectations.

Rightly or wrongly, people expect that you know certain things or you can adapt to certain things. They don't seem to get that same realisation that you're just a normal person and sometimes, you do it well and other times, you screw up. You're only human, right? Just because you've got this leadership tag or management tag or CEO tag, it doesn't mean you're, you know, you're perfect.

Quang Nguyen: Most definitely, mate. You've hit the nail on the head there and you know how we talked about how leadership and culture - workplace culture and business culture - are intertwined. Sometimes, we have the best intent, like we say we want it. We want this type of culture. We want everyone to have creative freedom. We want everyone to be self-driven, self-motivated, but sometimes, the reality is what you intend to do. The culture you tend to have doesn't match up with the reality. What are some things that can help other business owners or other leaders identify or know that, “Hey, my cultures not quite where I want it to be”?  

Brendan Rogers: There’s some fancy tools out there and I don't take it as knocking these fancy tools. I think, unfortunately, businesses jump straight to a fancy tool like, let me do a perception survey, let me do a staff survey, let me, you know, do all these sort of things. Let me get focus groups together, all this sort of stuff. And they pay people lots of money to do those things or buy subscriptions. At the end of the day, as a leader, go and talk to people, go and talk to people on the front line and you're very, you'll already know. But if you're trying to put your finger on things very, very quickly, you'll get an idea on what the culture's like just based on what you're hearing, what the feedback is. You know, your challenge as a leader is that people unfortunately will, you know, until you build that environment that's really safe and people feeling supported, then you'll always get the feedback with a little bit of sugar coating.   

Right? So maybe, just, it might be here. Well, actually, you’re probably here on the scale, so get out and talk to people and this is the challenge I have with leaders is that going back to the scenario from before, you know, we get so stuck in the day-to-day and it's really easy to do that. And I've been in that position and it's tough, but you got to make time as a leader to pull yourself back. You know, the strength of people in leadership roles, particularly as you move higher up the food chain, so to speak, is you need to spend more time on the people management side and far less, or actually no time on the smart side because you need to be able to help your team be as cohesive as possible because they're really smart people and they're probably, hopefully, good people manager as well. But your job is to make sure this team's functioning and you can extract all the gold nuggets of intelligence and everything out of them to get the best source of truth, to get the best resolution for an issue. That's your job as a leader and that's what you need to, that's what they need to focus on. If they do that, then, mate, it doesn't matter what industry experience you've got, you can go into any industry and you can do a really, really effective job as a leader because you're focused on the people.   

Quang Nguyen: Mate, it's so true what you're saying there is no need. We all have shiny object syndrome. The reality is all you have to do is just get information from the right people on the ground level. It's something I call the unwritten ground rules. So you may have, but what are they actually doing? Some of the best people to speak to are: 1) your trusted people, but 2) someone who is the least experienced person on your team or the environment. Because, for example, if their managers ask the new person to do a report by this Friday and this new person asked a colleague, “Hey, I feel stressed. You know, they put me under the pump here, I'm new. Do I, what's, do I really need to bring it in on Friday?” And then if they say, “Nah, don't worry, he'll just give you another week”. Then you know what your culture is really like. You know, so it's definitely, you have to communicate. You have to be open constantly, sitting down with people to find out what is actually happening. 

Brendan Rogers: Look, the other source of good information is obviously customers. You know, talking with customers. Customers will tell you and you know, just the way that people serve them in your organisation will give you a perspective on, or maybe what the culture is or how people are living their core behaviours and those sorts of things.

So, you know, there's so many, I guess at the root of this, and it goes back to some of the stuff I said before about leadership and creating healthy conversations. This stuff's free. It doesn't, it costs, okay, you can say, well, there's an indirect cost, so I'm spending time and you know, time is money and all that. I get that. But, you know, you're not going to get an invoice for a subscription for a system.

You know, spending time with people, quality time with people, having real conversations, getting to know them, get it, building trust, developing that relationship where people will start to feedback open and honest. Feedback is the most powerful thing you can do. And like I said, it's free. You don't need to pay anything for that. You just need to invest a little bit of time in doing it. 

Quang Nguyen: We normally, we associate culture with workplace, you know, our physical space. The way the world currently is, you know, we're all working remotely. You know, we have to be online and we have to, we're working from a cloud space. From your own perspective, how has that impacted culture for those businesses and companies that are working remotely? 

Brendan Rogers: In my mind before this, if you pick the situation, you have this magical crystal ball that we all wish we had and you said that this situation is going to happen or this is going to be really bad for businesses culture wise and teamwork-wise.

But in my experience with my clients, there's some really good learnings. Some of them I, working in the space I work in, I'm really pleased that they'd got to this realisation because I guess I knew that, but they weren't quite maybe getting the concept.

And one I’ll particularly talk about is nothing brings a group of people together as a team more strongly than a commitment to a collective goal. So, if you think about that situation now, a collective goal at the moment, the words may be slightly different, but it's pretty simple to get everyone on the same page in a team and say, “Well, actually, the goal is to get through COVID or to keep everyone in jobs”. You know, It's something around this immediate crisis.

So, actually, the feedback I've had from a number of my clients that maybe we're a little bit challenged with that concept around, you know, they use this word team really loosely, but okay, what are you working together on as a team? And they can't answer that question. So, they've sort of failed the first test of actually being a team because they're not working together to achieve anything.

So yeah, sad as it is, is that we're going in this situation today and obviously business has been affected. I mean, my business has been impacted, you know, like anybody else's. But there's been some solidification, I guess, of the learning and the realisation of the learning that, “Hey, this crisis has brought our team closer together. We're actually working as a team much better than what we did before because the goal is clear and we've sort of taken our department hat off and we're all working together to help achieve this collective goal and to get through this thing, this crisis”.

The other part of that, which, this is where my clients have really educated me, is that there's four types of, generally there's four types of meetings. There's the daily check-in or some people call the huddle. There's the weekly or the fortnightly staff meeting, preferably weekly. There's the monthly or ad hoc strategic-type meeting and then there's the quarterly strategic meeting. They’re four basic sort of meeting structures. Again, we won't need to go into that in this podcast, but what I generally say to clients is that if you weren't to do one of those meetings, probably the least important is the daily check-in, okay. Now, but over this time the realisation is that that has actually fast become the most important meeting that they have. People checking in at a certain time every day. Most people, you know, 8:30/9:00 is pretty standard time.

8:30/9:00 everyone dials in Zoom, Microsoft teams, whatever the choice is and they just check in first and foremost. How are we going? How's everyone coping with this? And then part of the process of a daily check-in or a huddle is, you know, what's on your plate today? Just two or three things, you know, where's your focus? And the team understands where everyone's at. They know where they can support each other if doing that well normally, removes the need for unnecessary email crap because everyone's on the same page. So, they're two really big things in my mind that again, one I new around the collective goal and was, you know, hammering that bandwagon for a long time to help people understand. But the daily check in, how that became the most important meeting for these teams because people were missing that human-to-human interaction.

They wanted to connect just to say, “How you going?” And you know what, like we're doing today, mate, you can see, you know, my office behind me. I can see where you’re at. You actually get to know a little bit more about people. “Oh Q, what's that on the wall there? I didn't know you were into, you know, Bill Bryson or whatever.” You know, you actually are creating a little bit more vulnerability about each other and that I don't like the virtual backgrounds or I just, you know, again, I don't have the background to make it look any good. I look like a scary person with the, you know what I mean? Like it's, it hasn't got the right background, but why put that up, you sort of putting up a charade. Let people into your home. I mean I've done some sessions and the dog's been on my lap. Again, no one's been, “Ah”. They just get to know a little bit more about you. So, it's creating that vulnerability when you've got that strength and starting to build those relationships and vulnerability happens and that creates better conversation. They know that you're coming from a good place. Again, I’m a massive supporter of, “Q, Have you ever woken up in the morning and said, ‘I'm going to do a bad job today?’

Quang Nguyen: No.

Brendan Rogers: I mean, realistically, does, would anyone do that? And this is the thing. Yet, we work within tough structures and sometimes, you know, regulations and all that sort of crap and politics in offices can happen, but generally, people want to do a good job. Our job as leaders, you know, wrapping this up, is to help people do that and provide the support so that they're waking up in the morning enthused, excited about helping achieve a greater thing other than themselves and what they're doing next and drive that forward and help the organisation be better and help their team be better. 

Quang Nguyen: Oh, mate, I think that the key there, what you said is no one wakes up or no one goes about their work or the daily life with an intent to stuff up or to do something wrong. It's innate within us. We have the intent to do what's best, but sometimes, we make a wrong decision or a wrong choice. As a result, the outcome is not what we expected it to be, but the intent was still there, to have the best day or two to, you know, do what's best for yourself or your team or whatever it is. You have to remember that as leaders as that, yeah, things may not have gone to plan, but they still had the best intent.  

Brendan Rogers: Always. Intent is the key in so many things, you know, the intent behind everything. It goes back to that motive of I said, you know, you can still be a leader, but if your intent is more around reward for me versus serving others, then the decisions that you're going to make are going to be very different and that will flow through the organisation and that culture will become more self-serving. And that's where we go back to that phrase, culture is a reflection of leadership.  

Quang Nguyen: Oh, a hundred percent. Mate, I have a quick story to share because the intent and, you know, the collaborative goal. So, back in the day when I was educating, I became a Assistant Principal after two years of teaching. Because I jumped the ranks so quickly, I felt an innate pressure to deliver. Only now upon reflection after, you know, that initial leadership period, my intent was to not let my principal down. Was to hit all the milestones, hit all the brief, the targets that we've set as an executive team, you know, by me not shouting, but you know, giving that one-way communication, that direction of what our goals are, why we need them without any input from my team. We essentially didn't get much done because they weren’t engaged in the whole process. The motivation wasn't there. And because of my innate desire to please my team, to show that I was worthy of being a leader, I bent over backwards for them. You know, I started picking up the slack for them. It meant I was starting to get frustrated with my team. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I was frustrated with myself because I was like, “If this is leadership, then it's shit because it's not what I signed up for.”

Turning point for me was to have structured communication. I then realised this is what I'm being told to do, but is it what they want? You know, how can I support them? What's best for the students, you know?

And once we started doing that, being able to sit down, gain insight into what they want. So, it was something as simple as, “Hey, these are our goals. How can I help you to support them?” But also, “What do you want to achieve out of this as well?” You know, and some of them were like with the whole education system, some of it, a lot of them were on temporary engagement contracts. They were like, I want a permanent job. “Okay, so if we can facilitate this and get results here, this will look much better on your CV and it will allow you to talk more confidently about it when you go into the interview process”.

From that point on, you know, we could see that by having regular structured feedback, structured communication, I was able to one, provide point of need support, point of need training to them. But also, they started to take ownership of ideas that allowed them to take an idea and grow or go with it. Allowed them to be creative, you know, have that freedom because no one likes being micromanaged. The result, you know, we productivity for teachers was, I wouldn’t say increased, because they were already hardworking, but it was more effective productivity and it fostered, improved learning and results for the students.   

And more than that, and this is what I think brought it home for me, I was able to foster personal and the professional growth within them, so increasing their capacities as teachers. And I'm proud to say that some of the staff that I had under my team then had gone on into leadership roles. So, taking it away from me but back to them so that they can continue to achieve what they want as well was a massive learning curve for me.

Brendan Rogers: And look, it's an awesome example that you share and think about. A good measure of a leader is not what they're doing today, but it's what their people are doing tomorrow. How have they developed? How have they gone on? Whether it's in the organisation or whether it's succeeding somewhere else because that's where their journey's taken them. You know, we need to hopefully be proud of our contribution, of that as leaders to help them develop.

But think about your situation, mate. I take things back to sport. Again, we're both football lovers, think about young people in sport today and not just today but over the years. You know, professional sports are a hard thing and there's lots of aspirational young people out there, but they get the knock and they don't get the support they need and stuff. You know, some quality, I play with some quality players over time, they've been quality at 14, 15, 16. But you know, they're nothing past that because they haven't got the resilience, they haven't got the self-reliance and they've just not been nurtured in a way that's given them the grit to move forward and overcome hurdles. Think about that from a leadership perspective. If you didn't have some of that self-reliance, some of that grit. Then your experience would have remained a bad experience and the potential of you as a leader may not have ever been realised because you'd be like, “Oh no, last time I did that it was terrible and I don't want to touch it again.”   

I mean, how many people are we putting through that? Because we're not giving them support, the coaching, and companies especially are not, they're just saying, “You know what, you're really good at your job. I think you should be a leader and you'll do a great job. Here you go.” And that's what they, that's what a lot of them do. And some of them work through it. Others and a lot think, “Oh, this leadership thing, this is not for me. I just, I don't want to want to do this crap. This is too much stress and I'm, I've, you know, it's the worst job in the world. Put me back to where I want to be.” (Laughing) And it impacts confidence, doesn't it? It's a big problem.    

Quang Nguyen: Yeah. People will get promoted to leadership roles. They get given leadership roles and responsibilities based on the wrong things. We have to change the discourse on that too, so that we can get not just ourselves, we understand this, but you know, the wider community to say that, “Hey, just because you're great at writing or you're great at punching numbers doesn't mean you're going to be a good leader.” They may just love that technical work and they're happily there.

Brendan Rogers: That raises a great point, mate. A lot of the time, people aren't even asked, “Hey, Q, would you like to lead people?” And it's okay if you said, “No, I really enjoy what I'm doing today and that's where I want to stay.” Great. We know that. That's an open, honest conversation. How do we help you be the best you can be at that? But if you do have leadership aspirations and you aspire to those, again, I’m a massive believer, and I hate hearing, when people are promoted based on technical competence. Now, I'm not saying technical competence isn't important. You can't have a level of trust and you can't have a level of competence without technical competence, okay, as a leader. But if you're promoting people and moving people into leadership positions based on technical competence over behaviours, it's a recipe for disaster.

The people who have the right behaviours, the right mindset, the right virtues around themselves and their impact on others and behaviours and that sort of stuff. Then, if they're not quite up to speed on the technical side, they'll get there because they've got the right mindset, they got the right behaviours, but if you just take it on the technical competence, and, you know, they may be great at their job, but they leave this trail of destruction behind them. Culture, you know, is not good very, very quickly.

Quang Nguyen: We've covered a whole range here of leadership and cultural points. If you were too narrow it down into say, three key things, what are the three key things to look out for or to implement or to take action on to either build your leadership or fine tune your workplace culture? What would that be?

Brendan Rogers: I think there's a couple of angles we could take. Let's focus on the individual leader ‘cause I think this will relate to a lot more people straightaway. So, if you were an individual leader, either in your business or leading a team in a corporate organisation, one of the first things that I believe you need to do is ask for feedback. How am I going as a leader? Get, you know, you don't need to go out to the whole world, but it might be two or three people in the organisation that are part, certainly part of your team. Some of those people need to be involved in that. But it might be, you know, a person outside of the team that has known you for a while and worked with you or whatever. So, get feedback. You know, there might be two or three things on what strengths do I have as a leader? What do you think I'm doing well and two or three things on, what do you think I'm not doing, where can I improve?

Because then, you’re removing some of those potential blind spots. Okay, if you know about it, again, and some of it might be perception. Feedback's a choice, you can take it on and not do anything about it or you can take it on and do something about it. It's like a gift unwrapping. You keep it or you're, you know, you re-gift it. You put it out to someone else. So, feedback and asking that question is absolutely vital. Then what you do with it, okay? So if you take the feedback on both the strengths and the weaknesses, it's not about to say focus on the weaknesses or the challenges, but what you do about it, then it's important. So, how are, what are you going to do?   

So, this is your current level and where do you want to be your future level. Then, how do I get there, okay? And I'm not saying this is a process you do by yourself. Again, your team may be involved in that, you’re leader, so you’re, whoever's you report to or maybe you've got a coach or a mentor or something like that. Somebody that can help you be accountable and just keep you on track.

What are the steps that you're going to take to move from current to future? That is coaching in a nutshell. You know it, I mean you, you're a coach. You do it in your business. You know, it's the same but different. Yeah, we all got the same stuff, but we apply it slightly differently. At the end of the day, you've got to understand the current level, where you want to be and how can I support you to get there.    

So, it's maybe not three separate pieces of advice, but there's three steps to that. Get the feedback to understand your blind spots that will understand current performance, have really good conversations about where do I need to be, where do I want to be that's going to help me focus on improving and then how can I get there? What's going to support me? If you follow that process as an individual leader, then you're well on your way to really doing some good things. And it's a repeatable process, right? There's always things we can work on. So, if you feel you're getting better on those, okay, wait, where's my next lot of feedback? How have I gone with that? You know, how do you think I've adjusted for this? Am I doing what I said I did? And asking people to keep you accountable.

“Hey Q, you know, how you, you know how we spoke about this and you know, that meeting, I saw your, maybe you fell into a bit of old behaviours.” “You know what, Brendan, you're absolutely right. Thanks for keeping me on spot.” You know, I'm doing it because I care about you and I care about improvement and that it comes back to that intent, right? So, if we do that as a starting point, it will just make a massive difference to absolutely anything that you're doing.  

Quang Nguyen: And I'll just add onto that. Like, we talked about before, about one having that collaborative goal. So, I'm sure wherever you work there, there's a business or the company vision, but as a team, what's that collaborative goal? You know, what are you all striving for? What are you aiming to hit? We have to get them to understand and make them realise that they have an active role to play in this as well. You know?

Brendan Rogers: Absolutely.

Quang Nguyen: And then, you talked about this right at the start. And the next thing for me is the standards that you have around behaviour. So, not just the standards that you have for yourself as a leader, you have to think about what type of behaviour are you willing to accept from everyone else? Will you accept gossiping around the office? Will you accept back chatting or sniggering when someone's made a mistake? Is the standard that, hey, if someone's made a mistake or there's been an error made, we have that supportive feedback to pinpoint and help them through it so that they can, you know, not make it again. And last but not least is communication. This is the one that people go, “Ugh, do we really need to have another meeting? Do we really need to talk about this?” But actually if you have it in a structured way where it's a single focus, “This is our fortnightly feedback conversation. How have you found this? How can I support you? What are some challenges you anticipate coming up?”, then you're able to give them up to provide them with the tools to succeed moving forward. And that's kind of the culture that most people would talk about, but struggle to action.   

Brendan Rogers: Look, again, you raised so many good points and then sort of reinforcing that, a mentor of mine, trying to think of the exact quote, hopefully I don't get it wrong, but he says something like this, “There's so much good on the right side of a conversation”. Again, going, it's like the feedback process I said is if you take that even down further to the root cause of so much evil around culture is that people aren't having the conversation they need to have. So, when you see a behaviour, and this comes through in the stats, you know, I use some team assessment stuff and I wouldn't say it's scientific, but that's where, you know, if a leader wants to see something firm and concrete, well, here's a team assessment. We do that, the whole team understands that and answers the questions. Then we debrief that and we get focused on a behaviour and it's the team. There's so many times I do that exercise and you know, it's a process around it, but you know, people look, “Oh, I don't think we're like that. Oh, well hold on.” Everyone in the team, you know, I can see the individual results as well if you want, if you want me to show you that, but this is what, this is the team result. So, you can't say as a team you don't agree with that because you answered the question that way. These sorts of things become powerful instruments to create conversation. If you focus on the instrument or the tool, you miss the focus. The focus has to be on, these are tools that create opportunity for conversation. Then, you've got to be courageous enough to actually have the conversation. If you do that, then the world changes.

I'm not a mind reader. You are not a mind reader. We need to have a conversation. If there's something that's troubling us or impacting on us working together well, we need to be able to talk about that. You have a foundation of a relationship. This is why I'm a big believer that relationships are just so powerful. If you have strength in your relationship, then you feel much more comfortable about having that conversation. “I'm not having a conversation with Q because I want to have a dig at you. I'm having a conversation with you because I care about you and I want to help you improve and you care about me so you want to help me improve.” And that makes conversation so much easier if you have the right intent around that.

Quang Nguyen: A hundred percent it's the purpose and the intent of the conversation. So, because that changes the whole demeanour of the conversation.

Brendan, if they wanted to shoot you a question or ask you any more about leadership and teamwork and workplace culture or if you wanted to, where, like also, where can they find more about LinkedIn Local Central Coast as well as your podcast?

Tell us how we can get in touch with you.

Brendan Rogers: You can search for me, Brendan Rogers on LinkedIn and you'll find me fairly easily, I think. There's a few Brendan Rogers, but you know, hopefully, I can be near the top. My website is www.brendanrogers.com.au. You can contact me through my website. My email is brendan@brendanrogers.com.au. So, either through LinkedIn, through my website, feel free. Again, I do a weekly podcast. I do a weekly blog. It's all on my website. I send out a weekly newsletter each Monday morning as well, which is a bit of a, just a The Culture of Things update so you know what's happening in the podcast or blog and just a few things to action and ponder.

I try to give people just like what you're doing, mate. Just little snippets of information that doesn't overburden leaders, you know to think, “Oh, and I've got to do all this as well.” Just little snippets that if they just focus on these things during that week or over the course of their leadership journey, that it will help them become a better leader.  

(Music plays)    

Brendan Rogers: After this interview, I think my listeners will have heard enough of me for one week. With that in mind, I’ll keep my summary short. I want to focus on three key points that have been brought to the forefront for so many of my clients over this COVID-19 period.

The first key point. A commitment to a collective goal brings a team together. Having a collective goal is so easy in a crisis. Often, it just happens naturally. The key for leaders is to ensure teams have a collective goal when we aren't in a crisis.

The second key point. Distance is no excuse for teams not to meet. Distance between people has been forced upon us due to COVID-19. This has meant leaders must create deliberate time to gather their team each day using various forms of technology. This deliberate time has brought teams closer together. Leaders must continue to meet regularly with their team after the crisis.

The third key point. The skill of coaching must be developed in leaders. The social isolation period has highlighted a big skills gap in this area. Leaders must get better at coaching. When they do, they will see far better outcomes across their team.

So, just recapping these three key points. A commitment to a collective goal brings the team together. Distance is no excuse for teams not to meet. The skill of coaching must be developed in leaders.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.


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.