Simply Feedback

15. From Average to Awesome: Lessons for Living an Extraordinary Life - Dr. James Smith, Jr. CSP

April 05, 2021 LearningBridge Season 2 Episode 4
Simply Feedback
15. From Average to Awesome: Lessons for Living an Extraordinary Life - Dr. James Smith, Jr. CSP
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. James Smith, Jr. discusses his experiences and guidance around living and working authentically so that feedback helps us grow through life, not just go through it. As president and CEO of Dr. James Smith, Jr., James shares the lessons he learned that helped him move from average to awesome and how he incorporates it in his coaching and teaching.

For more info regarding feedback and how you can develop yourself or your team, email [email protected]

Brought to you by the LearningBridge Team

Troy Blaser:

Hello, welcome to today's episode of Simply Feedback. We are excited today to speak with Dr. James Smith, Jr. He is a sought after trainer and personal power speaker for the past 20 years. James delivers a message that we have the power to radically change the direction of our lives. He delivers this to thousands of individuals throughout the world. James has spent 14 years working in corporate and consulting leadership positions for a wide variety of industries. He currently serves as a faculty member for the Temple University Fox School of Business, and is president and CEO of Dr. James Smith, Jr. James has authored three books with The No Excuse Guide to Success: No Matter What Your Boss or Life Throws at You book earning an NAACP Image Award nomination. He recently co- authored A Collective Breath: Stories of Being Black in America and Visions of Change. James serves on the board of Variety the Children's Charity and helps to raise awareness and support for people on the Autism Spectrum. James, welcome to Simply Feedback. It's great to have you on the podcast today.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

It is amazing to be here. Yes, my day revolved around being here with you.

Troy Blaser:

Well, that's very kind of you to say these are always conversations that I enjoy and I'm excited to speak to you today as well. The name of the podcast is Simply Feedback. A lot of what LearningBridge does revolves around feedback and how it's used in business and personal interactions. The ways that feedback can be given the way, the ways that feedback can be received. I wonder kind of, as we start out, if you can tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback, maybe that had a significant impact on your life.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Absolutely, absolutely. Actually I was raised on feedback. My mother believed that feedback was the breakfast of champions and I received both what I like to call praise and polish feedback. And I've added another P to that. Praise, polish and possibilities. So praise...what I did well, polished...what I can do better and possibilities...give me an example of how I can do a better. But to answer your question, I think about the time, which is probably the most compelling, powerful, egregious, unfathomable feedback that I received all in once . I remember I was in my, I want to say my third or fourth year in corporate and I was reporting directly into the Director of Customer Service and we took on then total quality management and she had pulled me from HR to work directly for her. And she was known for being extremely tough. She was Simon Cowell before Simon was even born probably. And I remember leaving an executive meeting that she took me to and we came back to her office and she told me she had some feedback for me. I sat down pen in hand, ready to take notes. And essentially she said, Jim, at the last meeting, every time you said something, it hurt. Excuse me? It hurt. She said, yes, it , it hurt. It hurts so often every time you said that one word, I put a tick mark. What are you talking about? You pronounce the word a-s-k, ask, as axe. You were axing a lot of questions, axing a lot of questions. And me and me and Bert next to me, we started to both take tick marks and like, what's wrong with him? Now as a speaker, aspiring speaker in front of people all the time, the feedback was right on point. However, how she delivered it was awful, at the time I'm 24, 25 years old into corporate black American. My boss is white and I felt she was questioning my competency just because I was mispronouncing a word. And initially I took it personally. I got defensive. I didn't say it because I was new. I didn't want to get fired. But I eventually calmed down, listen to the people around me and my friends and family members were asking questions too . And from that day forward, when I say ask, I make sure that you hear every syllable. And I have, since throughout my career, if a person from an underrepresented group needed some feedback that would help propel them forward, I gave them that feedback in private and I gave it to them in a way that they would embrace it, not go 9-1-1, like I did having a long time ago. But I remember it . I remember it.

Troy Blaser:

Definitely sounds like it's had an impact on your life, on your career in a lot of ways. It's an interesting comparison. You talk about, you know, she was the Simon Cowell of giving feedback and there's sometimes can be a place for that, but , um, it's tricky to receive feedback when it's given that way.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Sure, sure. That's why I have my three P's because I want you to know what you did well, and I don't say constructive, I don't polish. The shine is there, but I want the shine even more. And then after I give you the shine recipe, I'm going to give you some examples of what I've done or what others have done to take what you're doing, not just to the next level, because that's an overused tired. I want to go to the next level. I want to go beyond that. Who's next level to me suggest I'm stopping. I want an S on the word levels , I believe in limitless aspire, aspiring higher. No , no. Next level. That's tired. That's the road that is well-traveled, the road that is less traveled is when people say, I want to go beyond the next level. That's the feedback I want beyond next level feedback.

Troy Blaser:

Yeah . That makes a lot of sense. You told us that story. You, you mentioned you were in your early twenties. Maybe tell us a little bit more about, about your background. How did you get started and end up where you are now as a well-known speaker?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Sure, sure. West Philadelphia born and raised little playgrounds where I'm from as well . I went to public schools , I went to college, majored in English thought I was going to play pro football, then write for Sports Illustrated then go back to my old high school and teach English that did not happen. I got cut from the pro football teams. I did get a job working for the Prudential Insurance Company of America. Since my background was in English, I was in marketing as a copywriter writing direct mail. Our client was a AARP. I'm a proud AARP member now. And , uh , after three or four years, I wasn't happy. The job was so routine doing direct mail campaigns. I wanted something bigger. It's something that was stretched me. Coincidentally, a good friend of mine was leaving Prudential to go to grad school. And she was a trainer in our HR department. And she told me that I should consider posting for the job. Well I did, fell in love, found my sweet spot, which is I love running my mouth and ended up being promoted all the way up to manager. Eventually left there and went to work for the Vanguard group management development, professional development loved it there. Went to Core States Bank vice-president business learnings, learning resources. But during the time I was at all three companies, vendors would come in to do professional development. And I would say 80%, 80% of them were awful, but they would come in. Here's their magic. Here's their expertise. Here are the tools. And then they would go someplace else. One of the ones that was phenomenal, I ran up to during a break and said, listen, you are awesome. I want to do what you're doing. Would you mind getting together doing lunch and sharing some of the tips of the trade? He eventually said he had heard about me. He did a needs assessment research, and he heard that I was one of the top trainers in the company and that he was looking for subcontractors, but he said I would have to get my bosses approval because it required me being out of the office for a day or two, went to my boss who happened to be my best boss ever during that time, '93 through '96. And she said, she knew I was destined for more. That corporate couldn't contain me, that she knew one day I was going to do my own thing. So she wanted to help me. But when I did one of my subcontractor days, I would work a four day workweek or take a vacation day, a personal day. And for three years I had an opportunity to work with him getting experience, but still maintain my full-time job. And I said, this is, this is it. This is where I'm going. Plus the money's not bad. And my last corporate gig, we got acquired. And because of my level and my title, I was able to get six months salary, six month benefits severance. And I use those six months to begin to build my own company, worked for a few consulting firms before I started my own. But in 2002, I started my own company. And thank you for the experience that I got from the consulting firms. Thank you for the experience that I got from that vendor took me under his wing, where I had an opportunity to practice my craft, but still have a full-time opportunity. And he gave me a ton of feedback along the way to get me to where I am today.

Troy Blaser:

That's fantastic. So it wasn't quite the plan you dreamed of growing up in high school, but you found a different passion, right? That you've really been able to follow. It sounds like that worked out really well. To be able to take that one day a week, but then also to have the six months to really find your feet with your own company there.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

And I , I love that you said passion because that's essentially what this is. If you look at the word passion and spell it, P A S S I O N it's simply means to PASS-I-ON. If I get a chance to do that every single day, pass me on pass my beliefs, my thoughts, my tools, my spirit. I believe that I am truly living my calling. Um, the only other thing I could imagine doing, if I wasn't doing this and I don't imagine it, but people always, Hey, James, what church do you preach? I'm not a preacher. Yes, you are. No, I'm not. My ministry is the workplace. I'm in Logan Airport getting ready to board a flight. Going back to TSA, black woman had to be in her late sixties. I clear her. She said, excuse me, father, have a nice flight. I'm saying , hold on , timeout , timeout . I am a father, but not the father you're talking about. Yes, you are. No, I'm not. Yes, you are. I'll pray for you because you just haven't accepted your calling yet. You're gonna , you're going to be doing this one day. I'm like, Oh, okay. Okay . I love what I do. I'm in the feedback business.

Troy Blaser:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I was, I was just going to ask you, as you, as you consult with organizations, as you engage with different clients, how do you incorporate, or how do you use feedback to help make a difference for those organizations?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

I let them know early on whether it's coaching, presenting, educating that I'm going to be as authentic as I can be. Um, I had studied authenticity when I was working on my doctorate degree and I find that there's a lack of authenticity in the workplace. And I tell them that I'm going to be candid and authentic. I'm going to provide this three- P feedback and I'm going to hold them accountable. I encouraged them to create an accountability climate so that people will be asking for their feedback and not just throwing performance appraisal time, but continually spontaneous feedback during the course of their journey there. And that's the way we grow through life and not just go through life. And I believe that feedback helps you grow through life. So it's part of, it's part of the overall conversation we have in the very beginning of our journey together. So they share what they want. And I share my terms as well.

Troy Blaser:

Yeah. Talking about, well, thinking back to that early experience of the way that you received that feedback and sort of that fight or flight response that it caused for you , um, are there ideas or ways that you deliver feedback to your, your clients that help it to be more easily embraced?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

I have one rule, that actually is one and a half, when I am providing feedback or when their peers are providing feedback during the session, the recipient can't talk. Other than to ask for clarification, because if they begin to talk, they're going to do what we call right fight. They're going to fight to be right. And they're going to miss out on the feedback, the tips, the suggestions. I don't want to know why you did it now right now. I want you hear how others received it. And now they're going to plus you. And in order to be plus now even have a model let's call this SH model. Each S stands for something and H stands for something I encourage you to SH while the person is pouring into you. And we record the feedback or the feedback moment so that you don't have to write notes down because writing and listening, something's going to be lost . So thank goodness we have technology, we record the feedback and we can go watch it over and over and over again, you have a feedback party.

Troy Blaser:

Well, and that allows the person, you know, maybe if there is sort of that fight or flight response or the wanting to be right, that recording allows them to come back to it later when you know that stress level has gone down and they can, they can really think a little bit more clearly because there , you know, the adrenaline's not pumping quite so hard.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

You're so on point, many of us listen to judge. We listen to defend. We listen to prove ourselves right. Rather than listening to learn, or a Stephen Covey once seek to understand before you seek to be understood. And I like this quote, that we don't see things as they are. We see them as we are. If we are not open to the feedback, we're probably inclined to keep repeating what we're doing. And you know what happens if you keep doing what you're doing.

Troy Blaser:

Sounds like insanity.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

You said the number one, answer, ding , ding , ding , ding , you keep getting the same results, right? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Troy Blaser:

As you've gone into engage with different corporations and coached specific individuals, is there a a time or an experience you can think of when you've seen feedback cause a point of inflection maybe in someone's career or in their life as you've worked with them and coached them?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

It's ironic it happened today. If it didn't happen today , I would think back about a time, but this is the whole recency experience. I was on a zoom call today. I was coaching the person and we were working on virtual presentation skills because I do that as well. I said, one of the things I encourage people to consider is when you're presenting, you know you're doing well if you can change the look in the other person's eyes, based on what you said, you changed the look in their eyes. Wow. Then I proceeded to give her examples of what she can do, different models. And then I went in from a vulnerable standpoint and basically disclosed some of my gory moments and things I need to do better and turning points. And she's, I can't believe you just shared all that said , look, I changed the look in your eyes because as speakers we should share more gory stories than glory stories. People don't always want to hear how you scored the touchdown with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back with no clothes on. They want to hear when you fell down and how did you get back up. Because you're up, you're here. So I shared some vulnerable, some really close to me experiences, and it resonated with her . It got her vulnerable and she cried a little bit and said, I'm really going through it right now. My mother just passed. Now we are having a life conversation that transcended the coaching. We came back to the coaching, but we spent a good, I'm going to say seven, eight minutes just coming together as one, humans around supporting each other in that moment right there.

Troy Blaser:

So I really liked that distinction or it's an easy way to, you're really good at providing the models, the gory stories versus the glory stories. We probably need a mix of both, but people really appreciate it when that vulnerability is shared because all of us have that and we can really connect at that level.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Yeah. I agree. Keep it, keep it , keep it as authentic as you can. I'm not going to say keep it real because that's subjective. And when I hear someone say I'm just keeping it real, keeping it real for me that says you're afraid to be unrealistic. You're afraid to be extraordinary. You're playing it safe. Yeah . That's, that's why it's a buzzword that keeping it real. No, keep it unreal. Challenge. The status quo. Do what others aren't doing. Stop keeping it real, chicken!

Troy Blaser:

I think keeping it real can also almost be an excuse. I'm going to like say I'm being super honest with you. I'm keeping it real, right? And that can be overdone as well. I didn't have the same connection that way.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

And this has, has nothing to do what we're talking about, but our conversation made me think of another word that's overused that limits feedback. It is probably the number one most overused and ambiguous word in our vocabulary. And it starts with an I and the second letter N-T-E-R-E. Interesting. When someone says that's interesting. What does that mean? That's an interesting shirt. Okay, good? Bad? That was an interesting presentation. No . What was it specifically? Tell me what it was. What does interesting mean to you? That will help me do it more or do it less. But when you say interesting to begin with yeah, I get nothing. And you hear it all the time.

Troy Blaser:

People use it as a polite way to disagree.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

A polite way to disagree. A polite way to back out of sharing your truth. We hide behind which means that our feedback is not going to be poignant because we're hiding behind "interesting". Now that that's professionally, You can use interesting at home with your spouse all you want.

Speaker 3:

You don't have to come clean, "Honey, how do I look?" "Interesting." It'll get you very far.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Absolutely.

Troy Blaser:

I wanted to ask about your books. Three books, maybe this isn't a fair question. Do you have a favorite of the ones that you've worked on?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Without thinking, I would say my favorite is my first. From Average to Awesome: Lessons for Living An Extraordinary Life. It was my first one. I struggled. It took me four years to complete it, but one year to write it. Because the first three years, all I was doing was telling people I'm writing a book, I'm writing a book, I'm writing a book. You sit next to me on the airplane. Hey I'm Jim Smith Jr . writing a book. Told my daughter tell your classmates, I'm writing a book. It wasn't until I got intentional in serious writing four pages a day and not necessarily writing to develop one day, write one day, edit one day brainstorm, create where I wore different hats each day. And it was , um , somewhat autobiographical. So I share a lot of my lessons learned that have moved me from average to awesome. And it's a mindset, it's not a zip code, it's not a pay . How much money you make, it is not a title. It's you. The most recent one that I co-authored came about as a result of last year, last year,with all the social and civil unrest, George Floyd's murder. And my friend Bridgett McGowen said she was putting together a book about being black in America today. But with visions of change, visions of hope, would you mind contributing a chapter? And that , um, what made that hard or challenging is because my emotions and feelings were still raw about based on what had happened. We always say, don't write an email when you're living . Don't share anything when you're, when you're not calm. And I had to simmer before I can put my hands on the keyboard and people got a different side of me. They didn't see the corporate, Dr . James. They saw the James Smith, Jr. black male, 59 years old. And it was well received , got raw and shared my truth about how I feel about what's happening in the world and what I hope we can do going forward to be better. But you not be the United States, not just the States of America,

Troy Blaser:

Definitely an intriguing time. And it sounds like a great opportunity to really share those raw feelings, those thoughts and experiences. And it sounds intriguing to me.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Yeah, it's when, prior to turning 18, my mom, my friends, my family called me, James, Jimmy, or Smitty. When I went to college, people started calling me, Jim. My college was 99% white and I wanted to fit in. Jim, it will be. I just kept it personally, professionally Jim. Then last year after I saw what happened with Mr. Floyd and considering all the research I did in authenticity, I said, no more collusion, no more going alone and get along no more sitting on my stuff so that my white friends or my white clients will embrace me and bring me in. No they're going to get me. And from that point forward, I said, I'm going back to my birth name, which is James. And I'm going to be as much James Smith, Jr. as I can be for the rest of my life. I'm not going around protesting, starting fights. No, but I'm going to be very clear and consistent with how I feel about something. If you ask me, or if you do something I'm no longer just going to bite my tongue, I'm going to take this as an opportunity to educate even this interview right now, some of the things I'm saying, I wouldn't have said two or three years ago, I was a people of color or we have to do better. No , right now I'm telling a story about a black man or an Indian man or Chinese or a woman. I'm not going to be PC, which means poor communication. I'm going to do my best to be as specific and clear as I can.

Troy Blaser:

And authentic. I like that as well. You know? So are you, are you currently writing a book like you were for three years? Is there something that you're working on or a project you're working on that you're excited about right now?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

I am. I'm working on two . I'm working on finally doing a Ted talk. I'm looking forward to that coming to fruition and I can't tell anybody. I can't tell anybody I'm working on a book called the Cost of Complacency. Those are the two big ticket items on my to-do list every day. And what I write down comes to fruition, even in 2018, when I wrote down I'm going skydiving.

Troy Blaser:

Has that one , did that one come to fruition?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

It came to fruition on 8/18/18. And here's the funny thing about it. Again, telling people what I'm living to , telling people what I'm going to do. I'm finishing up a workshop. Someone said, are you afraid of anything? Any , any fears? Yeah, I'm afraid of heights, but one day, one day I'm going skydiving. Yeah, me too. Me too. I'll tell you what. I'll do all the leg work . I'll find a location and then I'll call you up and then we can go. Absolutely. I forgot about it . I completely forgot, I get an email that second week in August, Dr. Smith, I found it. I know it's Monday, but sorry for the short notice. But this Saturday we're going this Saturday. All you have to do is go to this website and pay really Tuesday went by, Wednesday went by, Thursday went by, Friday email. You haven't registered yet. I got three more people, all of us five , we're going to go. And you're the only one. Reluctantly I went online, registered, bought the entire package. So I would have someone video recording my fear, me living my fear. And what made this even more funny? I prayed the night before I couldn't sleep. And I said , God, please, please, please, please make the person I'm tandem jumping with. Please, please make his name be Jesus. So we get to the hanger and we're getting dressed and putting on our , our parachutes and everything. And they introduced me to my tandem jumper. And he says, hi, my name is pancake.

Speaker 4:

No , no, you can't make this up.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

I'm going skydiving with pancake on 8/18/18. Wow. The last good thing about that story was that my mom raised me to be a gentleman . Really be a gentleman . Chivalry will never be dead. So when it came time to boarding the plane, I let everyone go first. I was the last one to get on. Yeah . Well last one get on, first one off.

Troy Blaser:

You led the way.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Well, he basically had to push me out because I was holding onto it, we were 15,000 feet in the air. And I'm like, Oh! And finally, I felt the uh and I'm doing this and this being a podcast. My, my arms are folded. They tell you to keep your arms folded until they tap you on the back. And that's when you open up and enjoy. And he had to rip my arms open , but we made it. I live what I give. And that was 8/18/18.

Troy Blaser:

Was there some enjoyment in all of that or no ?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

When I landed!

Troy Blaser:

Great relief.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Because I was facing my fear and some people they enjoy it right away. Those thrill seekers, they're up in the air. Like, this is good. This is good. I'm up there thinking, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. And then when he, when he get his parachute and we went up again, but I felt us sending like, okay, yeah, okay, this , this is, it's like, we're going to make it, but we can't make it fast enough. And I've watched that video several times and I laugh because my face, the wind just did. If you ever saw the matrix you saw, when those aliens just take your face and distort it for four minutes and 40 seconds. My face was my cheeks. My lips. I wouldn't win a beauty contest, but I use that video now when I teach sessions to give feedback relative to living big, live in your life out loud , facing your fears, moving in, confronting them. Look what I did. I'm afraid of heights. But I wanted to live what I give. And I wanted to make it a way of life, not a bucket list . So I encourage people to jump every day to jump every day, because you heard the quote, you only live once. I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, no. You only die once, you live every day. And that's what I help people do through my coaching and my teaching and my feedback, help them to live every day.

Troy Blaser:

I love it. You know, James, if people want to know more, if they want to continue the conversation with you, are you open to that? What would you recommend that they do?

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Number one, my recommendation that you look in the mirror and ask yourself, do I want to make this shift? Do I want to make this change? Because I don't do people who are whimsical people who were just thinking about it. I want you to be about it. You've gotten a massage before, I'm sure. I give deep tissue massage . I just don't give the regular massage. I want you to, Ooh , what is he doing? Because through that experience, you'll come out better. So if that's what you want to do, please reach out my website, drjamessmith.com. I'm on all social media, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. If you want to make a huge shift mindset shift. If you want to have a transformational and informational experience, call a brother up. I'm here, but only do it, if you're ready to make that shift, if you're okay with where you are, that's fine. That's fine. But if you , if you want to take it beyond the next level, let's do this.

Troy Blaser:

I would say that sounds really interesting, but I need a different word . It sounds exciting. It sounds positive. It sounds transformational. We'll go with those words.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

I love them. And I know my good friend, Dr. Michael Brenner, was on the show and he mentioned me. We had a session. I think he told you the story and yo dude, you've been playing the sax for 20 years and you don't use it in your programs? Loser! No, no. Get that sax out. Bring you, Michael. Bring you. Right Chord Leadership.

Troy Blaser:

Yep . In fact, he brought the sax out during our interview and provided a little intro music for us right on the spot. It was fantastic.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

That's living out loud.

Troy Blaser:

Yeah. Yup . Well, James, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Simply Feedback today. It's been a pleasure to have you on. I've enjoyed the conversation. I've enjoyed the stories and some new ways for me to be thinking about things. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Dr. James Smith, Jr.:

Yeah . Thank you for the honor. The privilege. I don't take anything for granted. So I'm blessed that you made opportunity for me to come on and share a few words.