Bring Out the Talent: A Learning and Development Podcast

Leadership: Leading With Structure and Substance

June 21, 2021 Maria Melfa & Jocelyn Allen, Bruce Tulgan Season 1 Episode 2
Bring Out the Talent: A Learning and Development Podcast
Leadership: Leading With Structure and Substance
Show Notes Transcript

Leadership: Leading With Structure and Substance

In this episode of, “Bring Out The Talent.” we will be talking to Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking and Leadership Expert. Bruce will share his insights on the biggest challenges leaders face today, the under-management epidemic, tips for creating highly engaged leaders, what leadership methodologies have stood the test of time and which have evolved, and so much more.

Maria: Thank you for joining us today for our podcast, Bring Out the Talent. My name is Maria Melfa and I am the CEO and President of The Training Associates, otherwise known as TTA.

Jocelyn: My name is Jocelyn Allen. I’m a Talent Recruitment Manager here at TTA, and I’m excited to have you all here with us.

Maria: We couldn’t be more excited to have our first guest join us today, Bruce Tulgan. I saw Bruce at a conference in 2011, I believe, Bruce, at a staffing show. And your discussion was so inspirational that we used you last year as our keynote speaker at our conference. We are very excited to have you kick off our podcast series.

Bruce: I am honored, honored, and delighted.

Maria: So, Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking. Bruce is internationally recognized as a leading expert on the best practices of effective management. Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers and hundreds of organizations. He has written numerous best-selling books, including The Art of Being Indispensable at Work; The 27 Challenges Managers Face; It’s Okay to Be the Boss; Managing Generation X, and many others. I also want to introduce, before we get Bruce on, Jocelyn Allen, who will also be one of our hosts for our podcast series, and Jocelyn is our Talent Recruiter Manager. So, welcome, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn: Thank you very much, Maria. Happy to be here. Hi Bruce. Thanks for joining us.

Bruce: Thank you both so much and what an honor and a privilege to be on your show. Thank you.

Jocelyn: So, Bruce obviously as Maria mentioned, we’re very inspired by the direction and approach that you take when it comes to leadership development. But we know a couple of things about you. I don’t know if you knew that, so we know you have a law degree and were a practicing attorney. So, what flipped the switch for you? What inspired you to become a leadership expert?

Bruce: Well first, let me just say, I don’t usually tell people that I’m a lawyer. I was only a lawyer for 428 days – so I hope you won’t hold it against me. (laughter)

Technically, I’m still admitted to the bar in a couple of states, and I’m including the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Back in the early nineties, I was working as a young lawyer at number Two Wall Street. And I was doing what young lawyers do on Wall Street, which is run around and do what the grown-ups tell them.

And I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the long term. So, I started interviewing young people in the workplace, and that turned into my first book, Managing Generation X. And when that book came out, it just was the right thing at the right time. You know, it was the nineties. Everybody was afraid of Generation X. You know, they were disloyal with short attention spans. They didn’t want to work hard. They didn’t want to do anything, anyone else’s way. They wanted immediate gratification. They wanted everything their way. And they wanted it right now. That was the slacker myth about generation X. And so, my first book, Managing Generation X, came out and all of a sudden people were calling and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come and give a speech?”
You know, the very first company that called was GE and they said, “Oh, we’re calling from Jack Welch’s office. Would you like to come and give a speech to his leadership team?” And I was like, What? Really? So, it was a little bit accidental. And that was 27 years ago when I started researching the first book.

Jocelyn: What does that feel like when somebody, your first call, is from Jack Welch? I mean, of all people you figure, maybe your first step is a little smaller than that one. What does that feel like?

Bruce: Well, they called, and they said, “Hey, Mr. Welch read about your book in the, in the Christian Science Monitor. He thought it was interesting. And he’d like to have you come speak to his leadership team.” And honestly, I was kind of like, could you hold on for a minute? I was like, what do you mean? So, I said, well, what do I say? And so, I got back on, and they said, what’s your fee? And I said whatever I thought was a lot. And they said, okay. And I said, well, you know, that’s just for the first hour. (laughter) Then it was away we go. It was the nineties… so if you recall things were going pretty well in the nineties, and it was a heck of a ride those first five or seven years until, really, until 9/11. And then everything changed.

Jocelyn: We’re curious to hear what your definition of a leader is. I think that one of the biggest shifts in leadership development and mindset has been, that the boss really was always seen as the leader, but now organizations become, you know, shift to more of a flat model. Do you think a leader needs to hold a specific title or would you say that a title even defines what your leadership skills are like?

Bruce: Yeah, let me say three things. One, as you know, I had the tremendous privilege of speaking at the TTA conference and I tried to lay out our research. One of the things I’m really interested in is people who are in positions of supervisory responsibility. So, in fact people move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they’re very good at their job usually, not because they have some natural acumen for leadership, right? So, you’re really good at your job, you show that you can handle some responsibility, you show you’re not going anywhere, probably. You’ve got a little bit of professional maturity. You start getting more and more responsibility. And then pretty soon you have people, and in most organizations, they put you in a position of management. Maybe they teach you how to do a little bit of extra paperwork, but nobody ever teaches you how to do the people work. So, it’s certainly not the case that just because you have the position that you have the skills…. that you have the techniques… that you can bring out the best in other people.

But I’m very curious about that because my view is if somebody talks to their family and they’re talking about their boss/ they’re talking about their manager, and that’s you! That is a profound responsibility. That means you have power over somebody’s career and livelihood. You have power over their ability to contribute to the mission and build their career and learn and grow and develop relationships. And that’s a huge amount of power! And I think it’s not power that should be taken lightly, but as you say, there are so many changes in the workplace, and levels of management have been erased. There are a lot of people who are saying, oh, hey, nobody needs to be in charge. We could have a self-managed team. (laughter) My view is there is no such thing as a self-managed team. Give me five minutes with a self-managed team and I’ll tell you who’s in charge of that team. Is it the person who should be in charge? Or is it a ringleader who has seized control? So, I think it’s incumbent upon organizational leaders to make sure that anybody who has position power has the training to follow the best practices for guiding, directing, supporting, and coaching people, for spelling out expectations, tracking performance, troubleshooting, problem-solving, resource planning, holding people accountable, recognizing, and rewarding people.

I think if you put somebody in charge of somebody else, you owe it to everybody to make sure that you prepare the leaders to follow the best practices. Otherwise, you have leaders who are like, oh yeah, I got my own style! To me, that’s like an accountant who says, “I’ve got my own style for managing the money”. Oh, well, you know what, we’re, we’re going to lock you out of the bank account. People are our number one asset. And how do you manage them? “I’m just winging it”. (laughter) That makes no sense to me. But to your point people at all levels of the organization chart find that they must deal with not just their direct reports, but maybe with their boss and with their sideways colleagues and diagonal colleagues, with people inside and outside the organization.

So, it has become conventional wisdom to say you don’t need to be a leader to lead. And I do think that people, no matter where you are in the organization chart, you need to situate yourself in that context, align yourself with the chain of command, and then you do need to exercise leadership appropriate to your position and your relationships so that you can get what you need from other people and help other people get what they need from you.

Maria: So how do you manage your team every day without being seen as a micromanager?

Bruce: Well, look, my view is that low performers want to be left alone and treated like everybody else, but pretty much nobody else does. And most people, if they’re high performers or if they aspire to be high performers, they look at their leader/ manager/ supervisor and what they want is guidance, direction, support, and coaching. They want to be set up for success. They want help getting their hands on the resources they need, or else advice about how to work around those resource gaps. Leaders must calibrate for each person. So, micromanagement is too much direction and feedback for this person with this task currently, but everybody’s different. Some people need a lot more guidance, direction, support, and coaching. Some people, if you talk to them five times a day, you’re just interrupting. Or if you go to them and you’re like, hey, are you ready for our one-on-one? And they’re like, yes, I’ve prepared a PowerPoint presentation. Here’s all the stuff I did this morning. Here’s all the stuff I’m going to do this afternoon. Right. You know that person, you could probably talk to that person once a week or every other week, and, you know, be nice to her. Cause she’s going to be your boss in a few years.

Jocelyn: It’s funny you say that. And I’m thinking about my manager and how he must feel because you just described me. I’m the person with the PowerPoint. I’m like you have you got some time? We need some time. No, you bring up some amazing points. And I think what resonates is that it’s not just about, you know, the warm and fuzzy. It’s also about the challenges that we face. So, what do you see are the biggest challenges that leaders who are ready to be leaders are facing today?

Bruce: I mean, what leaders tell us every single day is: look, I want to provide more guidance, direction, support, and coaching for people, but I don’t have time for that. I’m getting squeezed from every direction and yes, I may be a boss, but I have a boss, too.

Maria: Right.

Bruce: And my boss is telling me: Hey listen, we just need everybody to do more, better, faster. But we’re cutting your budget. Hey, glad we had this chat! Then they go to their people and say, hey, listen, one of the big shots was just in here; we need to do more, better, faster, and we’re cutting the budget and they say: Oh, hey, thanks for coming in here to talk to me. There are a few things I need to talk to you about; I don’t think I can work on Thursdays anymore.
And so, managers tell me: I’m stuck in the middle. Meanwhile, I’m trying to do my own work… I’m not just a manager. I’ve got a bunch of my own work to do.

So, I think that’s the number one thing people are facing right now. It’s over commitments. And that’s true for people at all levels. So, managers are getting squeezed, everybody’s getting squeezed and then, managers tell us: you know, gee, maybe I got put in this position of leadership, but nobody taught me how to do it. They taught me how to do some paperwork. Nobody ever taught me how to do the people work. So, I’m doing my best, but you know, maybe I’m not that good at it. And then there are all these HR rules you have to follow. And last time I really got in there and tried to manage somebody I got into trouble and sometimes they push back and argue. And now everyone thinks I’m a jerk. I don’t know. Am I supposed to treat everybody the same? Or am I supposed to treat high performers better? And you know, am I supposed to empower people because they’re going in the wrong direction. So, I think I’m supposed to tell them, right? And sometimes managers will say to me: well, I like to let people learn from their own mistakes.

And I’m always like, well, gee, how cool of you. Why wouldn’t you help them avoid those mistakes? Managers usually have their own work to do. On top of all this responsibility, they have a boss to answer to, they have customers and clients, they answered to. Everybody’s under a lot of pressure. And the issue we’ve been really looking at closely in the last few years is overcommitment syndrome. And again, to your point earlier, people all over the organization chart are being told, Hey, work things out at your own level. Hey, you know, collaborate, you know, you’ve got to work across silos, work across functions, figure things out with other people, working out at your level.

Everybody is dealing with more people and more demands. Everybody’s getting squeezed. And so, I think managers are experiencing that themselves and managers are also trying to help everybody else navigate their way through all this.

Jocelyn: We’re laughing here. Do you know what I mean? Cause you have just such a wonderful approach and bringing humor to things that are kind of tough, you know when it comes to conversations, but it is very real, trying to figure out the balance of everything that you just mentioned, to be good at your job, to be a great leader, to carry your people through. And I think the level of humor that you bring to even your explanation is a really good point for leadership and how to tie those things together.

Bruce: Well, that’s very kind of you. Thank you. I aim to entertain and sometimes I get carried away. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Jocelyn: We welcome it with open arms.

Maria: So, Bruce, a lot that you just touched upon, you wrote a book on it: It’s Okay To Be the Boss. You talk about the undermanagement epidemic. Can you explain a little bit about that?

Bruce: Yeah, I mean, so look, everywhere I go, what I find is leaders are trying to empower people. They’re trying to be fair. They don’t want to be a jerk. They’re avoiding confrontations, but look, the reality is that most leaders, managers, and supervisors don’t provide enough regular structured dialogue to make expectations clear, to keep people moving in the right direction to help them identify and solve problems quickly and plan resource needs and navigate all this interdependency and navigate through all these challenges, keep getting stuff done. So, when I talk with leaders what I find is that they want to be better. And usually, they’re doing their best, you know, they’re trying. But when we go into the real world, what we find is most leaders, managers, and supervisors spend a huge amount of time firefighting, dealing with unanticipated problems that blow up, disrupt everybody’s plan. So, you show up with a plan and then all of a sudden, the buildings on fire!

Maria: Unfortunately, that happens.

Bruce: Right. And if you talk to managers, they’ll be like, oh yeah, well, great idea, buddy. But you know, as soon as I get started, then I’ve got to deal with some problem that nobody was anticipating.

So that is a real issue. And one of the things I like to look at is, okay, well, so what’s going on when the building’s not on fire. We do a huge amount of work with the United States Armed Forces, and we’ve worked with folks in public safety. We work with folks in emergency rooms and other situations where you have to deal with emergencies.

So, I’m always intrigued by, well, what do you do when there’s not an emergency, how are you spending that time? And in the real world, what we find is that most managers communicate planning. But the number one thing that managers do is touch base. That’s the number one form of communication: how’s everything going? Is everything on track? Are there any problems I should know about? And then they think, oh, well, you know, I’m talking to my people. Hey, you said communication is the primary tool of leadership. I’m communicating. Hey, how’s everything going? Everything on track, any problems I should know about?

And then they say, hey, you know if you need me, my door’s always open. I’m just phone, call away. Text me, call me, email me. But the dynamic, this leads to is we touch base. How’s everything going, what I’m looking for there is: just fine. Right? Cause I’m busy. Everything on track? And under control? Let me know if you need me.

And what I think managers should say, instead of, let me know if you need me. My door’s always open (remember we used to have doors when we used to work in person?) I think what managers should say instead is, hey, later when I’m in the middle of something really important at the least convenient time possible, could you please interrupt me. Because that’s what happens. We interrupt each other all day long, and nobody’s at their best when they’re being interrupted. So, the dynamic is okay, then we’re on email together. So good news. Most people don’t get that many emails. So, it’s easy to manage by email or else the other way. You’re in a tidal wave of emails. And so, it’s hard to use email. And then, okay. We’re in some meetings together. But those meetings are not always well-run and sometimes you think, well, how many meetings? My day is filled with meetings, and you think, hey, I got to, I got to leave this meeting. I got another meeting.

We call this autopilot. So, everyone’s trying to do their work. And then we’re in meetings together. We’re on email together and managers touch base, and then we interrupt each other all day long. So, we’re communicating planning. It’s just, there’s no structure and substance to it. And if communication is the only tool of leadership and people are your number one asset…this problem is hiding in plain sight. That the way most communication happens is unstructured communication. And if it lacks structure, it lacks substance. And so, here’s what happens. Right? We are lulled into a sense of security because we’re “touching base, we’re interrupting, we’re on email, we’re in meetings. Hey, what else am I supposed to do? And then problems high below the radar. Then they blow up and all of a sudden, the buildings on fire. It’s all hands-on deck. We’ve got to put out the fire and then nobody has time for real structured communication. This is what we call the undermanagement epidemic.

It’s lots of communication. It’s just not structured, and it’s not doing the work that needs to get done. And as a result, problems hide under the radar. Unnecessary problems happen. Problems get out of control. Resources are squandered, people go in the wrong direction. Low performers, hideout, mediocre performers think they’re high performers, high performers get frustrated and think about leaving and managers have a harder time delegating. So, the undermanagement epidemic is hiding in plain sight in most organizations. A huge part of our mission is trying to change the management culture, teach managers how to put more structure and substance into their guidance, direction, support, and coaching, and teach individual contributors and anyone with a boss how to own more of the relationship and more of the dialogue.

One of the things we try to do is teach people how to manage their boss, which is how to help your boss manage you. No matter how much we get rid of layers of management, no matter how much we flatten organizations, no matter how much people are trying to collaborate across silos, across functions, people are dealing with people in which the lines of authority are not clear.

Everybody’s got a boss and you need that vertical anchor. You need to be in dialogue with your boss and have clear priorities, clear ground rules, clear marching orders so that you can then collaborate with everyone else. So, under management is a huge problem. And not only does it disrupt the chain of command, working relationships and cause all kinds of unnecessary problems, but it also makes it much harder for people to collaborate sideways and diagonally.

Maria: I agree. And unfortunately, I could relate to a lot of those examples.

Jocelyn: I was just going to say the same thing. I think that one of the biggest things is what you said, Bruce, about teaching people who have bosses, how to communicate with them. Because I think that both sides have to take kind of ownership of where their communication and their relationship is going. And to be better, we both make strides towards meeting in the middle.

Bruce: Let’s draw a bright line under that in many ways, that’s the real answer. Maria’s question before about micromanagement that you have to teach people how to do their part. And if you want your manager to manage you at the right degree of frequency, then you got to do some of the work. You got to own it. You got to demonstrate autonomy and mastery, and you’ve got to demonstrate that you’re going to get it done and help your manager. Go to your manager; you can define the frequency if you’re good at managing your manager.

Jocelyn: I agree with you. Yeah. I think over the years, I’ve, I’ve learned that there can be a lot of people who learn and work just like you do, but you’re the only person like you. So, you have to kind of set the stage for your goal, how you are going to be the best at your job because who doesn’t want to be successful. Right? And I think setting the stage for. Yourself. Is a good place to start.

Bruce: Absolutely. Yeah. The first person you got manage every day is yourself. The second person you have to manage every day is your boss. And then the third person is anyone who reports to you and then see if you’ve got any time leftover.

Maria: So, Bruce, you mentioned how no one has any doors anymore because we’re all working from home. So, how do you see the management challenges when they’re managing their remote team?

Bruce: Yeah. This has been quite a year. Well, in phase one of the pandemic, I think everyone was trying to figure out what are we going to do? How are we going to do this? And people were trying to figure out, okay, we need the tools, and we need the technology. We need to set ourselves up. We need to figure out how we’re going to do this.

I think phase two was when we all realized, hey, we can do this. Right, I think a lot of people realized, oh, a lot more work can be done remotely. Then we realized, gosh, we have the technology. We just haven’t been using it. And so, I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised. I mean, I think a lot of people started to think: maybe we don’t really need to be together to do a lot of this work, right? And then I think phase three was when we all started realizing something’s missing. We’re not around each other. And you know, even on Zoom, you miss visual data, you miss auditory data. There is this kind of intangible energy that comes from being with other people.

You know, there’s actually quite a bit of research on it. It’s called propinquity research. What I call the proximity gap: not being around each other. We don’t have spontaneous interactions. We don’t see each other out of the corner of our eye and see that… huh. It sparks a little competitiveness, a little energy, a little creativity.

So, there’s definitely something missing. And I think phase four or entering now is the beginning of the future where I think what most of us are realizing is there’s going to be a hybrid future. That we do want to work together. We do want to be together at least some of the time, but I think that we’ve sort of accelerated the trend of work from home by about 15 years and 12 months.

So, I think that I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the way it was. I think we’re going into a hybrid future where people will. Work remotely a lot and people will work together when they need to, or when it makes sense, or when they feel it. Do you know? So, I think that’s sort of the story arc of the last 14 months.

One of the things we’ve learned about management is that it turns out when people are managing in proximity to their direct reports, they tend to use place and time as a crutch. So, there’s a body in a chair during certain hours. And you’re like, oh yeah, that person’s here. Or, hey, that person came in early, that person stayed late or that person’s not here. What’s going on? So, place in time ended up being a crutch, I think for a lot of managers and frankly wait for place and time are not good measures of performance. Good measures of performance are concrete actions and outcomes. Good measures of performance are how much work does somebody do and how many errors do they make, how do they communicate with their interlocutors and it’s what people do and how they do it, not where and when. And so, one of the things I think that’s, that’s been really interesting is that managing remotely and working remotely, I think has forced a lot of leaders, managers, and supervisors to give up the crutch of place and time and really zero in on spelling out expectations, tracking performance, zero in on what matters, which is concrete actions and outcomes. And I think it’s forced a lot of managers to put more structure into their team huddles, more structure into their one-on-ones.

So, I think in some ways managers and people who have to manage their managers have learned a lot about how to put more structure and substance into our communication over the last year.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think what you said too, where you don’t see the old, normal being the new normal, right? We’re moving towards something that’s definitely more hybrid, but I think that it leaves it open to the interpretation of what makes that employee happy. And you know how to make them better at their job. Does the employee prefer that in-person interaction a hundred percent of the time and being in the office, does this person want to be remote a hundred percent of the time or do they want to split it?

Maybe we’re working towards that balance of happiness and performance by having this kind of forced upon us over the last 18 months.

Yeah, and I love what you just said. That balance of performance and happiness…

Bruce: I’ll cite you; I promise. I promise. But you know, in a way that should be on a bumper sticker; that is what the job… I mean, that’s what work is. It’s a transactional relationship. On one side. people want to get paid. They want some more control over their own schedule. They want control over where they work. They want to do some of the tasks, responsibilities, and projects that they find gratifying. In addition to the grunt work, they want to learn, they want to have relationships, right?

These are all of the elements of happiness, right? This is what people want and what people need. And on the other end of the spectrum is performance, right? What employers want is for people to get as much work done as well and fast as they possibly can. And that’s the balance, right? It’s happiness and performance.

That’s what leadership is in a way; you’re trying to help people negotiate that balance and get more and more of what they need in exchange for better and better performance. And that’s what it’s all about. I think we are going through a new transformation and, and I don’t think it’s all going to be up to employees and their happiness unless they’re very in-demand employees with tremendous track records of success, those indispensable go-to people who have a huge amount of negotiating power with their employers. Of course, those folks can write their own ticket usually.

I think a lot of business leaders are realizing hmm…I was spending a lot of money on commercial real estate. Gee, I was spending a lot of money on travel and entertainment. And my people are spending 10 hours a week commuting. How about this? Well, at that time with you, you work five hours more and you can have five hours and we both went, right. So, I think when I talk with business leaders, they are planning to reduce their costs when it comes to commercial real estate. And that’ll be another benefit. I think to your point, a lot of people will be happier as a result of that because they have the convenience and the flexibility and the comfort of doing more with their work from home.

Maria: Yes. I signed a seven-year lease a month before the pandemic hit. So, but I do love the hybrid model to me, I think it’s the best of both worlds. A lot of people will say you should allow your employees to work from home. Don’t you trust them? And it has nothing to do with trust. It has to do with being able to.

See each other collaborate have these face-to-face meetings, nothing replaces face-to-face meetings. I spend a lot of time with my marketing team. I have five people on my marketing team. We come in two days a week and we spend pretty much all of Monday just meeting and whiteboard and strategizing. And then it’s great because then they go home the rest of the week, and they are in production mode.
So again, I think it’s the best of both.

Bruce: worlds. That’s a great case study for finding the balance because people also need windows of time for focused execution. That’s another thing we’ve learned. I think when people are at home is that in the workplace, we’re interrupting each other all day long and not always for good reasons, but look, you know, you’re right. Creative work brainstorming there’s, there’s definitely something missing if we’re not in person. But it also has heightened people’s awareness that they need to have windows of time in between meetings, windows of time in between interaction, windows of time where they’re not being interrupted, do- not- disturb zones where they can focus on executing chunks of work.

Jocelyn: Reflecting on all of this, the last two years is just wild, what we have learned and what we go through every day, and how we realize that there’s a kind of a better way to program our schedules to get things done right. Or less program of the schedules, maybe.
Okay. Bruce, what are some tips that you have as we talk about the different levels of leadership and the kind of circumstances around them? What about those who are managing people who actually have more experience than they?

Bruce: This is tough, you know, it’s either managing people who are older and more experienced. If you’re younger and less experienced, then you try to tell them what to do. And they’re like oh yeah, hey, you remind me of my nephew. Gosh. I remember I started working here when you were in the second grade. And you know, it was like, but people move into positions of supervisory responsibility for all sorts of reasons. And I think it’s really important to respect the experience and wisdom of people who do have that institutional memory and that time served.

And they have been around the block. They have done this before. They didn’t do this 12 years ago when it was first tried, and it didn’t work then. And so that’s why they think it’s not going to work now. But I think there’s another element of it, which is sometimes you’re managing somebody who is really the expert on something and you’re not.

So how do you provide guidance, direction, support, and coaching to somebody who’s an expert and you’re not, like managing a doctor if you’re not a doctor. I think a lot of people find themselves in these roles. This is especially true in organizations where they have technical tracks and leadership tracks, and they diverge.

You see this in engineering, you see this in a lot of areas, and I think you’ve got to have enough basic subject matter understanding that you can have meaningful conversations, but I don’t think you need to be an expert to provide guidance, direction, support, and coaching. What I always tell people is if you’re managing somebody who’s really an expert and you’re not, then what you have to do is be a really good client of that person’s professional service.
So, take the doctor example: you know, you could be a really effective patient. You don’t have to be a doctor, but if you’ve ever known somebody with a serious illness, or if you’ve ever had a serious illness, you have to be a good patient. You have to become an effective advocate for yourself or someone else. You start to learn more and more about that illness.

You learn more and more about what’s required, medically. You learn enough to ask good questions. You’ve learned enough to get second opinions. You learn enough that you can evaluate the non-technical cues and the non-technical aspects of the work, you know, Hey Doc, what, when is the surgery going to be? And where are you going to cut? And how long is the surgery going to take and how long will the recovery take? And how many inches will the scar be? Wake up and there’s a scar on your ankle, and you’re like, ah, you cut in the wrong place.

Maybe it’s a silly example, but I think what you have to do is engage that person in regular structured dialogue. And you start by saying, hey, you tell me what you’re going to do. You tell me how you’re going to do it. Tell me what steps you’re going to follow. Tell me how long they’re going to take. And then let’s meet back here and then you can always get a second opinion. You can ask someone else who is also an expert. Maybe you’re managing two people who are experts, and you can compare what they’re doing. You can evaluate the non-technical aspects of their work. Did they come on time? Did they stay all day? And most significant is if you make them complicit in spelling out expectations. If you ask them: tell me what you’re going to do. Tell me how you’re going to do it. Show me. And then later on you say, hey, did you, do it? Did their actual performance line up with the expectations that they spelled out for you?
What happens is over time, you may not become an expert, but you learn more and more. And you learn what to expect. You learn what questions to ask, you learn who to go to for second opinions. And then you also can start to see if that person’s performance goes up and down or if it’s consistent. So, the strategy is: make yourself a really effective client of this person’s professional services.

Jocelyn: I think that that’s a great point because there are two sides to it. There’s the side that this person who has less experienced is now managing the expert. And so, they’re going into it thinking, how do I convince this person that I’m on their side? Maybe that hesitation isn’t necessary. Maybe this person’s ready to give all they’ve got to you. But on the flip side, maybe this person is saying this person’s going to come in and tell me what to do when I’ve been the expert for 25 years. But they don’t know that this person is ready to come in and say, tell me all about you and tell me how I can be better.

So, I, I think that that is so valid and what a wonderful point to make.

Bruce: Yeah. by the way, I love what you’re saying. And I think that dynamic, that interpersonal dynamic of trust and self-doubt is really important to be aware of. And sometimes managers. In this situation will say to me, you know, I know I have so much to learn. I can’t exactly go in and take charge. And so maybe I better learn a bunch before I try to take charge. And then you can get off to a weak start. So, what I always tell people is: you know, it’s okay to have a lot to learn. In fact, as a leader manager, supervisor, if you ever think you don’t have a lot to learn, you probably shouldn’t be in charge. Even if you are the experts. So going in and realizing I have a lot to learn, doesn’t have to be a position of weakness. It can be a position of strength. And it’s also a great way to start the dialogue and keep the dialogue going. When you go in and say, hey, I have a lot to learn. I want to learn what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
And so that I can be a resource for you so that I can run interference for you so that I can help you get the resources you need so that I can understand where you’re coming from, where you’re going and how I can find ways to help.

Jocelyn: You’ve worked with a ton of organizations. What would you say is the most consistent characteristic across the most successful organizations that you’ve worked with when it comes to leadership mentality and development?

Bruce: One of the things I’m always aware of is my friend, Tom Peters wrote a book in 1982, a very famous book called In Search of Excellence, where he featured excellent companies and what they do. And you may or may not know, but his book that came out in 1988, called Thriving on Chaos. The first sentence is on how there are no excellent companies. I always think about that and the way I put that together is every organization has strengths. Every organization has risks and problems and opportunities to improve. So of course, some organizations you can look at Jim Collins. Good to great. You can look at anyone who tries to identify great organizations.

You’ll see that they, that they’re susceptible to the reality that organizations have ups and downs, just like people have ups and downs. So, I do think that there are market headwinds. That disrupts a company’s ability to thrive. I think there are radical changes in circumstances, outside forces that disrupt.
So, in that sense, I think one of the most important things for longevity of success is an organization that can adapt, that can reinvent itself, and organizations that are always trying to drive continuous improvement are the ones that are most likely to be able to adapt and continually reinvent themselves where they need to.

Having said that, I do think that the common denominator of success is when organizations can have a clear and meaningful mission when they’re able to turn that mission into concrete goals and objectives, and then they’re able to drive those goals and objectives into priorities that they can push all the way down through the chain of command. That they can create alignment so that the mission and the goals and the objectives are translated into concrete action at every level. That’s alignment. When organizations do that, when they’re able to create communication up and down the chain of command, then I think that’s the key.

I mean, the example I always look to is the United States Armed Forces. I’ve worked with the United States armed forces since the mid-nineties. One of my very first clients was a guy named Dennis Reimer who was a four-star general. He was chief of staff of the United States Army for four years, and he always says that in his career, in the army, He worked for at least three different armies: the Vietnam era army, post -Vietnam era army, and then the post-cold war after the Soviet Union disbanded. And we were, remember the nineties, the sole superpower. Well, General Reimer retired in 1999, but then, of course, I’ve continued working with the military after 9/11. Everything changed again. If you look at the United States Armed Forces lives are on the line, The mission is to keep America strong in the world, safe. And they absolutely have to adapt and change every step of the way. What is the one thing that doesn’t change? That they have this rigorous culture of strong, highly engaged leadership. They teach every single person how to follow. They teach every single person how to manage themselves and how to manage their relationships and how to do their part and get clear expectations and follow those expectations. And they don’t put anyone in charge of anyone without making sure those people are trained in the fundamentals of leadership. And it’s not light- the- fire -in- your- belly leadership; it’s guidance, direction, support, it’s coaching. It’s setting people up for success. It’s making sure people are going in the right direction. It’s follow up, follow up, follow up. And if somebody’s digging in their heels, they clean the latrine.

And if somebody is going the extra mile, you find a way to take care of that Soldier, that Marine, that Airman, that Sailor. So, I think, you know if you use the military as a case study where they’ve had to adapt constantly to huge changes in the world, what’s the one thing that doesn’t change? Their rigorous leadership culture.

And how do they develop and maintain that culture? Training, training, training, training, training. What’s the one common denominator? Training

Jocelyn: While we’re at that, too. Thank you to all of the Armed Force s active members and Veterans that may be listening. We thank you for your service. We are very proud of our Armed Forces here at TTA, and obviously you too, Bruce, at Rainmaker Thinking. So just wanted to put that out there.
So, to follow up, kind of piggyback off of that, Bruce, what do you think is just as relevant today as a characteristic of a good leader… as it was when you started?

Bruce: There’s a lot of changes in what’s popular day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. There’s a lot of flavors of the month. And you know, you guys have seen this, right? Seek to understand their deep, inner motivations. Well, okay. But. How many real leaders in the real world are really qualified to understand someone else’s deep inner motivations? And, you know, my view is it’s actually none of your business, what their deep inner motivations are, ha-ha. Light the fire in their belly, have them work only in their area of passion and strength.

There is a lot of work to be done. And you know, who is going to do all the work? Praise them and praise them no matter what they do well, are you sure? Cause sometimes they are not earning praise. So, I think a lot of the flavors of the month are what lead people in the wrong direction. I think, you know, since we have been gathering in hunting and chasing after gazelles and wildebeest, what’s never going to change is that people come together to collaborate, and we need to communicate and cooperate and back each other up and support each other. That we need each other. And that a team with a strong supportive leader is always going to do better.

And I think leadership matters. I think the basics of leadership were the same when we were hunting after gazelles and wildebeests, which is clear, supportive communication, tuning into people, understanding where they’re coming from and where they’re going, providing clear expectations: here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to do it, tracking performance, helping people get better, driving continuous improvement through coaching and troubleshooting and problem-solving and holding people accountable and recognizing and rewarding people and celebrating when they succeed. I mean, when one of the hunters (by the way, all due respect and apologies to the Gazelles and the wildebeests), when you have somebody who is working harder, working smarter, working faster, working better, and contributing more, then find a way to celebrate that success. I don’t think those fundamentals are ever going to change.

Maria: We are coming to an end. So, final question for you, Bruce: we work with a lot of organizations, all sizes that are looking to create leadership programs. How can you, Bruce, and your company help these organizations?

Bruce: Well, gee, I feel like that’s a fastball right over the plate.

Jocelyn: I mean, just a warmup, Bruce.

Bruce: That’s what we do. What we do is talent and organizational assessments. We do training programs. So, I do a lot of keynotes and workshops. I try to customize everything I do, but we do have the curriculum that we’ve developed over the years. And back to fundamentals leadership, dealing with generational diversity and change in the workplace, recruiting and retention, and self-management and collaboration. Those are the four areas in which we do training.

And in fact, we also have our new platform,, where we have video-based training. And now we have this TV studio, so we can do everything live and remotely. And one of the things that we’ve started doing now that we have this TV studio is a custom training program. So, Come find us! That’s what we do. We aim to please.

Maria: Excellent. Fantastic. It’s always such a pleasure to speak to you, Bruce.

Bruce: What a privilege to be your guest. Thank you.

Jocelyn: Thank you so, so much for your time. We appreciate it. And we look forward to developing those leaders out there. For more information on today’s podcast, guests, and how they can help your organization, please visit

Bring Out the Talent is a Muddhouse Media production