Season 1, Episode 6: Being A Leader in 2022 & Beyond
In this week’s episode of Outsmart, your hosts Nicole Allen and Rex Petrill sit down with TEAM LEWIS Founder and CEO, Chris Lewis to talk modern leadership.
In this episode we dive into:
- The role of vulnerability and trust in leadership
- Transforming the modern workplace to a place of wellness
- Modern leadership techniques to keep up with Gen-Z
Chris: The real heroes and the real leadership is done by people you’ve never heard of, working in communities that you’ve never probably been to, that they do their job day in, day out and nobody’s ever going to know their name. And those are the real heroes. That’s where you find them. Majority of the leadership.
Rex: Welcome to another episode of The Outsmart Podcast with TEAM LEWIS. We are your hosts, Rex and Nicole. And today it is our pleasure to be in person, COVID safely as a leadership team in the US to discuss, among many things, leadership and traits and what better person to speak about leadership than a best-selling author and our CEO, Chris Lewis. Chris, how are you?
Chris: I’m fine, thanks Rex. Thanks Nicole. It’s a pleasure to be here and fantastic to be face to face. It really is.
Nicole: Yeah. I have to admit, I’m a little I always get nervous, and I sweat while recording these, which is TMI for my mom listening. But Rex and Chris, you know me well, so not TMI for you.
Chris: Is your mother listening to this?
Nicole: I think she’s our listener.
Rex: Hey, we have several moms.
Nicole: We have several moms, right? Yeah. But Chris, Rex mentioned best-selling author, Greater just came out this year, right. I’m curious, you wrote two books on leadership specifically and obviously now we’re in such a different world where we were when you wrote those books. Are there any kind of tenants that stick out to you or any major shifts in your approach to leadership in these times?
Chris: Not really. I’d say, first of all, don’t listen to leaders and certainly people are learning not to read books, which is a very healthy sign as well, because leadership is going to be a show, not tell. If you look at the catalog of success from this generation of leaders, you’d find it appallingly small. This generation is the generation of leaders that brought you the financial collapse, the meltdown, worldwide pandemic, driven the world to the edge of potential war, the greatest extremes between wealth and inequality ever we’ve seen. And so, when it comes to leadership, I wouldn’t necessarily think that this particular generation was credentialed to be able to supply. You might actually find more leadership in so called Gen Z than you might in Boomers or Gen X.
Rex: Where do you look for those examples? Where do you see leadership coming through in these new generations?
Chris: Well, I think it’s all around you. It’s a bit like opportunity. A lot of people say I need opportunity, but opportunity is all around you. It’s just a question of being have an attitude to better spot it. And leadership also comes out just by talking to people. So, a lot of people hold up their heroes as being Elon Musk or Bill Gates, maybe it might have been one from previous generations. They hold those heroes up. But the real heroes and the real leadership is done by people you’ve never heard of working in communities that you’ve never probably been to, that they do their job day in, day out, and nobody’s ever going to know their name. And those are the real heroes. That’s where you find the majority of the leadership. For people that do it, they don’t do it for high pay, they don’t do it for celebrity status. They do it because they’re holding a family together or they’re holding a neighborhood together. That’s where you find real leadership.
Nicole: I want to talk a little bit about some of what we’ve come here in San Diego in person to discuss, and that’s how do we build a culture and build something that is going to last? We’ve been going at that angle in sort of the vein of retention, and how do we build something that people are going to want to spend 85% of their waiting hours doing it and contributing to? And I’m just curious, when you think about building a culture and when you think about the culture that we built here at TEAM LEWIS, what are some of those traits of cultures that people want, where they want to stick around?
Chris: Well, I think it’s where their personal objectives and their team objectives are aligned. And today we were discussing the benefits of the Oscar model, where when you’re coaching or taking somebody through a narrative, you talk about the outcomes, you talk about the situation they’re currently in, you talk about the changes that are required, the actions that those changes need, and also how you review the cycle of that in Oscar. The Oscar model is a very basic model of coaching. Nice thing about it is it’s got a simple acronym, and you can use it all the time to coach people through. And that’s one of the things that we see in a time like this, when people are driven apart social distance by covid, that’s actually one of the things that’s caused an epidemic of mental illness and all sorts of problems, because we all know that the military one of the techniques the military uses to break people down is to put them in solitary isolation and take away the benefits of human companionship. That’s what we’ve seen. So, when you’re creating a team culture, you’ve got to concentrate on what humans and teams can do, not what systems and data can do.
Rex: I think one of the things that we also talked about and came through in what you were discussing there is, there’s a lot of communication. We talk at people, companies, our clients have internal comms programs, and it’s built around the idea that you should be having a conversation with your team members. Do you see that? Do you see that organizations, teams struggle with not having those conversations? And how do you go about building something that you can have a conversation with cross generations, cross diverse backgrounds?
Chris: Well, I think that’s one of the things that zoom relegates you to as a human being. It relegates you to the sight and sound of somebody talking to you in one dimension or two dimensions. And we’re so much more than that. It is difficult to show endurance over zoom, it’s difficult to show a compassion over zoom. It’s difficult to show a sense of proportional balance over zoom. And we’re told all the time that leadership’s objectives should be smart and measurable and realistic and all of those good things. But a lot of the most powerful metrics within a qualitative culture are things you can’t measure. So, one of the goals that leaders should have is a goal that’s never achieved and is very difficult to measure. And yet it’s so very important. And that’s the goal of balance. That’s the goal of home versus work balance. It’s the goal of your work colleagues versus your family balance, the priorities that you assign to your family. And that balance is not anything you ever really achieve, but it’s still valid to have that as a goal that you should try to achieve. And yet no leader I know has ever achieved it.
Nicole: I think also trust as a goal, right, or kind of as a baseline to build that balance. And we’re seeing more and more, you just have to inherently trust the people that you work with. And trust has to be that baseline that you’re building your culture on top of. And even just from a very tactical perspective, just trusting that people will get they’ll get shit done. It might not be between the hours of eight to five and it might not be at a desk that you can see right across from you in the office, but they’re going to get shit done, right? And it’s about building culture on that foundation of trust. And I do think that trust is something that it’s so difficult to formulate when we’re not making these in person connections anymore. Right? I trust you, Rex, because I’ve known you for five years and we’ve worked in person together and we’ve been through the trenches together and we’ve built a lot of shared experiences together. And this new shared experience is so fragmented.
Chris: You’ve drunk Manhattan’s together as well. I think that does require a certain amount of trust. That’s where vulnerability does provide.
Nicole: That’s where vulnerability comes through. Yeah, big time. Big time.
Rex: But that is the point though, I think vulnerability as a means to build a trust. And Chris, you were talking about this today and we were discussing it as a group. Where can we, as leaders display that vulnerability and how should we make our teams comfortable with being vulnerable?
Chris: Well, that’s quite straightforward. I mean, leaders are often told that they should have the highest marks in university, the highest grades on their qualifications, et cetera. They should be the smartest person in the room. And I would remind leaders that it’s not their job to be the smartest person in the room. Their job is to make everyone else feel like they’re the smartest person in the room. And sometimes the leader’s job is to shut up and listen, because a lot of people are intimidated by the very presence of the leader. And that’s why leaders are going to know when to show up and when not to show up. Just let the team bond itself and not necessarily be there intimidating the hell out of people when they don’t need to be. Because leaders are there to have a to be list, not just a to do list. They have to be there to reassure people, they have to be there to help people, to facilitate things. And a lot of those things can’t just go on a to do list. They have to be shown, they have to be earned, like trust, and you can’t do trust. All of those words go with the verb to be. You can be trusted, but you can’t do trusted.
Nicole: Showing, not telling too I think, right? You asked Rex about how leaders can be more vulnerable. I think you just have to do it right. It has to be authentic to you, do it in an authentic way, but show and lead by example. And I do think too personally, I’ve found that the pandemic has forced us all to be much more vulnerable and it’s forced us all to be more empathetic to the circumstances and scenarios in the context within which everyone is doing their day-to-day jobs.
Chris: Yeah, there’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to make you and your family and your loved ones feel more vulnerable.
Chris: Normally when people feel more vulnerable, they tend to come together, they tend to seek out each other’s reassurance. And the cruelty of the pandemic has been that that’s not been possible. So, at the very time when people are feeling the most isolated, they are legislated to be even further isolated. And so, there’s going to be a lot of clearing up to do after this pandemic. And it’s going to involve people getting together and spending time with each other and rebuilding those personal systems. And also, actually going back to metrics which are qualitative and not quantitative. And that’s where I would point out that not everything that counts within a company can be counted. There’s a lot of good stuff which really matters, like a sense of humor, like resilience, like empathy, like compassion, which you cannot measure, but is still vital to a leadership culture. And we have to remind those people who are in charge of the numbers that the numbers are a byproduct of a successful culture. They’re not the provenance of it. A highly successful company doesn’t necessarily have a successful culture, but usually a successful culture does have a successful metrics behind it.
Rex: There was another element that we touched on, on that same vein around unstructured time. Unstructured time is, on paper, looks to be a nightmare for counters, for operations, for finance to be like, well, what are people doing at that hour if there’s no work being done? We would argue that that is productive, that that is work. What is something that you think that we can implement in our teams to build in that unstructured time?
Chris: Yeah. It’s a real problem for counters because COVID has demonstrated the reverse of the way that they’ve looked at the world. Which is that just at the time when you’re taking people out of a top down, structured, disciplined system where everybody has to come to a certain physical place to work. The receive wisdom would be that if you didn’t have that rubric, that those people were somehow coast to a halt. Anybody that’s been working through covid knows that we’ve all been working harder. We’ve used our commuting time to work harder, work longer hours, be more productive, and nobody’s asked us to do that. That’s not been achieved top down. That’s been a natural response of people who are working from home and still feeling, quote, guilty that they’re not working enough. And so, they eventually ended up in a situation where they’re homing from work, which is making the stresses that they feel multiplied by the fact that they’re, A, isolated B, worried about the spread of the pandemic and C, worried about whether they’re justifying their presence all the time and consequently working even further. And this is a vicious circle.
Nicole: Shifting gears a little bit. When you talked about homing from work, it got me thinking about creativity and how someone earlier today in one of our meetings was talking about how she gets her best ideas, her most creative ideas in the shower. Right. But if you’re homing from work and if work really is all around you now and you can’t quite escape it and have those moments of unstructured time where you can have those creative thoughts or conversations, I guess. How can we approach creativity?
Chris: Well, I think by recognizing, first of all, that the way the brain works is there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the creative provenance is actually something which is fairly predictable if you stop and think about it. So, if you ask people, where are you and what are you doing when you get your real epiphanies? There’s normally some similar characteristics there. People say that they’re often not in the office, they’re not with anybody else, and interestingly, they’re not trying. And so consequently, if we’re having these epiphanies, we have to ask the question, how important are these epiphanies? And normally they’re very important insights. And secondly, we have to ask the question, do you need research to demonstrate the validity of your findings? And the answer to that is probably not, you know, it’s a good idea. And then thirdly, do you realize how to implement it? And the answer to that is probably yes, because it’s a good idea and you know exactly what you’re going to do. And so that demonstrates the existence of a subconscious brain which is whirring away and waiting for the conscious brain to shut up. And so, then it comes forward. And that usually happens when we’re in a program or a loop, which we don’t have to concentrate using our conscious brain as the conscious brain switches off and allows the subconscious to come through. And people report that happening when they’re in the gym, when they’re running, when they’re walking with their pets, when they’re in the shower, driving to work, any situations where they’re in the loop. And obviously with COVID, that’s disrupted some of those cycles.
Chris: And so consequently, it’s interrupted that creative process that’s been going on. But people know this intuitively, but they’re educated to forget it.
Rex: And so now it’s our obligation to bring the teams together in ways that the office is now less about a factory, I think, as we talked about a little bit earlier, and more as that space for creativity to come together, to build a culture, to use that as a safe space almost away from work. In a weird way of thinking about it.
Chris: Yeah, offices are undergoing a transformation, and it’s not just physical. It has to be in the way that the enterprises see those offices and move them from being a utility as a place to facilitate work and one which is vital for welfare. They’re not just workplaces, they are now places of welfare. And that’s why companies should continue to invest in them. Not because they’re necessarily productive places for people to work, but they’re productive places for people to repair to. And so, just in the same way that home has taken on some of the characteristics of the workplace during covid, the workplace should now take on some of the characteristics of home.
Nicole: How do you mean take on some of the characteristics of home?
Chris: Well, it should be comfortable. It should be the sort of decor, perhaps that you would choose. It should be the temperature that you would choose. It might have some of the foods that you might have at home. It should feel like a place where you’re relaxed and comfortable and so it should be adaptable in that respect. If it feels like it’s a penury going to the office, then it’s probably not going to be attractive and it’s not going to be used.
Chris: So that’s the problem. What we’ve had with officers is that it feels like if you’re going to work in cubeville every day, you’re probably not going to enjoy that.
Nicole: Well, if it’s a place of comfort and creativity, where you can build those connections, it also becomes a place where you can be vulnerable, right. Because you’re in more of a comfortable environment and you’re outside of your home, but it still feels like you have some connection to it and to the people who are there in it with you?
Chris: Yeah, I think leadership, there has to be a moral dimension to it because if you’re leading people then you’re not necessarily just focused on what they’re doing day to day, you’re focused on their future and you’re focused on their wellbeing because the whole person comes to work. It has to be 360 degrees. And to do that you can’t be a leader of any sort in a modern workplace unless you have a spiritual desire to do good. You’ve got to be working on the best motives and the best motives and unfortunately do not include maximizing profits for shareholders. That may be an objective that a lot of workplaces have, but it’s not necessarily what young people coming into the workplace for the first time would identify as a goal. To them, they have other goals.
Rex: And I think empowering people and giving them the context of the objectives of an organization or break it down to a tactical level, like why do we do creative briefs? It’s to give the teams who are going to be working on those things all of the information that we have so that they can make smart decisions. Where does the role of involving the entire organization in some of these structural shifts come in from?
Chris: Well, we’re in the middle of a seismic change from a top-down to a bottom-up structure. It’s changing very dramatically and we’re moving from an environment where there is line authority and responsibility, hopefully an equal measure. And we’re moving to a position where leaders don’t really have any authority. I mean, whisper it, authority was never ever given to anybody. It’s always taken. Just like responsibility, these things are never given, they’re always taken. But these days the future model of leadership is not going to be a command structure where you issue instructions to people. It’s going to look much more like convening power where your position and authority can bring together a number of different agents and focus them on a cause. But a generation coming through is rightly very skeptical and cynical about what top down, old fashioned authority has brought them. It’s brought them to a world which is teetering on the edge of ecological disaster with huge inequality and all sorts of problems that are caused by the fact that people at the top have been overconfident and frankly under skilled. And that represents the lack of diversity there. More diverse people worry about different things. It means that you’ve got more horizontal view of what’s going on so people can join the dots much more effectively when you’ve got greater diversity.
Nicole: We’ve spent quite a bit of time today talking about that next generation and just curious what excites you about this next generation of the workforce?
Chris: I get excited by listening to idealistic young people because for me they’re refueling, they’re reenergizing. And one of the things that we wanted to do for many years was just to put social cause at the center. That’s the purpose of the business, not just to be there to facilitate clients. I mean, our mantra for clients is always to seek to help them, not necessarily to please them. Because sometimes if you want to help a client, that may not necessarily be pleasing.
Chris: So, if we’re talking about what we’re here to do, of course we want to facilitate clients. But one of the things that clients most appreciate from what we’re doing is the ability to join up the dots on a 360-degree basis around the world and see the similarity of challenges. And we all look at how we want to get more people engaged and we want more people to be better ambassadors for the company. Well, the best way to do that is to align the company with their objectives rather than the other way around. So, if somebody’s got a cause they want to back, I mean, they don’t have to bow down before the company’s objectives of what cause they want to back. The company should facilitate them, give them the money, and let them go do whatever their causes and then give them a bonus and reward them for that. And that scheme has been incredibly successful, and we want to deepen it and roll that out even further until the point where everybody in this organization is thinking about an organization that they can help outside. The more they do that, the more convening power they actually have and the more they realize their context and perspective on the world.
Nicole: What we’re doing with causes at TEAM LEWIS, we’re empowering people. We’re putting the power in our employees’ hands and we’re enabling them to get involved. Right?
Rex: it’s been really inspiring.
Nicole: It has. It’s been incredible. And those are some of my favorite stories and my favorite conversations and shares that I see on social media because it’s authentic, it’s real, they’ve done it, they’ve seen it firsthand. It’s something that’s close to them that they’re passionate about. And I think as we continue to talk about how corporate culture is shifting and how to build a good culture, that’s one of the core things that you need to do and keep in mind is that you can’t just tell people how to be or what to believe in or what to align with or what to share on social channels or whatever the case may be. You have to put the power in their hands, and they have to be a part of building it and be a part of it along the way. That’s what I really love about watching the cause program at TEAM LEWIS start to blossom, is that we’re giving people that power and it’s just so authentic.
Chris: Well, the thing is, there’s a philosophy there that you get many leaders, political leaders included, that like to quote Plato or Aristotle, whilst patently not having understood anything about the Greek philosophy. And so, one of the best writers on current leadership thinking is St. Augustine of Hippo, is a religious philosopher and talked at some length about the whole that exists in people’s hearts which they try to fill with status and with money and with success and approbation. And in so doing, they just makes them ever more materialistic whilst realizing his message is that if you concentrate on the whole that exists in the heart, in your own heart, then you’re missing the essential truth, which is the hole that exists in so many other people’s hearts. And if you’re out there trying to do that on behalf of other people, then you don’t notice your own problems and you focus on them and you focus on their needs. And his message is very clear that the only real successful, long term sustainable philosophy is that which is convened around other people’s requirements. So, the leadership model must be servant leadership. So, it concentrates on the four h’s of leadership which is hungry, happy, hardworking, and honest. And that last category is the one that I’m most troubled about because in all my experience of business and seeing companies float and make people vast amounts of wealth, I’ve never seen anybody personally philosophically improved by vast amounts of wealth
Nicole: For our listeners, today we had a handful of our US leadership team here in San Diego and we were lucky enough to have Chris’s children come in and his two daughters and speak to us about just their generation and their experiences. And it was really enlightening. And they talked a bit about conscious consumption, my words, not theirs. But I think that just lends a lot to what you’re saying and how good has to be at the heart of everything. And conscious consumption is about actually working in an environment where your values are embodied.
Chris: Yeah, I think it does split people down sort of into two categories in some respects, if you can do that, which is that there are those people out there that their goal is to have what they want. And that’s a very big group of people. It’s materialistic. That happiness is driven by a material acquisition. And then there’s another group of people which actually want what they have. And that sounds very similar, but it’s actually quite different. If they see joy in what they have and that might be an existing partner, it might be an existing house, it might be an existing neighborhood or a network of friends, et cetera, then those are the things that make them sustainable, unhappy. And the real success is based upon a contentment and a philosophical spiritual health is not necessarily, and I would argue even it’s less likely to be based upon vast amounts of material acquisition. I know of no person that has become materially, has acquired everything they ever wanted and that’s made them happy. And it sounds like a weird philosophical thing to say for anybody who’s in business. But these days the generation that’s coming through does not value material gain above everything else. In many instances, it’s way beyond what they’re capable of doing anyway, because they can’t afford property because it’s already too expensive for them, and they’ve got huge debts anyway, acquired from a university education. And so, I can understand why they’re cynical about previous generations, because they try to apply their standards to them and they’re completely different. They’re starting off, in many instances, especially kids from blue collar neighborhoods like mine, they’re starting off trying to get up the sides of a massive hole which has been caused by all of the debt that they’ve encountered at university.
Rex: And we are as a society have not, particularly in the US, have valued a piece of paper at the cost of so much of empowering universities and empowering institutions to financially benefit, not for the purpose that they originally founded and organized, to educate youth and to make the world a better place. It’s gone to what you said, greed.
Chris: And selfishness. I mean, that’s the other thing that should be an abiding motive for leadership, which is that when leadership fails, or when people are critical of leadership, they often use the word hopeless. They say, I work for a leader or manager that’s absolutely hopeless. That demonstrates that they’ve failed to remember one of the first things that a good leader should do is to generate hope that as stupid and as selfish as they are, there still might be hope that they might actually learn something different. I mean when people are hopeless, then they’re written off, there’s no chance for them to, I think the phrase today was, the learning and correction. Which is that the generation coming through would like to the hope that they’re still reformable through learning and correction. And that’s one of the things which is quite important. Nietzsche is a famous German philosopher and he said that with knowledge should come doubt. And it points to this notion of certainty that you often find in senior management. Which is that when people are certain of something, absolutely certain, then the only place that that certainty can come from is mediocrity. Because nobody can be certain about anything anymore. Not after a global pandemic. Because we were told they couldn’t be a global pandemic. There couldn’t be a global financial collapse. There could not be a President Trump. There could not be any of these things. There could not be a rise of a fascist dictatorship anywhere again on the planet. That couldn’t happen, but it did. And so, one of the questions we have to ask is did we fail to see it because it wasn’t enough data? Did we fail to see it because there weren’t enough systems or sensors connecting this information or was it already there right in front of us and we just assumed it wouldn’t affect us. We just predicted one outcome and then we didn’t prepare for anything else to happen. And so consequently, that’s the model of leadership we found ourselves in, it’s fundamentally broken. And that also applies to some of the model of capital that we’ve got, which is that we have to think of ways of reforming this. And that doesn’t necessarily mean more government, because government can take the money, but it can’t necessarily meet people’s needs. That’s where there’s a role for social entrepreneurs coming in, developing opportunities in the community, using their know how to solve people’s problems in those communities. And government can’t necessarily do that, and business can’t do it for profit. But what if you were to run an organization that did that in a business-like way? Then you could transform communities. And I think that’s the thing I find really exciting, which is what if you could use that entrepreneurial model which was sustainable and done pro-bono without commercial motivation behind it? Hey, I’m not asking everybody to work in the company for pittances of wages. I want them to be wealthy and I want them to be well rewarded and I want them to generate increases and rises so that they can benefit from that. But I don’t believe that’s incompatible with doing good. I think that’s a circular and a virtuous circle that can be made to happen and that’s what we’ve embarked upon, which is exciting.
Nicole: Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining us today. Rex and I really appreciate the conversation and I do hope that we get to do this again soon.
Chris: It’s been my pleasure and so great to see everybody together. Such a tonic.