Building a business requires more than just a good product and talented people; it requires you to take a hard look at how you show up as a leader.
Open, Honest, and Direct helps you dive into the heart of your business and your people, identifying changes you can make to transform the way you and your managers lead.
Part business book, part personal-development guide, this is a how-to full of practical ways to not only build and lead a high-performance team but also bring out the best in your people. Being a successful manager is less about staying constantly on top of your team and more about providing clarity and context for people. Levy’s method for creating open, honest, and direct leaders within an organization provides you with tactical tools you can put to use right away.
This is a toolkit for designing a culture that supports employee performance and future-proofs your business. Many managers are promoted because they are great at what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into their ability to manage a team and get the most out of their people.
In today’s business environment where the competition for top talent is intense, it’s integral to not only keep your top talent but also be able to coach all of your people and unlock their full potential. Open, Honest, and Direct is a field guide and powerful movement for leading that will give your organization the competitive edge it needs.
Aaron Levy – Final
[00:00:00] Aaron Levy: [00:00:00] Stay hungry, stay foolish.
[00:00:13] Aidan McCullen: [00:00:13] building a business, requires more than just a good product and talented people. It requires you to take a hard look of how you show up as a leader. Today’s book helps you dive into the heart of your business and your people identifying changes you can make to transform the way you and your managers lead part business book, part personal development guide.
[00:00:35] This is a how to full of practical ways to not only build and lead a high performance team, but also bring out the best in your people. We welcome author. Of open, honest and direct Aaron Levy. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:49] Aaron Levy: [00:00:49] Thank you for having me on eight and excited to be here.
[00:00:51] Aidan McCullen: [00:00:51] It’s great to have you on the show and I’d like to thank our sponsor for today’s show Microsoft for startups, and don’t forget.
[00:00:57] Sign up to the innovation show.io [00:01:00] newsletter, where you can win books featured every week on the show are, and you’d start with an admission in the book. You don’t sugar coat. This is old, but you say most managers, silk. And this chapter made me think about a quote attributed to Aristotle who said, give me a child until he is seven.
[00:01:18] And I will show you the man. And what he was referring to was how immensely influential those early years are for us as children. And then how immensely important a first manager is on the impact for us as leaders going forward.
[00:01:33] Aaron Levy: [00:01:33] Yeah, there’s a step by gala, which says that only one in 10 managers naturally have the tools or skills to lead people.
[00:01:40] And. Because we’re not as intentional about picking leaders. We pick people who are really good at what they do, but not necessarily who are good at leading people or who want to lead people. And so by default, by nature of that process for picking leaders, what we get is leaders who aren’t great leaders who suck.
[00:01:58] And when that’s [00:02:00] your first leader, You know, that doesn’t support you in learning and showing us how to lead. Now, it might give you some insights of what you don’t want to do, right? Things that you want to avoid when you start leading people. But oftentimes we are poor at leading. We suck at leading, uh, because we’re asked to do our job and now we’re asked to lead people and those are very different skill sets.
[00:02:23] Being a top individual contributor is just, it’s very different than leading people. And, and it requires a different energy at different attention, a different intention for how you show up on a daily basis.
[00:02:33] Aidan McCullen: [00:02:33] Let’s dig into that because I was thinking about this and I thought how the best sports players, for example, don’t often make very good coaches and it’s because they don’t know how to explain what they do.
[00:02:44] They don’t know how to get across the clarity or the context. And this is why. In the same context that so many leaders fail when they go so many individuals fail when they get promoted to management.
[00:02:55] Aaron Levy: [00:02:55] Yeah. And it’s the expectation that do it the way I did it. Cause I was successful in it. Right. If [00:03:00] you’re a kick ass sales person and you’re promoted to leader, you expect people to be as good as you are.
[00:03:05] You expect people to. Do it in the way that you did it, but if you’re an Aldo people, can’t just do what you did, right. If you’re Michael Jordan, they don’t, you know, it’s hard work, but it’s also a skillset and people can’t just show up and have that skill set immediately. And everybody’s different and unique and they need different coaching.
[00:03:22] And I love that you, you make the sports analogy here because. Interestingly, there are certain people on certain teams that tend to be successful coaches. And, you know, in the world of baseball in the U S the catcher is somebody who tends to actually transition pretty well from catcher into a manager or coach of the team.
[00:03:41] And that’s because as in that role, as a Katya, you have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to engage with the pitcher and with the rest of the team, you have to be able to explain what’s going on on the field more than. Uh, you know, a different athlete on the team who shows up
[00:03:57] Aidan McCullen: [00:03:57] a great example.
[00:03:58] You give of one of your [00:04:00] clients called Katya. I would love this because it brings it to life. What we’re talking about here around
[00:04:04] Aaron Levy: [00:04:04] an example of Katia is it, it was where we try and. What I call it, be a super Dewar, right? And that that’s kind of what Katia was. And we get this new role and we are promoted to this role because we’re good at we’re type a we’re good at doing things.
[00:04:20] We’re great at accomplishing tasks at hitting our goals. And we want to just control everything along the way. And now we lead people. And so we want to, instead of delegating and empowering other people on our team to do the work, now we’re trying to do the work of three or four or five other people.
[00:04:36] Especially the work that we don’t necessarily trust them to do well. So instead of coaching them up to do that, what we’re doing is we’re adding more work onto our plate. And limiting the work that they can do. And, and it, you know, instead of it, the one plus one equals three, you’re getting one plus one equals negative one because you’re overworking yourself.
[00:04:56] You’re setting yourself up for burnout. Your people are upset at you because you don’t [00:05:00] trust them. And you’re not empowering them to be at their best. You’re not giving them autonomy to do the work. And what happens is you have a top performer who’s now. Flailing and failing. And then you have a team of angels who are not able to be top performers.
[00:05:13] You’re not empowering them to be, uh, and it it’s, it honestly, it becomes the worst of all scenarios, a done poorly, which is why, you know, the work that we do, we find so important. Raise the bar is how do we enable leaders to be better coaches instead of task managers, right? There is no such thing as a task leader.
[00:05:31] Um, and so our focus is on how do we help build leaders to be coaches as opposed to task managers?
[00:05:37] Aidan McCullen: [00:05:37] They wanted to focus on something here because when there are poor managers within an organization, what happens is the T the team under that manager often blames the manager on the, have someone like Katia there, who you mentioned.
[00:05:52] Often it’s the organization who promoted Kaci to that role without giving her any extra coaching to enable her [00:06:00] and give her the tools to be able to.
[00:06:02] Aaron Levy: [00:06:02] Yeah. And you said this earlier, right at Aaron, you say unabashedly, most managers, socket, and I don’t think most managers want to suck. I actually, no, they don’t.
[00:06:10] It’s it’s exactly what you said. They’re promoted into roles without given the tools and skills. And there’s even a question before that. And it’s what I tell all of my clients is when we look at your hiring practices, when you’re promoting somebody or hiring somebody into a management role, the first question to really ask yourself and ask them is, does this person really want to lead?
[00:06:30] And oftentimes they might say they want to lead. Because that’s what we think the norm is, is if I want to Excel and grow and take the next half of my career, I have to lead people and manage people. But we need to like, get rid of that notion, start to think, does this person actually want to lead? Do they get enjoyment fulfillment from somebody else doing the work from seeing somebody else succeed from coaching and working with other people?
[00:06:52] That’s the very first thing to look at the very first question to ask, because if they do want to lead, then they’re going to be coaching [00:07:00] coachable. Right then it’s going to be easy for them to learn and grow and, and let me actually rephrase that. It’s not going to be easy for them, but they’re going to be willing to do the work that it takes to grow and to become a coach of their people.
[00:07:12] Because the next step of that is do they have the tools and skills? And as I said, most managers don’t. And so that’s where most organizations. Miss the spot, miss the Mark, especially as they’re growing and scaling and maturing is they don’t invest the time and the energy necessary to help their managers up-skill and really be equipped to coach and lead people as they need to, to continue to grow and scale the business.
[00:07:40] Aidan McCullen: [00:07:40] We need to hire the right people in the first place. And you give us three core questions that we need to have to triage the person to triage a group of people to go, which are the right people, which people have
[00:07:51] Aaron Levy: [00:07:51] potential. The first question is, does the person, does he or she want to lead others? And, and it’s really taking a look and it’s [00:08:00] asking yourself as well as asking them, but looking at, like, from my work with that person, what is my intuition telling me?
[00:08:05] Do they get excited about leading and working with others? Do they get excited about a leading and working with a team or are they more excited? Yeah. About individual accomplishments and there’s no, there’s nothing wrong with either those answers. It’s just getting clear on that for yourself to understand.
[00:08:19] Hey, I’m about to hire Katia. It seems like she, she actually does get excited when other people on her team succeed. She does get excited when she helped someone get better. Okay. That’s the first question do that? Does the person you’re hiring want to truly lead
[00:08:34] Aidan McCullen: [00:08:34] one of the things on the, I thought this was so insightful, is that the most effective transitions from, to management or to another row do not affect people’s pay status or position on the org chart?
[00:08:47] Because they want to do it for the right reasons. I thought that was a core point. That is so often overlooked.
[00:08:54] Aaron Levy: [00:08:54] Yeah. And, and that’s tends to be why people want to manage, because it [00:09:00] affects their status or their title or their pay grade. But you know what, if someone’s a kick ass top performer, they can become a VP and not manage people.
[00:09:11] They can become, you know, a director and not have to lead a team, but maybe they focus on the doing or the strategy or the overarching picture of that department or that organization without having to lead a team. And so you can have people rise up in the ranks. As individual contributors, as well as have people rise up in the ranks and increase their pay and increase their title by managing people.
[00:09:35] If we squash that idea that you only rise up in the ranks by managing people, then you’ll start to get a truer picture of who really wants to manage. And someone might say to you, you know what? I don’t really love leading people. I want to continue growing within this organization. Okay, great. Then you don’t need to lead people and we can put a path for you to be successful within this organization without managing a team.
[00:09:58] Aidan McCullen: [00:09:58] Yeah. It’s a core point and sorry I [00:10:00] interrupted you there, but I just think that is something that is useful also for people who want to move up the ranks, that they can actually approach their senior team or whoever’s going to be promoting them and say, I don’t want to manage people because I think it will affect what I’m actually good at in the first place.
[00:10:15] Aaron Levy: [00:10:15] That’s exactly true. And then the second thing to look at. So assuming that person does want to manage is, do, do our incentives match up. And what I mean by that is, is the way in which we’re measuring this leader, this new manager match up with how we want them to act and behave. A great example is if.
[00:10:36] The measurements of this leader are still only measurements of how they contribute of how they do the work. Then do you think they’re going to be incentivized to spend extra time with their people? Right? Why would I spend extra time with you? And if I’m not that doesn’t affect my pay scale or my pay rate.
[00:10:53] But if my success is your success and I’m assessed by [00:11:00] team success and not just individual success, then I’m going to spend time with you because one, I want to, and I want to lead people, but because. Too, if you show up and you’re better and the rest of the team is better because of me, then I succeed as well.
[00:11:16] I see, see, you know, my job function, uh, excelling or succeeding. I get bonused, I hit my quotas, whatever the measurements are. Um, so it’s really important to have the measurements and the measures of assessment align with the. How you want that leader to show up
[00:11:33] Aidan McCullen: [00:11:33] and again, like you did with Katya, it’d be great to give us a concrete example on here.
[00:11:37] You talk about a guy called Frank
[00:11:39] Aaron Levy: [00:11:39] Riordan. Yeah. So Frank is a, as a mentor and friend of mine who does a really good job of, you know, they have a team of consultants who. Engineering consultants who lead projects. And so they look at the, the managers of those groups in those teams and they actually have kind of a dashboard.
[00:11:58] And I apologize to Frank if I’m [00:12:00] getting it wrong or not perfect because we haven’t talked about it and probably a little bit of time, but the idea is what I love. And the idea is that they look at and measure, uh, A leader success by one, the project work that they’re doing, right? The billable hours of project work they’re doing, but they also add into their, their score into their dashboard for that manager success, the project work that their team’s doing.
[00:12:25] And how is that looking and how are they doing? And what’s the amount of the project work that they’re doing. And then they also add, I believe it’s like individual growth and development. And so how are they investing time in that? And that’s a part of their overall score. So they look at multiple factors to put together and kind of aggregate a score for each manager.
[00:12:45] And that way the score is not just, are you selling enough, you know, widgets or are you, um, Billing enough hours, but how is your team doing and how are you doing in your future growth
[00:12:58] Aidan McCullen: [00:12:58] then the last one, [00:13:00] which is the, probably one of the most important one is does the person have the right skills and capabilities?
[00:13:05] Aaron Levy: [00:13:05] Yeah. And that’s usually, you know, the thing that we think is the first question. I think, okay, can this person do it? And often we don’t even ask this question, but, but the, the smart companies do, and they say, does this person have the capability before asking, do they want to, and do, do our incentive structures align?
[00:13:20] This question is less important because if the person wants to lead, then they’re going to do the work. The work that takes to build and develop the skills to be a powerful leader. And so you want to ask, do they have those skills or what skills do they not have or what skills as an organization do we not have?
[00:13:41] And then we want to go to work on building those skills within the team, within the organization. And it’s so critically important because. As we talk about the idea of culture and people always talk about culture and behavior change and all of this, and it’s a big amorphous thing culture. And the way we talk about it is a sum of the [00:14:00] actions of everybody in your organization on a daily basis, and the biggest way to influence those actions and the, some of those actions is through your managers, is how your managers show up is what they tolerate, what they accept, what they praise and what they support.
[00:14:17] And. The best way to, to actually effectively make a impactful change in the organization within a team is to make sure that your managers have those tools and skills to lead others. The tools, skills of listening, asking powerful questions, having critical conversations, creating a space of psychological safety.
[00:14:36] And so all of those are essential. And they take practice, they take building. And so that’s why the third question is so vital is because we actually, instead of assuming that they have all those skills, let’s assume that they don’t. And how do we work to build those skills within our people
[00:14:51] Aidan McCullen: [00:14:51] socially about our starting point?
[00:14:53] Because you say when, when you’re telling us about your thoughts on what makes a great leader, you share that we most often [00:15:00] focus on the outcomes instead of the actions that result in those outcomes.
[00:15:04] Aaron Levy: [00:15:04] Yeah. It’s, it’s something I, I find myself. Sitting in and noticing with businesses all the time, especially the type of businesses that we work with, which are relatively fast growing startups or young companies.
[00:15:21] And we were in this mode of do, do, do, do do. And when we’re in this mode of constant action, constant progress, constantly moving forward, we fail to look at the what and the why. And we tend to spend a bunch of time on how, okay. That didn’t work. How do we fix it? Not why is that important to fix not what’s at the core of that problem, but how do we fix it?
[00:15:44] How do we take action? And I say this in a roundabout way, because when we look at how do we build better leaders, we tend to think, okay, well, great leaders are masters at motivating others. Great leaders are really [00:16:00] strategic, right? They know how to put the right people in the right places. They know how to think three steps ahead.
[00:16:06] Great leaders are awesome at communicating. And they realized this, this idea of being a servant leader, right. They know they have to serve others, but motivation is not an action that you do. You don’t go into work on a Monday and say, okay, I’m going to motivate today. Motivation is an outcome, right. Is an outcome.
[00:16:25] It’s not an input. And so what we do in the way in which we think about helping build better leaders is we look at what are the inputs, which drive the outcomes we want. And the input for motivating your people is actually listening, is listening with what we call intention and attention, and that has a profound impact and how your people show up and how your people feel motivated, how your people feel inspired.
[00:16:54] And there’s a wealth of data and science around that. But it’s the idea that most of us are never truly heard. [00:17:00] And because most of us socket listening, most of us don’t get heard. And if you actually can be with somebody and listen to somebody without waiting for your turn to speak, without thinking about what you’re going to say next, but truly hear somebody out, you engender them towards you.
[00:17:16] You motivate, you inspire them.
[00:17:18] Aidan McCullen: [00:17:18] Yeah. It reminds me of, we had a brilliant guest on the show before Julian treasure. The thing you’re talking about there, he called it script writing, which is as you’re speaking. I am preparing my answer. I’m basically script writing my answer or what I’m going to say next.
[00:17:32] But I thought about this are in reading your book. And one of the challenges is that the culture doesn’t allow for it. So if you ask me a question, oftentimes I feel on the spot to have an answer straight back to you while you talk about, if there’s a culture of psychological safety, it kind of eases all those things.
[00:17:53] Aaron Levy: [00:17:53] Yeah, there’s two thoughts here. One, I love Julian. Treasure’s Ted talk. Yeah. Um, and I, I think it’s, it’s truly insane hiring, so go [00:18:00] out there and listen to it. It’s, it’s really powerful about that. The importance of listening and, you know, script writing is what we call, you know, your blind spot, your listening blind spot.
[00:18:08] Each one of us listens to do something, to take some action, to look good and not look bad, to figure out what we’re going to say next, to solve a problem, to make a connection to what the other person is saying. And those skills are really good, because as you said in this, in this modern world, we’re expected to move fast.
[00:18:29] We’re expected to have an answer we’re expect to be able to connect to what other people are saying. That makes us look smart. But it doesn’t actually help us connect at the deeper level with somebody else. And so what we, what we encourage people to do is actually to slow down, to take a beat, to take a moment, to truly be present in the moment because sometimes, and what we find when we allow ourselves to be a little bit vulnerable, to get a little bit scared, uh, sitting in this silence for a couple of seconds.
[00:18:58] And it’s only a couple of seconds [00:19:00] of letting somebody else speak is. We can actually come up with more genius thoughts, more creative things. I mean, they didn’t tell me the last time that you came up with your inner no, you’re writing your book that you came up with kind of like one of your best thoughts or ideas,
[00:19:17] Aidan McCullen: [00:19:17] usually Northern mountain where it’s, you know, walking or, or in the gym or finishing in the gym or a bed at nighttime or waking up in the morning.
[00:19:26] Those kinds of moments where you’re in that kind of chilled out state.
[00:19:30] Aaron Levy: [00:19:30] You’re not looking at a spreadsheet, you’re not working through a project plan. You’re not responding to emails. It’s where you have you. It’s where your brain has a chance to slow down and not just move, move, move, move, move. And I’m the same way.
[00:19:44] It’s me when I’m walking to, or from the gym when I’m in the shower, when I’m in the oval workout, right? Like I get a note pad or I get my phone and I just type up all those ideas. So I don’t lose them. And it’s the same way here. When we allow ourselves to be present with somebody else. We can [00:20:00] actually see things that we maybe hadn’t seen before.
[00:20:02] We can see what’s important to that person. We can be better able to serve that person. We can see what’s at the root of the challenge within our team or within our business. And oftentimes we don’t allow ourselves the space, the mental pausing to do that. And I tell our clients all the time is we have to be present.
[00:20:20] And that takes. That takes, it feels like a step back, right? That slowing down, it feels like a step back. But oftentimes that step back that pause helps you go five, 10 steps forward because you’re just a prime example. We didn’t even talk about this beforehand, but I just asked you, and you said your most creative ideas can come when you’re slowing down.
[00:20:37] When you’re pausing, right? And those creative ideas are five, 10 X better than the tactical beaten, beaten down your computer keyboard, uh, ideas that come when you’re just,
[00:20:49] Aidan McCullen: [00:20:49] there’s four key steps here that I’d love to get through today. And the second one is asking powerful questions and that I suppose that presupposes, that you’re going to listen, listen with [00:21:00] intention and attention, but I’d love you to take us through this because you told us in the book that.
[00:21:05] Assuming can really trip us up. And it’s something you learned in the early stages of your career.
[00:21:11] Aaron Levy: [00:21:11] Yeah. I can share that story that I learned as well. And you’re right. The asking powerful questions first requires you to be able to listen. And when you’re listening to somebody else, that’s when you can allow that question to come up and pop into your head and be curious and, and allow yourself to blurt that question out.
[00:21:29] And oftentimes leaders. Tell me that they want to be more strategic. Right? The next step for them is to be a more strategic leader. And that’s a nice sounding thing, but what does it take to be strategic? It takes being curious. It tastes takes asking powerful questions. And early on in my career, I found that out the hard way.
[00:21:50] Um, we were, uh, I was, I was running an operations team as director of delivering operations for our company. And we were rolling out with a new client. [00:22:00] And, you know, I’d been doing this. I was pretty young in my early twenties and definitely very cocky and, uh, and confident in my abilities. And we’d been successful in a lot of our rollouts.
[00:22:10] And so when we had a new client to roll out with my boss, Mark said, Hey, Aaron, have you thought about this, this and this? And I said, Mark, dude, leave me alone. I got this, I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone. And he looked pretty concerned. And he asked me again and I said, leave me alone. I got this. And he did, um, and credit to him for leaving me alone and letting me fail because what ended up happening was I assumed I knew what we needed.
[00:22:39] I assumed I had all the answers and I stopped asking questions. And in doing that, uh, the, the consequence of that was I didn’t see the different inputs and different variables that made this roll out different than our other rollouts and ultimately the rollout flopped, and what went from a new client, onboarding a new client, getting [00:23:00] excited about bringing a new client to the, to our startup, uh, went to a rollout that we had to do damage control on and a client that wasn’t going to continue with us.
[00:23:09] And that’s a profound impact on a small business. And it was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. And I realized that when I say I got this, I don’t need you. I don’t need any help. I know what I’m doing. What I was really blind to was the openness was to asking questions. And I remember taking a walk with, with Mark, my boss and, and just saying you’re right, Mark.
[00:23:32] I’m sorry. Like I assumed I knew and I just didn’t ask the questions and I didn’t get curious enough. And that’s the, the flaw that we find ourselves getting into is Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Talk about this. When they talk about behavioral economics and confirmation bias and different cognitive biases, our brains are wired to take shortcuts.
[00:23:54] Our brains are wired to say, Oh, I know all the possible answers and here’s the right answer. But the truth [00:24:00] is is that even, even if I had been doing my job for 10 more years and had, you know, hundreds more rollouts, I didn’t know all the possible answers. I knew a subset of answers, but assuming that my knowledge is all the possible answers, what I then do is I limit my understanding of my ability and my curiosity, and what’s needed to ask powerful questions is being curious, being curious about a situation, being curious about a team, a person, and asking yourself what more can I learn here?
[00:24:28] Aidan McCullen: [00:24:28] There’s a core staff there that you talk about later. So if that was me as your manager, I would have had to go through, which was. Laying out the rules of the game. You talk about it. Like, so what’s my expectations, personal values. What do I want from the team? Because then perhaps I would have informed you of what I expect, which is if you don’t got it, say it because oftentimes something that holds people back, it may be, you know, cognitive biases.
[00:24:54] But also as you say, like Amy Edmondson, who’s a former guest in the show. [00:25:00] Psychological safety may not be there for people to feel. They can ask the question.
[00:25:04] Aaron Levy: [00:25:04] That’s entirely right. And you know, it’s funny, this example kind of goes into several breakdowns. One is me as an individual, um, and my thought processes and my cognitive biases.
[00:25:14] Uh, but it also goes into step three, which is about communication, right. And, and giving and receiving feedback and how we can be open, honest and direct in that. And it, and it sounds nice to be able to just operate like a, you know, like a football team or like a basketball team, or like a baseball team and just yell at each other and tell people to move.
[00:25:30] Cause we’re all moving towards a common goal, but, uh, But it, it, it has to actually, there has to be some things in place that allow that communication to happen that allow that feedback to happen without someone feeling, um, hurt or humiliated or made fun of. And, you know, Amy Edmondson’s work talks about that.
[00:25:49] And, and Google’s project Aristotle also talks about that. And one of the things that I, I tell, you know, every organization that I work with is at the root of any problem within your organization, it’s going to be one of these three [00:26:00] things. One of these three things are required for every high performing team.
[00:26:04] And it’s clarity, clarity on where we’re going, what we’re doing, context, why are we going in that direction? What’s important about that. And then safety. Most often it’s psychological safety, right? This feeling and belief that I can speak up without getting made fun of or humiliated. And so when you have those three, three things, clarity context, safety, what you have as a team that can communicate back and forth with one another, that can engage in conversation without getting mad with, with one another and realize that, Hey, we’re all moving towards a common goal together, but that doesn’t just happen overnight.
[00:26:38] That doesn’t just happened. Cause you listened to a podcast or cause you read a book that happens by establishing a set of agreements with your team. A clear set of agreements for how are we working together? Why are we doing this work together? And, and the acknowledgement that we’re going to, we’re going to move forward based on these agreements and these values versus based on purely.
[00:27:00] [00:27:00] Our feelings on a day to day basis
[00:27:02] Aidan McCullen: [00:27:02] took us through this. Cause you start this chapter with a brilliant quote by Steve jobs. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean, to make it simple, but it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, You can move mountains, absolutely brilliant line and a great way to start that chapter.
[00:27:20] Will you take us through then some lists I need to make as a leader to make a very, very clear for the team and make it very, very simple. So everybody knows where the starting point is.
[00:27:31] Aaron Levy: [00:27:31] Yeah, and this is an activity we do with our leaders and our camp trainings, and it’s all around. How do we establish teams, team agreements and what those are.
[00:27:39] Those are just basically ground rules or agreements that, that me and R and you, and your team would make to say, here’s how we’re going to communicate with each other. Here’s how we’re going to operate with one another to get towards these common goals. And what we always recommend is that the leader of the team starts that brainstorm first because it gives the rest of the team something to bounce their [00:28:00] ideas off of.
[00:28:00] And the steps I have them take. Cause I say list, you know, let’s create three lists. And the first list is what are all the expectations that you have of your team members? And a great way to think about this is how do you know a team member is the right fit? What do they do? What do they not do? How do you know, a team member is ready for promotion?
[00:28:20] What’s she doing? What she not doing? Right. What are those expectations that you have? And some of those might be stated expectations. And many of those are just expectations you have in your head where it’s like, I expect on time, means five minutes early. I expect with, when you say you’re ready for the meeting that you’ve done, all the prereading and you have an agenda ready.
[00:28:38] Right? Oh, I didn’t know that. That was the expectation. Those are what I mean by expectations. So building a list purely of expectations. That’s one list. The second list is what are your personal values? What’s important to you, ways in which you’re at your best. And the reason we have them list their personal values is because [00:29:00] if you set up and establish agreements that actually violate, or in contradiction of one of your personal values, then you’re setting your team up to piss you off too, aggravate you on a daily basis.
[00:29:12] And so it’s important to look at those values because when those values are violated, you get upset that the times you’re most frustrated at work or at home it’s because one of your values is being contradicted or violated. And the times are at your best. It’s when all those values are being dialed in and you’re living into those, whether it’s honesty or creativity or fun or love, whatever those things are that that attribute to you.
[00:29:34] For me, it’s, um, funny, honest, courageous. Those are some loving. Those are some of the ones that, that speak to me. And so I incorporate those and you kind of CEO’s on our website and our, and our culture manifest our culture deck. You can see those in our values. So the second list is your values. The third list is kind of like the list that I tell you to steal from anybody and everybody it’s those phrases, [00:30:00] quotes company values that you’ve seen elsewhere.
[00:30:02] You might have seen it in a commercial. You might’ve seen it at a different company. You might’ve seen it. In a, just by going through another company’s website, you might see that in your own organization of value that, that you really love. And it’s like, what are those values that you really love, that you would love to incorporate with your team?
[00:30:17] One of my favorite examples is, is assume positive intent. Right assume positive intent means that whether I do something that hurts you, Aiden, you’re not gonna assume I did it intentionally to her. You’re going to assume I, I was doing my best to do the best work I could. And unintentionally had a negative impact on you.
[00:30:36] And so we say, build a list of all of your favorite company values that you’ve seen from other companies. And now you’re equipped with three lists, a list of your expectations, a list of your personal values and listed company values. And you use those to then whittle down to a set of roughly two to five core principles or core agreements that you want to introduce to your team.
[00:30:59] That way [00:31:00] you could say, Hey, I want to think about how we can set up agreements for how we can work better together as a team, how we can work more effectively, more efficiently, how we can be clear with one another, how we can make sure there’s safety on this team so that we can achieve our outcomes. We can be successful together efficiently and effectively and really move forward fast.
[00:31:19] And so to do that, I’ve thought of a couple that might be helpful. And here are the, you know, here are the three or four that I thought of that would be helpful. Let’s. Throw all the spaghetti on a wall or throw these up on a whiteboard and come together to figure out what are the agreements that align for this team and for this,
[00:31:37] Aidan McCullen: [00:31:37] and you talk about then turning agreements into action as step two.
[00:31:41] And again, Unfortunately, the best way for us to learn is by making mistakes, you shared the story of another client of yours this time. It was David.
[00:31:50] Aaron Levy: [00:31:50] Yeah. Uh, David had set up his agreements and, and he, he did this kind of process and activity and, and had a list of four to five principles. And he said, Oh, [00:32:00] these are awesome.
[00:32:00] I love these. The team’s going to love ’em it’s gonna help everybody be at their best. And he’s like, you know, it’ll be a fun way to do this. Because we’re a sales team and we do everything in contracts is to write these up in a contract and have everybody sign it. And so instead of white boarding it with his team, he actually handed his team paper to sign and they all like kind of paused and rebuffed and stood back.
[00:32:23] And instead of thinking, it was funny instead of being excited about a way of working together, that was going to support them. They’re pissed off. They were aggravated, they were angry because they were being asked to like sign on hard paper or something that they never discussed. They never agreed to knit.
[00:32:38] They never aligned on it. Wasn’t a team agreement David’s statement. And so, right. It’s a very different thing. Right? A team agreement is something we agree on together. And so although his intention was great. The execution was poor because he didn’t create a way for, for the team to collaborate on these ideas.
[00:32:58] And that’s what the vitally [00:33:00] important. I talk about, you know, just white boarding it. Alright, putting it on the wall because a whiteboard connotes that you can easily erase, what’s put up on the whiteboard, a contract doesn’t connote that you can easily delete and change it. It takes more work, but if we’re having a whiteboard session with you ideas, I can erase right.
[00:33:16] Do the next hard thing. And I can, I can put in, instead of that, I can say, take risks, make mistakes, get uncomfortable. Right. And we can keep brainstorming until we find the language that works for us, because language is a, is it a physical thing that we. Yeah. Some people have different understandings or different.
[00:33:35] Ideas about certain words. So sometimes I might say one word and be okay with it being a synonym for another word, and somebody else might get really aggravated by that word. And so that’s why it’s important to just put it up on the whiteboard, erase it until we come up with something that we can agree on together as a team and make our own, and not just my own.
[00:33:54] Aidan McCullen: [00:33:54] Yeah. And you’re highlighted here as well, the need for the team to have time enough to digest the [00:34:00] agreements, but then you also share steps that we can use to get alignment.
[00:34:04] Aaron Levy: [00:34:04] Yeah. It’s important for everyone to be able to look at these, to be able to absorb till take a beat and pause. So it’s not something that’s going to be done in one meeting.
[00:34:12] It’s going to be done in two or three, but what’s vital before you put these in place officially is to make sure that. We’re all in agreement of what these are and I call it making deals and it’s alignment between two or more people on what actions demonstrate the fulfillment of the agreement. So what actions am I doing that show me I’m holding these agreements and sometimes the reverse, what actions would I be doing that would be violating these agreements?
[00:34:41] So it’s important because oftentimes we talk about agreements or values and say integrity, but what does integrity mean to you versus what does it mean to me? Right. It raise the bar. We talk about doing the next hard thing. That’s one of our values. What is doing that extra thing really mean? It raised the bar where you are very specific on what it means.
[00:34:56] It means take risks, make mistakes, [00:35:00] and learn from those mistakes. Those are things that we can easily evaluate. We can evaluate on my team. If someone’s gotten out of their comfort zone, taken a risk, we can, we can evaluate if Tina, how many mistakes have you made this year? But if you made none, you’re not doing your job the way we want you to, you’re not living up to the values.
[00:35:17] And then we can also evaluate, are you making the same mistake twice? Are you learning from your mistakes? And so you want to be able to be clear on what success looks like in holding each of these agreements,
[00:35:27] Aidan McCullen: [00:35:27] the next step. And this is so core that you need to embed the agreements into your day to day.
[00:35:31] And there’s a saying that came to mind. Here are the words on the wall are trumped by the behaviors down the hall, because it doesn’t matter what we write or what we say. Ultimately those words come to life in the day to day of what we do in the office. When we meet in the corridor or et cetera, et cetera, that’s when it matters, unused share what we can do to bring this to life within the organization.
[00:35:54] Aaron Levy: [00:35:54] One of the things I love to say is what you tolerate becomes habit. And so when you don’t speak up on [00:36:00] when an agreement is being violated, when you don’t applaud somebody, when someone’s holding an agreement, what you’re basically saying is the agreements, the things we spent several weeks on aligning on me, nothing.
[00:36:11] And so your actions have to follow through with your words. And that means, you know, sometimes in our training it just might mean as simple as walking over and giving someone a high five for doing the next hard thing. It means when Heather made a mistake that instead of saying, why did you make that mistake, Heather?
[00:36:28] I say, congratulations. Awesome. Mistake. What did you learn from it? Right. And so it’s, how do you follow up and follow through? How do you show up? And to me, this is the fun thing, because. You know, every action that you do on a daily basis can support these values. Every team event, or virtual happy hour can support these, right?
[00:36:49] If you’re sending somebody a gift, send them a gift for holding and living into a value. If you’re celebrating somebody for a win, celebrate the win and use it, the language of the agreement that you agreed [00:37:00] on. Right. Congratulations Heather and acknowledge the team. Heather did a great job of doing the next hard thing.
[00:37:06] She got out of her comfort zone. And out of that, we have a brand new client, or we have a client who is, was on the way out, who is now stronger and more committed to our work than ever
[00:37:16] Aidan McCullen: [00:37:16] so good, man. I was just thinking about how like that will actually drive the behavior. So if I saw that happening, I kind of go, Oh, I better do some of that.
[00:37:23] Or if I was the one doing it like Heather, And I go and I put myself outside of my comfort zone and nobody says it on the thing. Why would I ever do it? Yeah.
[00:37:32] Aaron Levy: [00:37:32] What gets rewarded gets repeated and what gets tolerated becomes happy.
[00:37:36] Aidan McCullen: [00:37:36] So let’s move on then to step four. Oh yeah. Before we do, actually, before we go into step four, you mentioned this and I see this as well in my work.
[00:37:44] One of the most common things is. Leaders will often complain about employees wanting to be promoted and they’re kind of going well, what are they doing about being promoted? And you turn it on them in a fabulous way.
[00:37:56] Aaron Levy: [00:37:56] Yeah. I say one, you know, [00:38:00] are you, if someone wants to get promoted, that means that they’re, they’re eager and they’re looking and they want to be challenged and they want to grow.
[00:38:07] Right. When someone says, I want more money, I want to title what they’re, that’s the external thing that they want. But internally it’s an identifier of growth. It’s an identifier of connection to their team, to their company, to their boss of making a difference. And so if you look at it in that way, you hear that, Oh my God, I have an employee who wants to make a difference.
[00:38:25] I have an employee who wants to grow and develop. So it’s my opportunity and it’s my obligation to challenge them to get better. And we often think that it’s just there. Business metrics right there, Kate, their key performance indicators or KPIs there, you know, this unit sold or the, you know, uh, hours worked that will determine if somebody is ready for promotion, if somebody’s successful.
[00:38:50] But what I like to say is. Think about the other side of that, of your values or your agreements metrics, right? How is this person doing and holding these agreements? Because [00:39:00] oftentimes we can’t put a finger on why that person’s not ready for promotion because they’re kicking butt with everything that they’re expected to do in their, in their metrics.
[00:39:08] But something about them is not right. Well, you can now put a measure on that right there. They’re not willing to take risks or make mistakes, or they’re not willing to speak up. Or they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. They’re not honest in their, in their actions and in their work on a daily basis.
[00:39:24] And that then can become a specific area of improvement for them to be ready for promotion. Not to guarantee a promotion, but if you say you’re not ready, well, you should give them areas of opportunity to grow. And that’s not always their business metrics. Sometimes it’s the business values or the team agreements that they’re.
[00:39:42] Aidan McCullen: [00:39:42] Yeah. And I suppose this brings us to step four, which is the most crucial one is to be the exemplar of open and honest feedback for your team yourself. Because here you tell us. Real time or live feedback becomes an infectious in the team. If they see you being the exemplify of that.
[00:40:00] [00:40:00] Aaron Levy: [00:40:00] And really that’s, if you’re creating a new way of working with people, one where they’re going to be open, honest, and direct with one another, it starts with you, right?
[00:40:10] You got to be the example. You gotta be the person that shows it, that does it. That leads the way. Um, and sooner than later, people will follow. They follow by example. And so it simply looks like being consistent, how you show up being consistent in how you respond, being consistent, how you give feedback.
[00:40:28] You know, it’s what we talk about. Psychological safety and companies always talk about trust and how important that is. Trust and safety are for, for a team to be at its best trust and safety. Come from one thing that’s consistency. Right. It’s consistency in the way in which you show up. So if I make a mistake and aid in the first time you say, Oh, it’s okay.
[00:40:51] What did you learn from it? And then I make a different mistake. And you say, why the heck did you do that? Aaron, what’s wrong with you? You’re not being, you’re not being consistent in how you respond to me. So [00:41:00] I, in, in turn, don’t trust how you’re going to respond to me. And I don’t feel safe in bringing something up to you.
[00:41:08] But if in the reverse I make a mistake and you say, you know what? What did you learn from it? And then I make another mistake and you say it’s a different one and you say, what did you learn from it? And I make another mistake. And you say the expectation is that you don’t make a mistake. So what are you going to do better next time?
[00:41:24] Or how are you going to says next time then you’re not accepting the mistake, right? You’re not saying it’s purely okay to make the mistake, but, but you are showing up in a consistent matter where you’re diagnosing. Downloading the problem where you’re trying to come to a better solution and you’re not humiliating me for making a mistake.
[00:41:44] Aidan McCullen: [00:41:44] The last part I’d love to cover is when you need to have those one-to-one critical conversations, you give us a framework. So at a high level, how do we approach those conversations?
[00:41:55] Aaron Levy: [00:41:55] I’ll give two, two ways to think about this at the high level, at the highest level, it’s realizing that [00:42:00] feedback is a gift.
[00:42:02] Feedback is there to help people get better to help improvement. And whether that people is the person you’re talking to your team, your company feedback is there. And the purpose of it is to grow. Improve, get better evolve is not to break people down to hurt people. That’s the first thing that you need to hold and really believe in.
[00:42:23] If he can’t believe in that, then it’s going to be very hard for you to give real honest and raw feedback. So the idea that feedback is a gift. And then the process that we talk about is, is there’s really two steps. The first step is taking a step back. And that’s set back is looking at the situation, the incident, the event, something that, you know, that sparked the need for this critical conversation and looking at the facts, right?
[00:42:46] What really happened if there was a hidden camera in the room, what would the hidden camera see letting go of your emotions, your judgments. Your preconceived notions of the situation or the person and why they did it, and just looking at the facts. And so the taking a step [00:43:00] back is stripping the situation of the story and everything you’ve built around it and getting really clear on what, what happened and what didn’t work.
[00:43:07] And then once you’ve kind of like stripped it down to its bare essentials, it’s now saying, okay, what needs to change? And that’s preparing for the conversation and preparing for the conversation is okay, what didn’t work. What do I want to look different next time? And then getting ready to just show up in the conversation, share that, and then create an opening for possibility.
[00:43:27] And that’s probably the, the biggest and most important of, of our, you know, it’s, it’s really a nine step process, but the biggest and most important step is create an opening for possibility. And what that really means is, yeah, I can give you the facts of aid and what didn’t work and how you screwed that client, you know, deal up.
[00:43:43] But also what I want to know is how did you see this? What was your perspective? Because a critical conversations or conversations between two people, it’s not an ultimatum, it’s not do this or else it’s, we’re trying to come to an understanding to move towards a common better ground. And [00:44:00] so that means I need to be open to your side of the story, to your perspective.
[00:44:03] I need to listen and he did ask powerful questions and I need to be direct in my feedback. And so that’s where everything that we’ve talked about up until now comes into play, and you really have to engage in a deep conversation around the situation around what did beautiful. And
[00:44:19] Aidan McCullen: [00:44:19] before I ask you where we can find out more about you, your book, your work, et cetera.
[00:44:23] So one of the thank our sponsor for today’s show Microsoft for startups, and don’t forget, sign up to the innovation show newsletter on the innovation show.io, Aaron, where can people find out more about you and your work?
[00:44:34] Aaron Levy: [00:44:34] Yeah, they can go to Ray’s bar dot C O that’s R a I S E B a R dot C O. And they can learn, um, and see kind of everything that we’ve talked about somewhere on that website.
[00:44:46] And they can also go to Amazon and get open, honest and direct the book there. Those are probably the two best ways.
[00:44:51] Aidan McCullen: [00:44:51] Author of open, honest and direct are in levy. Thank you for joining us.
[00:44:56] Aaron Levy: [00:44:56] Thanks for having me. [00:45:00]