Jonathan Raymond on How Personal Growth Is Professional Growth
We’ve all been there. Those times when we are trying our very best, but we’re still not having the impact we want to have in our role as a leader, manager or colleague. If that sounds vaguely familiar, I think you’ll enjoy this next conversation. It’s with Jonathan Raymond, the author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For.
Our conversation dives into:
- The connection between personal and professional growth.
- The fixer, fighter and friend roles (and the prizes and punishments of each).
- How to deal with difficult or awkward conversations.
- The Accountability Dial and how to use it.
Or bookmark it here to listen to later.
Michael: Don’t you hate that struggle where you are just trying your very best to show up as a good manager, a good leader? You’re giving it your all and it is not quite working. For some reason, things have got tricky. You’re feeling discombobulated. The team’s feeling discombobulated. You’re feeling anxious. You’re feeling like you’re just not making the difference you want. You’re not showing up as the person you want to be.
And honestly, if this rings true for you at all, I think you’ll enjoy this next conversation. It is with Jonathan Raymond, and he is the author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For. What a great subtitle that is, How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For.
Now, Jonathan has been a CEO. He’s done a bunch of things. He now runs his own company called Refound, really teaching some of the key concepts from this book. And actually, this is a longer interview than I normally do, in part because in the second half we get into this tool that’s at the heart of the book called the Accountability Dial. So, if you’ve ever had that tough conversation and you’re not quite sure how to hold somebody accountable or to make accountability part of the conversation between you, I really think that the four steps or five steps Jonathan takes us through are a really nice way of thinking about that. Particularly the first two steps, which are the two steps that people most commonly miss.
So, here we go, my conversation with Jonathan Raymond, author of Good Authority.
Alright, Jonathan, I’ve talked about who you are. I’ve talked about why you’ve written a book called How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For. But you know, we always start our interviews by asking the question, “So, what are you taking a stand against? What are you no longer willing to tolerate; it’s actually driven you crazy enough that you’ve endured the pain of actually writing a book and getting it out into the world?”
Michael: So, lay it on the floor for us. What are you no longer tolerating?
Jonathan: Yeah, I love that question. You know, for me, it’s this idea that personal and professional growth are two different things. That’s the thing that really—I drove myself crazy for many years, I drove the people around me crazy, and I saw a lot of people doing the same thing, of thinking that personal and professional growth were two different things, so that’s what I’m taking a stand against.
Michael: Why do they get pulled apart and kind of put into different categories, do you think?
Jonathan: Well, I think we’ve been listening to different voices and different teachers, and I think that there’s, you know, there was a massive inflow of, in particular, Eastern teachings, you know, around meditation and mindfulness, with different, Eastern philosophies that kind of infiltrated Western philosophy, you know, in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And so, I think there was kind of this one stream that was happening that was, you know, that has morphed into many different forms of personal growth work. And then, on the other side, there was sort of this other stream that was happening in the leadership industry and the coaching industry where we were, you know, most business books, you know, have—you know, they have quotes from spiritual teachers in them, and you know, have personal growth sort of algorithms in the way that they work.
Michael: Right. True.
Jonathan: But there’s still this almost apologetic approach to personal growth. Like, that’s a ‘nice to have,’ but you know, we’re really about results and metrics and our KPIs and all that. And so, this split happened, and I think it comes from the Industrial Revolution and probably before that, this idea that, you know, “Work is for the boss, it’s for the business, and you know, maybe I’ll get something for myself out of it,” but I think those are some of the origins of how they’ve become really deeply, deeply embedded in our minds and hearts as two different things.
Michael: Well, I love that you started there, because I know in your book early on, you lay out kind of three key principles about why you’re writing this book. One about the deeper purpose of a business is to change the lives of the people who work there. The second one, just as you’ve spoken to, is that professional and personal growth are inseparable. And then, the third one is about to get people to be engaged is to be more engaged with them.
But here’s my question for you. As you answer that, where my head goes is can we ever change this or is this actually just something built into the system? Is it in the nature of working for a big organization that it’s not necessarily that you can point to any one boss going, “It’s you. You’re the person who’s taking away professional growth”? It’s just in the nature of the beast that work will never allow us to make it about personal growth?
Jonathan: And I mean, obviously I …
Michael: It’s a bleak point of view.
Jonathan: No, no, no, it’s reasonable, and if you look at the numbers, it’s something that in Good Authority I talk a lot about. You know, we have these numbers on engagement. We have these numbers that are—you know, now more than ever, right? We can track, we can measure, and the numbers aren’t getting better, even though we’re spending, you know, billions of dollars and countless hours trying to change the numbers.
Michael: Right. I have heard Marcus Buckingham speaking once and he was, like, “So, I’m all about play to your strengths and find your strengths, and 20 years ago we did a survey and it was X% who felt that they played to their strength, and now 20 years later after working really hard it’s X% + 1.”
Michael: Like, nothing has shifted, you know? So, sorry to interrupt, but I’m just kind of …
Jonathan: No, no, no, I think it’s, you know, look: you’re one of the strong voices in this world and I aspire to be in that same group. And I think, you know, what I’m trying to offer in this work is an alternative, that there’s a mindset shift that we’ve circled but we haven’t yet made, and that’s why I think the numbers don’t move. I think they can move. I’ve seen them move in organizations that I’ve led and organizations that I’ve consulted to. There’s a fundamental shift. You know, we could say it’s at the level of context that when it happens, it’s unmistakable. When an employee gets, “You know what? Yes, of course the business wants the best of me in terms of performance that relates specifically to my work, but they actually care. There’s a context where I feel seen, where I feel heard, where I feel valued.” And that’s an investment that some companies are willing to make and who really take the idea of personal growth seriously and don’t need to be convinced, “Yes. Oh, right, we need to do some culture stuff.” And I think that’s more common these days; most CEOs and organizations are hip to the game now.
Michael: Yeah, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” as the saying goes. Yeah.
Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. And so, I think that we’re on the cusp, but I think we’re not quite there yet in making this deep mindset shift that says, “Actually, this is my mission. As a manager, as a leader, my mission is to help this person advance primarily, and then secondarily, to watch how all the business results that I want come naturally from that.” And I think we’re still very hesitant about that proposition. And so, you know, that’s what—I’m selling people on that idea.
Michael: So, do we start—because I wrestle with this in the work that I do. I’m like, okay, so you use the language context when you talk about culture in the book, and I love that reframing of it, and then I go, so, where’s your locus of control? Do you just look to yourself and go, “I’m just trying to change me: be the change you want to see in the world”? I’m looking to influence just my team and go, “If I can change myself and change those that I lead, then that’s all I can do”? Or, do you try and stretch to try and shift the culture of your organization?
Jonathan: I mean, I think it depends. I think, you know, it’s often sometimes I think it’s like—I have this metaphor with exercise, that generally, like when I see people who orient towards super intense workouts, those are the people that could probably use some meditation and yoga. And the people who are spending their life doing meditation and yoga, they could probably use a high intensity boot camp. And I think about cultural leadership in the same way. The person who’s always talking about culture and what other people should be doing and trying to have those external influences probably could benefit from dialing it back and doing some inner work into how they may not be embodying what they really believe and what they’re saying. And then, oftentimes what I find, it’s those quiet voices who are sitting back who don’t see themselves as cultural leaders. If we can tease them out and get them on stage, so to speak, they can add an amazing voice to the culture because they see so much; they just tend not to talk about it.
Michael: So, the title of your book is Good Authority, and I think that’s an interesting title. You know, authority comes with some baggage attached, so I’m wondering how you’re trying to reposition this whole concept of authority so it’s not—you know, like its root word “authoritarian,” it’s not that kind of, “It’s just me telling you what to do,” and wearing a uniform and kind of stomping around the place.
Jonathan: Mm-hm. Yeah, I think all of the work that I did on myself over 20 years, whether that was to become a better professional in my career, in starting a business or working for other people’s businesses, and then the other half of my life, which is now no longer in halves, which is good. You know, in mindfulness work and my own emotional growth work and trying to figure out, you know, what is this thing called my authentic self? The thing that was at the bottom for me, and what I see is at the bottom for a lot of people, is authority, is our relationship to both the people in our life who have influence or some measure of control over the conditions of our day, and then vice versa, when we’re in the position of having influence of control over somebody else’s day.
And as you said, it comes with baggage. We all learned—I don’t know; I’ve never met somebody with perfect parents. And so, we’ve all learned a very strange, wonky, incomplete picture of what does it feel like to have an authority figure in our life who is firm but fair, right? Who is compassionate but also challenges us. Like, we don’t have good role models in our world for what good authority looks like.
And to me, I mean, obviously I’ve made this my life’s work; to me, that task, that journey, is one worth taking. And when I work with leaders and managers, when we ask some of these questions, they’re like, “What does that mean? What’s your first assumption? What’s your first association to the word ‘authority’? Who do you think of when you think of authority? Why do you think of them? What was good about them? What was bad about them?”
And what I find with people is that there’s generally one, maybe two themes that they—it’s like this great saying. I think it was Moshe Feldenkrais who said, “You know, you can’t put down something you don’t know you’re holding.”
Michael: Right. That’s nice, yeah.
Jonathan: And once we discover, “Oh, you know what? I’ve been relating with people through this authority lens my whole life. I never even knew that I was doing that,” well, then we can stop doing it. And you know, that’s that level of context. We can get fancy with our language about it, but it’s really like how does it feel to another person when we ask them a question? Not the content of what we ask, but the place from which we ask it, and that’s where the authority journey; that’s the beginning, middle, and end of it.
Michael: I mean, you talk in there, towards the end of the book, and I like this distinction that you’ve set up that’s actually saying, “In some ways, authority as it shows up for most of us every day actually has three manifestations: it’s fixer, fighter, or friend.”
Michael: And in each one of them, there’s benefits. You know, my friend Mark would say there’s prizes and punishments for playing all three of those roles. There’s benefits to working in that particular style, but there’s also a price you pay for it as well, a limitation to it. So, do you want to give us a kind of quick summary of what those three different roles are?
Michael: Why they tend to show up, what the advantage of working like that might be, but what the cost is involved.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. So, the fixer, fighter, or friend archetypes, you know, I think as we talk about them, as you’re listening, you might find yourself kind of with one dominant theme and then a secondary one. And also ask yourself, “Is there one that you think is more true at work and then a different one that’s maybe more true for you in your personal life, in your private life?”
Michael: Yes, yeah.
Jonathan: So, fixer, fighter, or friend. These are all forms of—when people say to me, “Well, how do I empower my team?” My first answer is, “Well, you stop disempowering them.” That’s how you empower your team. So, these are all—and again, I love what you said: these are strengths and these are ways that when we’re not conscious of them, if we can’t have a light-hearted feel with them, we disempower our teams.
So, the fixer is—you can think of the fixer as the craftsman, the highly technically skilled person, whether that’s in marketing or coding or in sales or customer service. Whatever aspect of the business, whatever aspect of the business in general that you’ve gravitated towards, finance, doesn’t matter, the person who—you know, you check everything three times. Nothing goes out the door unless it’s perfect. It’s a beautiful quality to have. You always fix. Nothing goes out that’s not fixed, right? It’s a form of perfectionism, but it’s a beautiful form of perfectionism. It’s a wonderful quality.
Michael: Except when it’s not.
Jonathan: Except when it’s not, right? And so, think about when it’s not. When it’s not is if you work for somebody like that, how does it feel? Well, you start, it’s very easy to feel like, well, your work product is never good enough, right? Or everything that you do is always full of red marks on it and you can never succeed, you can never get a win. So, if you identify with the fixer mindset and you know that that’s a strength of yours, the best solution—and this is true about all three of them—is to open up with your team about it and say, “Hey, you know, I notice this pattern. And you guys probably have been watching this in me for years, but I want to get a hold of this better and maybe we can have some fun with it. I know that I can be a bit of perfectionist sometimes. I know, and this is why. It’s because I care, but I know that my care doesn’t always feel like it.” And so, you can have a conversation with them about that. So, that’s the first one. That’s the fixer.
Michael: Nice. Yeah.
Jonathan: The fighter. When I think about the fighter, I think about the leader who always has a new idea, you know, who always sort of thinks about vision and where are we going and what can we do and what haven’t we thought of, and how can we make this even better? And they’re a very forward-looking personality. They don’t take no for an answer. Again, an amazing, wonderful, necessary quality in a leader, in a business, in an organization, except when it’s not. When you work for somebody like that, well, you come in on a Wednesday and the work that you thought you were going to do on Wednesday just changed overnight, right?
Michael: Yeah, because this is me. So, my team is like, “Do not let Michael get on an aeroplane for any extended period of time because it’s a nightmare when he gets off and there’s this, ‘Hey, I’ve just had some thoughts about how we could take this in a different direction.’”
Jonathan: Exactly. And so, the fighter, with fighters, and I can identify with this one as well, what we don’t appreciate is how much torque and morale we cost our colleagues and our team when we don’t—when we’re not aware of ourselves doing that. You know, we may—you know, there’s a really sweet spot you can get to where the team says, you know, “Michael, no. Jonathan, no,” and then you know when you can push and when you can’t. And so, there’s this interplay between the leader, whether that’s the organizational leader or a manager-level leader, it doesn’t matter, to have that conversation where there’s a give and take, where you don’t stop being the fighter, but you hold it in context of, like, “Okay, is this a moment where the fighter needs to win or is this a moment where the fighter needs to lose?” And that’s a mature fighter, right? That’s a mature fighter who says, “You know what? This is a moment where I need to lose for the sake of the team, for the sake of our organization.”
And then, the friend, this is very common these days as we’ve shifted. We’ve talked a lot about authority. As we’ve shifted from kind of old school authority models, command and control, generally speaking we’ve decided, “Okay, that doesn’t work. Especially Millennials, but humans in general don’t want to work for those kinds of people anymore and they have choices. They’re willing to make moves to get away from leaders like that.
What’s emerged is the friend leader that, you know, talks about culture and the vibe and, “Isn’t it great? And we’re all family, and isn’t it wonderful?” and all that stuff. And again, beautiful quality. The friend archetype, you know, your door is always open. People feel like they can tell you anything. You know, there’s always a compassionate understanding for whatever goes wrong.
Great quality, except the friend has a lot of trouble holding people accountable, sticking to deadlines, creating boundaries, being able to say to somebody, “Look, I get you’re having a struggle with this person. You need to go solve that. My office cannot be your venting ground,” right?
Jonathan: Like, “I love that you trust me and that you can open up, but this actually isn’t healthy.” And so, when I work with the friend archetype in our management training programs and other things, you can get a lot of this in the book, is how do you start setting those boundaries? Because your team will actually really appreciate it.
And that’s, with all these archetypes, the title of the book, or the subtitle, How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, this is what your team is waiting for. They know what your strength is. They already know what your weaknesses are. They’re just waiting for you to take a half step and say, “Okay, I get it. I know that this is what I’m good at. Now I’m going to put it in a box. I’m not going to let it run me. I’m going to get bigger than it so that I can use it for my advantage and for the advantage of our team, and not be run by it.” That’s the leader that your team is waiting for.
Michael: So, the classic our “Leader, know thyself.”
Jonathan: Yes, yes.
Michael: Now, when you …
Jonathan: Well, let me say one thing about that. Which I think this is a trap that we fall into as leaders, and leaders will say, “Oh, yeah, I know. I’ve struggled with that forever. And you know, duh duh duh.”
And I say, “Look, you don’t have to fix yourself.” We have to get out of this mindset, professionally and personally, in my opinion. You don’t have to fix yourself. You just have to be aware of where you are. If you’re in a personal relationship with someone and they’re bugging you, you don’t need them to solve everything about their personality to be friends with them. You just need them to be vulnerable and say, “Hey, yeah, I know that I did that. I’m working on it. I’m really trying to take some steps because I get how frustrating that is for you. I haven’t changed myself. I haven’t fixed myself, but I’m in a relationship with you now about that.” That’s what people are waiting for in a healthy, nourishing relationship.
Michael: Right, Jonathan, I always love this little break we have in the interview. I get to ask these three same questions I ask all my guests. So, question number one. What is the moment, the crossroads moment, that you came to and you went this way, that way, and the decision you made had made all the difference for you?
Jonathan: For me, it was back in 2013. I was the CEO at the time of a coaching company called EMyth that probably a bunch of people are familiar with, and I just found that it was a personal crisis, leadership crisis, and everything that I was trying, everything I had read, thought, planned to do, just wasn’t working, personally and professionally. And it was taking a toll on my marriage and my personal relationships, and you know, I felt like I was a leader on the surface but I just felt like a fraud inside. And it was in that moment where, really out of desperation, I decided to make a change and try to lead my teams in a different way.
Michael: Love it. That’s fantastic. Nice answer.
Second question. Whose work has influenced your work? Now, that might be an author. It might be a role model. It might be a friend, a family member, it doesn’t matter. But whose work has influenced your work?
Jonathan: You know, these days it’s anybody who picks themselves and puts their stuff out there. I feel like in the past in my life, I was judgmental about the way people did that. And I just appreciate, you know, there’s so many great people. You know, my friend, who’s not as famous as others, my friend Bernadette Jiwa, who’s an amazing voice in the brand space—you know, people who I don’t even really enjoy some of the things that they say or do, but anyone who chooses themselves and says, “Hey, I think I have something to add to this conversation to make the world a better place,” those are my role models. I love people that are putting their stuff out there and are letting themselves be imperfect.
Michael: So, that’s another great answer, the courage to be out there knowing that it’s not a perfect thing that you’re putting out there.
Michael: I’ve just read a book by Neil Gaiman at the moment called American Gods and he says—he gives the definition of a novel as a long piece of prose which where there’s something wrong with it. That’s awesome.
Michael: Alright, the third and final question is this. You know, at Box of Crayons we talk about helping people and organizations do less good work and more great work. Great work, the work that has more impact and the work that has more meaning. So, what is your great work right now? What’s the great work project, if you like, that you’re working on?
Jonathan: The great work that I’m doing, or I feel like I’m doing right now and getting some nice feedback about, is our in-person seminar where I really get to—I love being in a room with people. You know, I work from home and I’m at my computer enough. I love being in a room full of people and talking about the conversations that matter. And those are the highlights of my work right now, where I feel like I’m having a deep impact on an organization, on a culture, in a surprising way. And the looks on people’s faces, they’re thinking, like, “Oh, we can actually talk about this during office hours.” That’s my great work right now.
Michael: That’s lovely. Jonathan, a pleasure. We’ll get back to the main interview.
You speak about vulnerability, and you can tell where this question is about to go because I’ve got it on my mind and I’m, like, one of the places that can feel most vulnerable when you’re a leader is holding somebody to account.
Michael: You know, that whole conversation about accountability, and we’re like, “Ah, is there any way I can possibly avoid that awkward conversation?” And each one of the three archetypes you talked about probably has a different way of avoiding that conversation. You know, different ways of kind of side-stepping or hoping there’s a workaround to avoid sitting them down and having that conversation.
But I thought one of the most powerful things you introduced in the book was this idea of an Accountability Dial. You know, this kind of process—it sounds linear in the book; it’s more subtle than that, I know, in real life—that is a way of kind of turning up the heat towards a conversation that’s very clear about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Doesn’t kind of launch into it in a kind of, “This is a car crash waiting to happen,” but kind of turns up the heat in an appropriate way.
So, would you take us through the Accountability Dial and just why you see this as an effective tool for managing people with kind of compassion and humanity?
Jonathan: Mm-hm. I’m glad that you seized on that. A lot of people have and it’s really kind of the heart of the book, and it’s really the culmination of everything that I learned personally about how to do effective personal growth as a facilitator of personal growth, whether you’re a coach or a mentor, in that in order for some—if your goal is that you want somebody to take personal ownership of a change process, the way that you introduce that process defines your result. And so, what we saw and what …
Michael: Wait, wait, wait. So before you jump in, just repeat that for me, because that was interesting. It caught my ear.
Jonathan: Yeah, so if the goal is we want somebody to take personal ownership of a change process, right? There’s a behaviour that we want them to say, “Hey, that’s a behaviour that I now see that I am doing, and I want to change it. I want to get better at it.” The way we introduce that process, the way we context it, the way we set up this idea around this behaviour that we think will benefit them for them to change, that defines the success of that change process.
Michael: I love that. It’s like if you don’t get the opening right, you’re lost.
Jonathan: Exactly. And so, this is what happens, and we’ll get to Stage Three, which is the conversation. And when I talk with managers over and over again, and leaders, they say, “You know what? I didn’t realize, I was starting at Stage Three. I kept skipping Steps One and Two.” So, we’ll kind of work our way there. And when you do this in sequence, the sequence is everything. So, Step One is the mention, Step Two is the invitation, Step Three is the conversation, Step Four is the boundary, and Step Five is the limit. And as you alluded to, this is a way to start a conversation about self-limiting behaviours that you’re observing as a leader or manager, and then slowly but surely, and only as necessary, turning up the heat to create a more intense environment that requires change.
Michael: It’s like, almost to kind of rephrase the Einstein quote, it’s you want things to go as slowly as possible but no slower.
Jonathan: Exactly. Exactly. So, the mention, and this is—I’ve had managers say, “Hey, you know, Jonathan, we bought the book for all of our managers. I think we’re just using the mention, and the mention is making—we weren’t doing this.”
So, what is the mention? The mention is the barest, smallest naming of a problematic or potentially problematic behaviour in real time. So, that’s pulling somebody aside in a very light-hearted spirit. You’re not energizing any authority. You’re not saying, “This was a screw-up,” or, “This was a mistake.” You’re saying, “Hey, I don’t know if you noticed this, but you seem a little bit out of it today. Is there something going on?” Right? Or, “You know, I saw that email that went out to that group. It’s not a big deal, but I noticed there was a couple of typos, and I just—you know, maybe you were just moving fast.”
Jonathan: It’s just a touch. It’s just a light touch that the subtext of it is, “Hey, here’s something that I saw that I felt like was worth mentioning to you. I don’t know what’s behind it. I don’t know what was going on in your day. I’m not making any assumptions. I’m not making a verdict. I’m not firing you. I’m not putting you on probation. It’s just something I noticed. And rather than me stuffing it and pretending I didn’t notice it, I’m giving it to you.” That’s the mention.
Michael: Yeah, it’s like, “You know and I know what you know and I know, know.” It’s like, it’s there.” Yeah.
Jonathan: Exactly. And so, this is—and so, if you talk with anyone in any organization everywhere, as you do, what’s—the reason why cultures are dysfunctional is because of built-up emotional charge that’s unexpressed, right? Frustration, politics, gossip. All that stuff comes from this inability, which is a skill. This is what I’m trying to teach in these ideas about is this is a skill. This is not something you’re either—nobody is born with the gift of being able to start awkward and uncomfortable conversations, right?
Jonathan: This is a skill we all need to develop. So, that’s the mention. That’s Step One. Now, and here’s the key: you leave it there. You’re not sitting down with them for half an hour to talk about what you just noticed. It’s just the lightest touch. And then, you leave them to see what they do with it, right?
So, let’s say you took them aside and you said, and take that example, “Oh, you seemed a little bit out of it in this morning’s meeting. Is there something going on?”
Maybe they deflect and they say, like, “Oh, no, I’m fine. It’s good. It’s all good, right?” And you think, “Okay, well, I have a feeling it’s not all good, but alright. Let me see. I’m going to hold that judgment inside and just let’s see what develops.” You want them to go, “Hmm, I wonder what Michael was thinking of, and maybe there is something to that,” or whatever. Some people will grab it right away. Some people will need the next step. Most people will need the next step.
So, let’s say a couple days go by. Now we’re on Step Two and you see a little bit more of that and you see it start to emerge as a pattern. Oh, there was kind of an email that was good but not great, and you know, there was an update on a project that was not their most inspired work, right? So now, you’re starting to see a pattern. Now you come back to Step Two. This is what we call the invitation. Now you’re going to take two, three, four things. Ideally, you have some regular conversation. You know, with my clients I suggest a weekly one-on-one, a short check-in for a half hour as part of the work we do to set those up. But in that conversation is the moment to say, “Hey, so remember I said something about that meeting? I actually think there’s something else going on. And I’m not sure if you’ve thought anything more about that moment, but there’s a couple other things that I think are connected and I just want to have a conversation with you about it.” So, it’s literally the invitation to have them see a pattern that they are not currently seeing. That’s Step Two.
And this is what we all need. This is what Jonathan Raymond needs. I’m probably sure this is what Michael needs. =We need the people who care about us, the people who see us in our day, say, “Hey, I don’t know if you noticed what’s going on, but I think this might be happening. What do you think?” Again, not authoritative, not intense, but purposeful, right? Not letting it go for a month. Not letting it go for a year and then doing an annual performance review. That’s cruel, right?
Jonathan: That’s cruel and unusual in the modern world. So, that’s Step Two, which is the invitation. We good so far?
Michael: I love where we’re going because we haven’t even had an accountability conversation yet. You’ve just pointed out once lightly, once a little more firmly, “I see what’s going on here.”
Jonathan: Yeah. So now, we go to the conversation. So again, ideally in a private, one-on-one meeting that you’ve built up a relationship, right? You’ve been talking not just about bad stuff; you talk about good stuff and you express recognition and gratitude and you also—the context of them working there is they’re mostly doing great work and there’s a few things they need work on. If it’s mostly the opposite, well, they probably shouldn’t be there, or you’re at a more intense accountability conversation that has been left to lie for too long. So, let’s assume that the general context is, “Hey, this person is doing some good stuff. They have their share of wins and there’s some deep areas of improvement that I want to help them work on because I care.”
So now, we’re at Level Three in the conversation, and this is not necessarily one conversation. It might happen over the course of a couple of weeks. You know, there’s no strict rule for how long this takes. But what the conversation is is taking that pattern and asking questions around, “Okay, well, so what do you think is behind that pattern? How does that show up for you? If we can agree that that pattern is … Can we agree that that pattern is showing up and that you’re a little bit concerned about it and you …? Great. Me, too. Let’s talk about impacts. How does that conversation impact; how does that behaviour, that you and I both agree would be a great thing to improve upon, how does that impact your teammates? How does it make life harder, more frustrating, more difficult for them? How does it impact me and our working relationship as your manager? How does it make things harder for our customer or less delightful for them or make it harder for our vendors or other stakeholders that you work with on a daily basis?”
Michael: So, really seeing people understanding the impact on you, on them, on those around them?
Jonathan: Exactly. And most importantly, on themselves. If we’re right about this behaviour, and if we’re on to something together, you and I, how does this behaviour hold you back from being the kind of person you want to be? And it’s in these questions, and they’re not that hard to do, but for sure there’s an art to it and there’s a skill to it, is that when people—when a good person—and my philosophy starts with the idea that most people are good people who want to do great work, is that when somebody is made aware of how a self-limiting behaviour is impacting others, they go, “Whoa, I got to change this. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be a drag on my team. I don’t want to make your life harder. I don’t want to upset our customers.”
So, that’s what the conversation is about, and here’s where this magical thing that happens, where personal and professional growth come together. You don’t ever have to talk about their personal life. You don’t ever have to ask them about their relationships. You don’t ever have to talk with them about their marriage. You don’t ever have to be their therapist, ever. By isolating in on these self-limiting behaviours, at work, how they show up at work, they will make the connection. In a moment, they will go, “Oh my God. You know what? This is something I’ve been struggling with my whole life, and I never realized how it was showing up at work. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
And so, that’s the conversation. And again, that can happen over multiple times, and now you’re in an accountability framework. You’re saying, “Okay, so how can we change this? You know, how can you and I agree on what is the task and what needs to change? What’s a reasonable time-frame? Can this change in a week? Maybe this is something that will take three months. Maybe this is a lifelong thing you’ve struggled with and it’s going to take a year. I don’t know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s create an accountability framework and then let’s shake hands on what the milestones are.”
And then we go into Step Four and Step Five of the Accountability Dial because it doesn’t always work, right? Let’s be real. Sometimes …
Michael: So, if it’s worked, your work here if done, but if it still hasn’t worked, if this is a pattern that they’re not able or not willing to break, you need to move to these final steps?
Jonathan: Exactly, and so these are things that will sound familiar in content, right? Things around probation periods and not necessarily disciplinary, but like the structure of, “Hey,” a more explicit explanation of, “Hey, this behaviour has an expiration date and it’s coming up soon, and it has to change, right?” And so, when you’re working with somebody on a theme like that, that it’s clearly taking the team sideways, it’s affecting their work product in an unacceptable way, whatever that is, and the conversation isn’t doing the trick or you see it one step forward, one step back for a while, now you’re going to go to the boundary.
And again, this is in the spirit of trying to help somebody, not punish or shame, I’d be, like, “Okay, so we’ve been talking about this for a while, and I think you would agree that it hasn’t really changed. Is that fair? Am I being fair about that?”
Now, maybe you’re not being fair and maybe they’ll say, “Oh, actually, I don’t think you’re noticing how I changed it over here and over here, right?” Great, wonderful. Maybe you can deescalate it a little bit and go another route, but at some …
Michael: And I like how you’re continually relating it back to checking on the facts and the data, so that, your kind of shared understanding of where we’re at.
Jonathan: Yes. Yes, and the critical thing here as an authority is we get bad data, where we get confirmation bias. We see people through our filters. You can’t avoid it. It’s part of being a human being. So, the more you can ask questions and say, “Hey, maybe I’m wrong. I have a story about what’s going on right now that you’ve kind of disengaged from this conversation. Tell me I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong about this because I want to see if this can change.”
So now, we go to this next, more structured—it’s like tightening the boundary, right?
Michael: And in the nature and the spirit of accountability, I’m going to say we’re going to have to bottom line this just because we’re almost hitting our time limit.
Jonathan: Yes, nice. Great. So, we’re at the boundary. Jonathan, wrap it up! So, the boundary is a more formal statement of, like, “Okay, we’re agreeing this has got to happen in the next 30 days, and if it doesn’t, we have a consequence.”
And this is the thing that I hear over and over again, is, “Well, we have a core company value of accountability.”
And I say, “Okay, well, what are the consequences for not keeping your agreements?”
“Oh, we don’t have any.”
“What are the consequences for not making changes?”
“Well, uh …” And then it gets really, really squishy. Accountability without consequences is not accountability, right? Those are empty words. So, the boundary is about establishing a firm but fair consequence for not making the change that you’ve agreed to make, assuming that there’s a spirit of mentoring and caring and all of that good stuff.
And then, the last step is what we call the limit, and that’s when you’ve tried everything and you literally are going to say to this person, “Hey, I feel like I’ve tried everything. I feel like I … If I’m wrong, tell me, but I feel like I’ve mentored, I’ve coached, I’ve tried to give you some helpful and hopefully productive assignments, ways to kind of push your edges, and it doesn’t feel like it’s changing, or it’s not changing fast enough for me. I think we need to make a change.”
And then there’s a final conversation and there’s a kind of rough script that I give people for how to have that final conversation, which sometimes can be a game-changer, right? Sometimes in our life, we need that last moment where someone says, “Hey, it’s put up or shut up. It’s a tomorrow thing. It’s you’re either going to come back tomorrow in an entirely different place, or we’ve got to move on.” Sometimes that works. It’s a Hail Mary, but sometimes it works, so I put that at the end of it.
Michael: Right. Well, somehow that feels like the perfect moment to say this is a great conversation, Jonathan. And I think everybody listening is going, “Okay, A, I hear Jonathan’s passion around this and, B, you know that we’ve only touched a little bit of what’s in the book.” So, Jonathan, for people who want to go, “Tell me more about you. Tell me more about the book,” where can they find you on the Web?
Jonathan: So, the book is in Amazon and all the usual suspects. If you want to do a bulk order, you can do that through our site and contact us directly. My website is refound.com, like rebound but with an F, and there’s information about—we have a whole Good Authority training program for leaders and managers. We do events and seminars and coaching, training, and all those things that you’d expect. We’re very easy to get in touch with at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll schedule some time to talk and see what works for you.
Michael: Jonathan, you know, I think the accountability conversation and how to show up as a leader who is, as you said early on in the conversation, firm but fair, such a fine, tricky line to actually hit sweetly, so thanks for your guidance today to help us get there more easily.
Jonathan: Thanks so much for the great questions and conversation.