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Syd Finkelstein’s Superbosses: Investing in People

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. He spoke with Stew about how to invest in people and nurture talent.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Here’s the full interview.


Stewart Friedman: What separates good bosses from the best bosses from the superbosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: Syd FinkelsteinGood bosses will do some of the same things as a superboss, but superbosses will do everything more intensely. For example, mentoring is a well-known idea. If you have a good boss, they’ll give you some advice and help you navigate the organizational system. But superbosses are super mentors, mentors on steroids. They’re always engaged, always interacting with you.  And they do more things in a more intense way and also do some stuff that very few good bosses do.

Stewart Friedman: What is it that separates what you refer to as the superbosses from merely good bosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: There are a bunch of things and one is apprenticeship. That’s the way everyone learned their craft for centuries but its gone by the wayside over the past 100 years. What superbosses have done is resurrect the old apprenticeship model where you’re rolling up your sleeves and working with people on your team, you’re engaged with them closely, you’re not quite going as far as micromanaging, but you’re also not afraid to get in the trenches with them. You’re a teacher, you’re a coach, and it’s like the master/apprentice relationship. That’s something that’s maybe not as common as we’d like to see it, but superbosses certainly do that. One other thing that is a big highlight of what they do is they are big-time innovators. They innovate in their business work, whether it’s George Lucas with digital technology for film, whether it’s a Ralph Lauren in fashion and his innovations redefining what the lifetime of fashion could be, or Julian Robertson in hedge funds, they are big-time innovators in their business and how they think about people. I think that’s combination that’s pretty impressive and one we can learn from.

Stewart Friedman: You’re saying innovators, in terms of how they deal with people, lead them, cultivate them, in what ways are they innovative?

Sydney Finkelstein: One is how they find talent. Most companies have a model in place, and the model is let’s identify what we need, come up with a job description, and go through lots of resumes and interviewing and pick the person who checks the most boxes and is the most impressive in that process. It’s not that superbosses will never do that. In a large company, you have to do that for some of these norms. But superbosses do something different, which is they’re willing to create a job for someone who they think is the right person, and I know the shuddering that’s going on in the HR community hearing that, but that’s what they do. They’re willing to create the job, and there are a lot of good stories from Ralph Lauren finding a woman at a restaurant and getting excited about how she was getting dressed and thought about clothes. Next thing you know, he’s offering her a job. For Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who really gave birth to many of the head coaches in the NFL and how he thought about drafting. He would create opportunities for people that wouldn’t fit the mold of what most people are looking at.

Stewart Friedman: The priority is given to potential for the expression of a unique talent rather than the fit in a particular role that’s already existing, is that right?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s exactly right. They’re looking for people that have that flexibility. I call it extreme flexibility, that’s one of the things they care about because they want to move people in different jobs and they want to create opportunities for people.

Stewart Friedman: How did you identify this category of people? Who fit the description and how did you go about doing this research?

Sydney Finkelstein: I started off with an observation of something I thought was interesting. I’m a foodie and I’m into high-end restaurants, and there happens to be a place called Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, what has she done? She’s reinvented the farm-to-table, local-food-sourcing of quality ingredients, everything revolving around the ingredients. It turns out that so many of the people that worked for her, went through that restaurant and became big names in the restaurant business themselves. I saw that, observed that, and said that’s interesting. I wonder if it’s true in another industry where there’s one person or a small number of people that have this outsized influence in the development of talent. That’s when I went to the NFL, because I like that as well, and it didn’t take long to realize it was Bill Walsh. The NFL is a good example because that’s an industry where you can measure very precisely, out of the 32 head coaches in a season, fully 20 of them were either working directly or indirectly for Bill Walsh. Then I thought to look at some other industries. I went from advertising, to hedge funds, to consumer packaged goods, to American comedy and fashion, and it wasn’t hard to find — by talking to a lot of people and doing a deep dive to what was going on in the industry — the one or two people that have this outsized influence on the development in a generation of talent.

Stewart Friedman: That was the criteria for selection, people who have had a huge impact on their field through the growth of talent in that field. Now that everybody understands how you chose these people, you then looked at what they do to have this outsized impact on the growth of talent in their field. Apprenticeships and creating roles for people to enable them to express their unique talents; I’m curious is there something that superbosses do that particularly invests in the person as a whole human being?

Sydney Finkelstein: I don’t know if it would be the same way that your work might indicate, but I’ll tell you a couple of ways I think that happens. Number one, people that work for superbosses are really engaged in the job, you know employee engagement scores are a disaster everywhere.  Superbosses create jobs where individuals can actually have an impact. They know that they’re important, as everybody’s important, and that’s a powerful thing in your life, to have that feeling. I know it’s one of the biggest motivators. That’s part of what superbosses do. The other thing they do is that they are in many cases even willing to help you move forward in your career, not just working for them but going outside of that team to another part of the company or another organization entirely. That’s a bit unusual, that you would groom talent. The subtitle of the book is mastering the flow of talent, so not just people coming in, not just what you do with them when they’re part of your team, but what you do as they move out, and in some cases, help them move out. It’s very counter-intuitive, but if you think about what’s really important for an individual, most individuals don’t want to perform for Mr./Ms. X for the rest of their life, they want to fulfill their own potential. That’s what the superbosses enable them to.

Stewart Friedman: I was an executive at Ford Motor Company for a few years from 1999-2001 as head of leadership development. I hired a lot of people in that role, and one of the critical elements of my interviews, and I did hundreds of interviews with people, was to explore what they would want to do next, what would success look like in their next job following their stint working in my shop. It’s question that many of them had not been asked before, but I really tried to make it a point of focus with the people who came to work for me that they would leave their time with me in a better role following that experience. The more I made that an explicit part of that hiring practice, the more the other people wanted to work for me.

Sydney Finkelstein: You’re right, and the term I use in the book, talent magnet, describes just what you’re talking about.

Stewart Friedman: It’s not that hard to do, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I know our listeners are eager to find out what can I do to enhance my capacity as a boss so I can have a bigger impact on the world through the legacy that I create through the people that I cultivate. What can people do?

Sydney Finkelstein: Everything that superbosses do is teachable and learnable, it’s not rocket science. It takes a lot of work. You don’t become Ralph Lauren or George Lucas overnight; there’s a lot you have to do. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s all possible.  I try to talk a lot about what specific steps you can take, even from what we talked about earlier about hiring somebody. You have your old method of hiring, but how about just experimenting and hiring one person, going out of your way to find somebody where you find the person before you find the job and back them into it. The sky’s not going to fall when you do it, and you’re going to begin that process of just opening your brain and mind to the possibility of finding talent in all other places. I think there are some really specific things as well that go far beyond that. I would look at your calendar. We’re so scripted these days, people have so many meetings and those meetings are killers. I don’t understand why we put ourselves through that in a job with so many meetings. Push yourself out of that world. Of course, it’s not going to disappear, but leave time for much more unstructured interaction where you arrive unannounced at the desk or cubicle of someone on your team and dedicate 30 minutes or an hour and digging in with him/her exactly what they’re doing. You push them and you challenge them and coach them and help them think about it a little differently, and certainly you enable them to learn from your own experience. It’s a little thing, but it actually makes a big difference.

Stewart Friedman: You can actually do it in smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be a full hour or half-hour, or even 20 minutes. In 10 minutes or even five, you can have an interaction that really touches people and demonstrates to them your interest in their development. Right?

Sydney Finkelstein: You really could. How hard is that to do in the scheme of things? It’s only hard if we allow ourselves to adopt this idea that I’m so busy, I’m running here and doing this and that. We push that on ourselves, we constrain ourselves in so many ways, and I think that’s a mistake. Superbosses are looking for those opportunities. I also think we should think about how accessible we make it. How are the barriers that we’re putting in front of us that we might not know that make it difficult for people on our team to interact with us? There are a remarkable number of superbosses who place their desks, not in an office, not in a corner office, but in an open area where anyone can reach them at any time. It’s a symbolic thing, but it’s meaningful. You definitely can do that.

Stewart Friedman: I wanted to ask you whether superbosses are always nice. Is it possible to be a superboss who is scary or can infuse a work environment with a sense of fear while still holding people to really high standards and pushing them far?

Sydney Finkelstein: It’s a good question, because being a superboss doesn’t mean you’re a soft touch. The definition of a superboss is someone who helps other people get better and creates talent. There are a lot of ways to do that. While the superboss playbook, if you will, is very similar in terms of apprenticeship, innovation, and finding talent, the style does vary. In the book, I actually talk about three different styles, including one that is called the glorious bastard. It’s the manager, the Larry Ellison type, that personality that we’re familiar with now, they are really tough. They’re not exactly the happiest places to work, so it’s not for everyone, but if you can handle it, and you can absorb the learning that’s going on, the hyper-intense environment, then the opportunities are gigantic. You look at the legacy of a Larry Ellison, all the people that work for him from Mark Benioff, who now runs Salesforce.com, to lots of others, but it’s not an easy thing to do for those types of people.

Stewart Friedman: I wonder if there are lessons that you drew, whether in the book or just your own life about cultivating talent as a superboss and being a parent. Do you see any parallels?

Sydney Finkelstein: I found the more I got into the superboss world, the more you see that it applies to everything. In this case, I actually dedicated the book to my own mother and I called her the first superboss I ever had.

Stewart Friedman: What made her a superboss?

Sydney Finkelstein: For that you’re going to have to give me several hours on the phone. Certainly high expectations, but you just knew that this was someone that had your best interests at heart and wanted you to be successful but also was not going to just let you linger, was going to open a door to a world and say there’s nothing you can’t do. That turns out not to be true. I’m not an Olympic athlete, I never made the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

Stewart Friedman: Is that what she wanted?

Sydney Finkelstein: She wanted me to have opportunities to fulfill my potential, and she opened the door to that. She did in a very subtle way, just by talking. There was no lecture going on here, it was maybe just being a good parent but it had a gigantic impact on me.

Stewart Friedman: How do you think that translated to your own parenting style?

Sydney Finkelstein: I have one daughter who’s now 25 years old. I have done many of the same types of things I thought I learned. What’s funny is that it’s only in doing this research for superbosses that I came to the realization of some of the things we’re talking about now. Things that are in you, there are stories I remember from my own life that happened to me with different people doing different things that were very impactful, but I didn’t appreciate, or fully appreciate, just how meaningful some of those things were. In thinking back and doing this research and talking about all these other people, it became apparent.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica is calling from Philadelphia. Jessica, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

Jessica: I work in corporate America and I have a boss who goes by the laws of micromanagement. Every day, she asks where are you, what are you doing at this time of day. I’m in sales, so I’m usually in the office, but my question is what’s the best way to deal with that type of micromanagement?

Stewart Friedman: How do you change a micromanager to a superboss if you’re working for her?

Sydney Finkelstein: The problem with a micromanager is that she doesn’t come with a role that superbosses come with, which is delegator. They delegate and they are closely attuned to what you are doing, they do both. When you have a person who’s just on one side, you have a much deeper problem. Why do people do that, is what I think about. In my experience when a boss doesn’t truly trust the people on their team, they end up doing too much, not delegating as much or always checking and checking. Some of that could be internal to a person, and that person could benefit from some coaching on occasion, but sometimes it could be the subordinate in this example, Jessica. No matter how good she is, she might really need to sell up in a sense. We talk about managing up, what about selling up about how you’re adding value, how you’re creating value and a general deeper level of trust between boss and team member.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica, does that make sense to you to change the relationship in such a way that your boss can trust you more and be less micromanaging?

Jessica: Yeah, I think you’re right on with that. I think every time we have a conversation I’m reinforcing what I’m selling and adding to the company. My concern is because it’s a continuous relationship that I’ve had, how do I make it so that she trusts me? I think it does come down to trust and you’re right with that, and to your point I don’t think she trusts me or anybody on this team. How could I better work with her knowing that’s how she feels?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s a tough situation. I think trying to demonstrate with your results your capability, what you can do. I don’t know if you know her well enough or can find a way to suggest that she work with a coach or some such thing. That could be a sensitive thing to ask directly, but maybe indirectly is a possibility. It’s a lot easier to say what I’m about to say than do it, but sometimes you don’t have the right boss and that boss is not going anywhere and you might want to look for an internal transfer of some other opportunity. Some people just will not change because of who they are, and some of these insecurities could be so deeply embedded in who they are that it started a long time ago.

Stewart Friedman: What’s the impact you’re hoping your book is going to have on the business world in terms of getting across certain ideas and tools that can help people cultivate talent and enrich their lives and working lives?

Sydney Finkelstein: At an individual level, and I mentioned employee engagement before, I find it an abysmal situation when so many people are at a job that doesn’t have any fulfilling sense so that they’re not engaged. Superbosses, even though they could be tough, they absolutely convey the importance of each person, they make you feel like you have an impact. The whole world of millennials, that’s what they want from the start, and the superboss approach is one that’s very meaningful. The second thing is from an organizational point of view, you look at where and how organizations have changed in the last 10 or 20 years. There’s been incredible innovation in supply chain management, manufacturing, technology, marketing, and sales. Where’s the innovation when it comes to HR? I know there are a lot of apps and software that help you run better meetings and you can figure out where everyone is, feedback mechanisms, and I’m not saying those are bad things. They all can have some value, but fundamentally, when you talk to senior executives, they’re saying the same thing. We need talent, we need to get better talent, and we need to solve our talent problem. But if they keep saying it, it’s still a problem. Year after year after year, it’s time for something new, even if it sounds a little scary. I hope the superboss approach is that something new.

For more information about Syd Finkelstein and Superbosses follow him on Twitter @SydFinkelstein.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Leadership Industry B.S.: Entertainment Vs. Enlightenment — Jeff Pfeffer

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he has taught since 1979.   He is the author or co-author of 14 books on topics including power in organizations, managing people, evidence-based management and author of more than 150 articles and book chapters. Professor Pfeffer has won numerous awards for his scholarly research.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his just released book, Leadership B.S.:  Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time and what changes are needed in the “leadership industry.”

Stew Friedman: When I was in graduate school a fellow student referred to the articles we were reading in the premiere journal in our field, which is the Administrative Science Quarterly, as the “Administrative Science Pfefferly” to connote that in every single issue there was another profound article by Jeff Pfeffer. It’s a really great feeling to have him on the show.

Jeff Pfeffer: jeff pfefferIt’s a pleasure to be with you, Stew, and it is just a privilege to be talking to you this evening. Also, I’m privileged to be a signatory on the petition signed by many academics in favor of paid family leave. I think your work on the work family issue has just been outstanding, and it’s so important to make workplaces work for everybody.

SF: That’s really very gracious of you, and means a lot. You’ve been casting a keen and critical, evidence-based eye on organizations for so long, particularly on leaders. I’m curious to know, first, what inspired you to write Leadership BS? What has emerged recently that you just couldn’t ignore?

JF: That’s a great question because I had       not really ever intended to write this book or this kind of book. But the amount of hypocrisy and the cynicism that that hypocrisy spawns is just striking. You see these leaders, they come to Stanford and I’m sure they come to Wharton. They tell wonderful stories about themselves, and about how they would like to be seen and presented, which bear almost no resemblance of the realities of how they lead and how they conduct themselves.

SF: And everybody knows that, right?

JF: And everybody knows that. It provokes an enormous amount of hypocrisy and cynicism. In fact, as I began to think about this, it occurred to me that we have had decades – maybe five, or six, or seven decades – of this leadership industry talking about aspirational views of how leaders ought to be.    And I agree that leaders ought to be modest, authentic, they ought to tell the truth, they ought to do many things. But of course when you look at real leader behavior, it’s pretty much the opposite. And when you look at the condition of workplaces, not only in the U.S. but around the world, they’re in pretty dire shape. And so it occurred to me that the leadership industry had not only failed to make things better, but that by telling these stories that bear no resemblance to reality and having this kind of aspirational, feel-good quality to then, it was not doing anything to cause anybody to get off their butts and try to do anything to make the world of work better. And so it occurred to me if anything was ever going to be better, somebody had to look at what was going on and tell the truth about it.

SF: And you draw the very useful analogy to medicine a hundred years ago.  Explain how you came up with that idea and how it helps us to understand the argument you are making.

JF: We’ve known for hundreds of years that hygienic practices are important in preventing hospital-acquired or iatrogenic illnesses. And so we’ve done the studies that have shown that hand-washing is good for preventing illness.  Nonetheless the medical industry has done something the leadership industry has never done, which is to say, “We know hand-washing is a good thing, but let’s look and see how many doctors really wash their hands.”  When they found that many of them don’t wash their hands, instead of having more stories, or more admonitions, or inspirational talks, they looked at what interventions they might use that would cause doctors to do some of the things they ought to do, such as better hand-washing and other hygienic regimens.  The leadership industry does not have base rates. All these desirable leadership behaviors are occurring, and because we never measure the base rates, we can never evaluate any interventions as to whether or not those interventions are making things better or worse.  If you fail to do that, nothing is ever going to get better because if you don’t know if you’re getting better, you don’t know the success of what you’re trying to do.

SF:  What would it require to measure base rates? What would we have to do to establish that?

JF: First of all, the leadership industry needs to define the constructs more precisely. A chaired professor at Duke University, somebody who you probably know, Sim Sitkin, has written a very nice review on what’s wrong with charismatic leadership. And one of the problems with charismatic leadership is that the construct is defined in a way that makes it almost un-measurable.  But I still think you can define precisely what you mean by servant leadership, by serving others, by authenticity, and so on. The first thing you do is measure the frequency of such characteristics in the populations you’re using. If you’ve found, and this would be my guess, that they’re relatively rare, especially among senior leaders, then you need to ask the question, “why is that?” Why are desirable qualities that research has shown do lead to healthier and more productive workplaces, why are they so rare among leaders? And what might we do to increase their frequency?

SF: So, employee engagement and trust is low in the world today — in business and in societies, as you point out.  Aside the impact that improved leadership performance might have, what else do you see causing the problem of disengagement and low trust?

JF: Well, I think leader behavior is one source. I participated once on a panel in restoring trust in leadership with Mr. Edelman, the head of Edelman who does the trust index in public relations to restore trust. I’d do that by stop whining to people, which of course has gone on.   Companies increasingly see their employees not as assets, but as costs that have to be minimized, and so you have fewer employees being employed full-time. Fewer employees are getting health insurance from their employer than ever.  Companies have cut wages, they’ve cut benefits, they’ve laid people off over the years. All of this would lead to not just lower employer engagement, but adverse health consequences for employees who face enormous levels of economic insecurity and difficulties in accessing healthcare.

SF: Do you see this fraying of the relationship between labor and management as something that is increasing?  Where does leadership play a role in trying to strengthen the connection that employees do have or can have to their organizations and to their own personal health and their families and their communities?

JF:  The relationships are certainly fraying. As your colleague and good friend of mine, Peter Cappelli, has said in his book, New Deal at Work, and in the subsequent research, there’s a lot of data that suggests that job tenures are going down, and that the percentage of part-time and contract laborers has gone up. And as I’ve already alluded to, benefits are going down. There is certainly a lot of fraying of the relationship. Research done by our colleagues in the human resources management area, such as by Tom Kochan at MIT, has demonstrated that these are strategic choices made by companies. You do not have to outsource, downsize, or pay people nothing, in order to be successful. When Cascio did the study comparing Sam’s Club to Costco, he found that Costco is more profitable even though it pays more and offers more benefits. The so-called high road approach dealing with your work force has been written about by Tom Kochan, and Paul Osterman, and by a variety of people over the years. This is a strategic choice that some leaders have and it’s a choice that is motivated in part by the idea that people are indispensable. It’s interesting to me that we are very concerned with environmental pollution, and companies now report their environmental bona fides, how much carbon they emit in the atmosphere, how much recycling they do, and so on and so forth. I keep pointing out to people that in addition to environmental pollution, we ought to be concerned about social pollution.

SF: How would you do that?

JF:  It turns outs that there is a single item measure of self-reported health (SRH). It basically asks people on a scale of 1 to 10, how good they feel, from feeling horribly to feeling very good. And this prospectively predicts mortality and morbidity. And it does so almost as well as physiological measures, such as body mass index and so on and so forth.

SF: That’s easy to acquire – that information.

JF: It’s very easy to acquire. Part of this is we need companies to measure health data of their employees. Second, just as we now hold companies responsible for their environmental impact, I think we ought to hold companies responsible for their impact on the wellbeing and welfare of their work force. I mean Gallop, as you know, has partnered with Health Ways, and they do their wellbeing index, measuring how that varies across geographies, and so on and so forth.  That’s also very interesting data for us and another way of measuring this. But we ought to be concerned about human wellbeing. As I know, you are doing at the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project.

SF: I’d like to try to bring this back to what you have composed here in critiquing the leadership industry. There seems to be a missing link between what we are aspiring to produce in our leaders – which is people who can take us to a better place – and what we’re actually producing. We’re not really emphasizing enough what’s required to create a leadership cadre of people who are dedicated not just to economic outcomes, but to human and social outcomes as well.

JF:  That’s exactly right. And it’s one of the conundrums I have highlighted in this book, Leadership B.S, but which I have not been able to solve.  Here’s the dilemma: the qualities that we claim we want in leaders – modesty, authenticity, telling the truth, taking care of others, etc. – are precisely the opposite of the qualities that actually make people successful. And by successful, I mean we know that narcissism (which I would argue is the opposite of modesty) has been reliably shown to be predictive of getting chosen for leadership roles, maintaining those roles, getting higher salaries, getting more successful, and some of the most successful leaders are narcissists. Michael Maccoby wrote this wonderful book called, The Productive Narcissist and talks about that.   The irony is then, there are a lot of reasons ranging from sociobiology to social psychology that explain this, but the qualities we claim that we want to see in leaders are exactly the opposite of the qualities we seem to be selecting for and exactly the opposite of the qualities that bring people individual success. So, there is individual success, which is often earned at the expense of the organization or social system’s success, and that is a conundrum or dilemma that denies so many.

SF: So, please go further with this issue of the disconnect between what we aspire to and what we do.  What ideas do you have for what organizations and individuals in organizations can be doing to ensure that they can start to produce those kinds of leaders that we would hope for as well as those that we actually see in the world today?

JF: Some years ago, when I used to write columns for Business 2.0 when Business 2.0 still existed, I wrote a column about lying, and as it occurred to me in the course of doing the work for that column, that a lie takes two people; the person who tells it and the other individual who wants to hear it. And so, in many ways we are our own worst enemy. We are complicit in many of the failures of the leadership industry. It is the consumers of the leadership industry’s products that want entertainment rather than enlightenment. It is the consumers of the leadership industry and the people who are selecting leaders who say we want leaders – I heard this story recently, even about the vaunted General Electric –who get good results, but only in the right way.   But then they are willing to make the tradeoff to get the good financial results, no matter the human toll that is exacted. So, it is we who are complicit.  In the Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld article that came out about Amazon recently, it’s just more controversy about this. One of the things I did in a Fortune column about that article is to look at the overlap between the most admired leaders and the most admired companies, and the best places to work. And not surprisingly, there is almost no overlap. Only four companies are on both those lists. So, we admire leaders who behave badly and exact huge tolls on their work force as long as they produce great financial results. That is something we are all individually and collectively responsible for.

SF:  There is something about those who seem to be the pinnacle of corporate society who have somehow belied this image of the grand and moral philosopher king that we all wish to have leading us to a better world, and that’s painful. So, as consumers what is available to us to start to deal more with that reality, that gap between what we wish for and what we’re actually paying for?

JF: First of all, we ought to do due diligence on leaders; we ought to do a little investigation. If I said to you tonight, I have discovered a cure for cancer and I’m going to sell it to you for $500 million, which by the way had I actually discovered the cure for cancer, that’d probably be the biggest bargain in history, before you write me a check for $500 million my suspicion would be you would do a fair amount of due diligence to figure out whether I knew what I was doing, and whether or not the cure that I have discovered actually had any positive therapeutic effects. When we make individual financial investment decisions or collective financial investment decisions, we do our due diligence. But when we listen to the leadership talks, the blogs, the TED talks, read the books, and hear the inspirational speeches, we want to believe. It’s almost like we want to believe in Santa Claus or something. So, we almost actively avert our eyes, as opposed to accepting the reality that every human being in the world is neither a complete saint nor a complete sinner. That there we’re all mixed individuals and have a combination of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices. So, we ought to be more clinical and do our due diligence on leaders. There are sites like Glassdoor. Many things are available now since every courtroom in this country is automated and you can find case filings. You can find information.  You can talk to people. And you can find out whether the stories you are hearing are true or not. And while it is uncomfortable oftentimes to confront the truth, my favorite movie scene is Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth.” I do believe that not only can people handle the truth, but we need the truth. Because the only way we’re going to get from where we are with this low level of employee engagement is to understand realities of the situation, why we are where we are and measure our progress toward improving things.

SF: And that means really seeing a person for who she is or he is, as a flawed human being who is perhaps aspiring to doing the right thing, but has limited capacity, limited ability to see the world from different perspectives and is going to make mistakes.  When I have guests come to class, I ensure that they speak as much as possible, if not solely, about the various ways in which they have screwed up because I find that’s what students are really interested in hearing about. Because they see the gloss, but if you cut through that with the real story I find that helps people to see Oz. There’s a human being – I can still be successful and be flawed. So, does this resonate with what you’re suggesting, Jeff?

JF: Absolutely. The idea of having leaders talk about their flaws, the idea of having people look deeply into how leaders are actually doing, and when you see people behaving in interesting and funny and difficult and maybe even problematic ways, to not say, which I hear all the time, “Well, this person is wealthy and so it must be ok,” or “This person is successful.”  “This person is on the most admired list and built this great company.” You see this with the CEO of Uber. You see this with the CEO of Amazon. You see this with many CEO’s, where people will say “well, yeah…” I just read this wonderful blog, which refers to my book, but also talks about the new movie about Steve Jobs;  Brook Manville, who used to be a consultant for McKinsey, said the interesting thing about Jobs is that Jobs had all these flaws and was not the nicest human being to work for, but people would say, you know, he built the iPhone, he built the most valuable company on the planet and therefore, the fact that he behaved hideously, in some respects at least according to some people, we’re going to give him a little pass on that. But we don’t do that in the environmental field. I mean I don’t say, “Well Stew, your running Freedom Enterprises and you’re producing a great product, but you’re fowling the water and the air, but I’ll give you a pass because you’re successful.”  We don’t give people a pass on that anymore. We say you need to produce a great product at a good price, but you also need to do it in a way that maintains the integrity of the physical environment. And I believe we ought to have the same requirements for maintaining the social environment.

SF: I could not agree with you more. Jeff, I am afraid we have run out of time here. There is so much more I want to ask you about, but I am afraid we must conclude. Your work on taking down the leadership industry or really getting us to see it in a fresh light and what it really means for us to be growing leaders who can make a difference in our society is really so important, so refreshing, so provocative, and so useful.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Leading with Creativity for Social Impact

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jason Harris, President and CEO of an award-winning creative agency called Mekanism, which works with brands to create shareable and provocative campaigns. His methods have been covered by Harvard Business School, and under his leadership his agency has been profiled by The New York Times and ABC’s NIGHTLINE. Friedman and Harris discussed the nature of leading a firm of creative people in ways that produce positive economic and social impact.

Stew Friedman: Mekanism?

Jason Harris: jason harris 2Mekanism is spelled with a “k” because when we went to register it, the “ch” was taken. So, it doesn’t have a very weighted story. Except now it’s a “k” and we love it.

SF: What do you love about the “k”?

JH: People think there’s a mythology behind Mekanism with the “k”, but I just spilled the beans. That’s all we have.

SF: That’s it? No “ch” was available?

JH: When you work with a lot of partners, it’s hard to come up with a name everyone likes. We couldn’t change the name, so we changed the spelling.

SF: So, that’s the creativity, right? Adjusting to what’s available and using it the best you can.

JH: Yeah, using jujitsu and being flexible. And now we are thrilled it doesn’t have a “ch”.

SF: Why is that?

JH: When you’re doing radio interviews you now have to spell it out. That’s the number one reason. That’s the primary reason.

SF: It has a kind of unique value.

So tell us about Mekanism. You are known for working at the cutting-edge of innovation and new markets and using new media. How did you get started?

JH: I always knew I wanted to be in advertising since I was 12 or 13, which is very strange. I watched a lot of TV. I really liked TV. And I realized there were these fun, entertaining shorts in between all the shows, and I thought well someone has to be doing those.  It seems like that could be a job.  Very strange for a young kid, but I always thought I wanted to do that. I majored in business and started doing the traditional advertising agencies.  I started my own company basically flipping the script and creating broadcast productions for brands like Adidas, Xbox, and Levis where we would produce 44 minutes of content, give that to a network, the network would get the production for free, it would be branded content from these brands, and they would sell advertising space. So, they essentially got free production they didn’t have to pay for and the advertisers got a lot of air – much more than a 30-second commercial. So, I started that company and did that for a while.  My friend had a small digital agency called Mekanism, and we merged those companies together and that’s what Mekanism is today – an advertising agency. It’s independent, and we are always looking to do innovative work, never been done before work.

SF: Can you give us a couple of examples of projects that you’re particularly proud of, or that you’re working on now that got your juices going?

JH: We launched a campaign for North Face called “This Land”, which is a TV campaign about North Face owning the idea of exploration. We used the classic Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land” and did all the proceeds from that song went to the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.  We drove a lot of downloads, we helped a lot of people, and helped build a brand at the same time. That’s one that just recently launched.

We did a Super Bowl ad with Pepsi when Beyoncé did the Super Bowl. It was completely comprised of user photos, so the audience created the ad for us, a truly crowd-sourced product that we’re proud of. And I would say that the number one project that we’re working on currently, that we’re really proud of, is with The White House. It’s a campaign called It’s On Us.  It was launched by Barack Obama last September. On the anniversary of it we’re doing another round of work.  You see it on college campuses. That stats are that one out of five women are sexually assaulted in college, primarily in their freshman and sophomore years.  The White House reached out to us because we do a lot of work with Millennial audiences, and we came up with a campaign called It’s On Us.  We do not typically do cause-related marketing. We launched this like we would do a deodorant or a soap or a shampoo; we launched it like a brand. And we came up with a name called, It’s On Us, and a logo.  We launched it with a TV spot that had John Hamm [of Mad Men], Kerry Washington, and a lot of other celebrities. We created a social badge, so if you went to the website and took the pledge – itsonus.org, very easy to remember – the badge would be on your profile. We’ve had toolkits developed so schools can create their own ads. I think we’ve had 400 colleges and universities participate and create their own ads. We had the number one video on YouTube. And we created a brand with t-shirts. We even got Joe Biden to wear one of our t-shirts, which was not an uneasy feat. But it’s been a fantastic campaign and it’s really been making a difference so that’s one that we’re really proud of.

SF: What kind of results have you seen?

JH: This is really about driving awareness and their measuring the impact of recorded incidences. What we’re really trying to do is get more incidences reported, which seems contrarian  — that you want the numbers to go up. But you really want this to be out in the public. We also want colleges and universities to sign up for having more resources on college campuses to protect the victims, or survivors rather. I saw something as I was walking through the halls here coming to the studio that is very ad propelled. It said “Business for Good is Good for Business”, which I absolutely loved. And I think this type of campaign summarizes that. It has really helped the company galvanize behind this issue and you can create brands for everything from soda to good causes. So, it’s been really powerful.

SF: How has it affected the culture of your workplace to be working on projects where you’re clearly having a direct impact on a major social issue of the day and your client is The White House?

JH:  It has had a huge impact. It really has felt that for the company not only can we do advertising and build brands for big companies, but we can do it for causes. And everyone feels really responsible, personally responsible, for this issue. So, it’s created a really great culture. We want to do a lot more of it.

SF: Can you just drill down a bit?  How have you seen the impact on the way that people show up at work?  How they think of their role in the organization? And what it means for them as a citizen, and how that kind of enrichment of their own identity is something that creates value for your business, through the work that you’re doing in this cause-related marketing?

JH:  There’s been about 3 billion impressions throughout this campaign. We had a lot of great partners along the way.   Generation Progress, which is the not-for-profit public company that helped get in-kind media donations for the campaign and the White House. We worked on this campaign together. And the biggest impact it has made in the company is to see a small agency partner with the White House with no funding and have this type of impact – I’m doing this pro bono, that’s right Stew. So, it’s a huge investment. That investment and this particular issue have shown the employees how much we care about something more than just dollars, more than just business. It’s also shown that an agency our size can have this kind of impact across colleges and universities across the country. It’s inspirational and it makes people feel like if you put your mind to it, and , work together, anything is possible.

SF: So how many people work in your agency?

JH: We have about 85 people. We have two offices: San Francisco and New York  about equally split.

SF: So what are others looking at when they look at your firm? What are they trying to steal from you or learn from your practices that help to advance what great advertising looks like in 2015?

JH: I don’t know what they see or what they look at. But I can tell you fundamental principles we believe in that steer the culture and affect the type of innovative work that we do. One of those is that we’re driven by a culture of innovation and friendship and collaboration. The heart of it is the company is motivated and created for the love of creativity. That’s why we started this company. That’s why we’re still doing it ten years later and trying to grow it because everyone that works there is bonded by this love of creativity and this friendship. When everyone starts at the company, they get a book – a Mekanism book – that outlines our founding principles and our DNA. The first one is that we are optimistic. So, as a culture we’re optimistic. We hire optimistic, positive people because advertising can be a nasty, dirty business. It can be a knife fight sometimes. It’s very competitive. We need people that are always looking at the positive and always optimistic, not through rose-colored glasses, mind you. They have to be grounded, but we need optimistic people, we need fearless people.

SF: Optimistic and fearless. How do you screen for that?

JH: I think it’s less that we screen for them, that it’s more gut-instinct. We have a pretty rigorous interview process. And if someone is the right cultural fit, we hand them this sort of DNA that we believe in. We want them to embody that spirit, and you will quickly know if people abide by that spirit.

SF: How do you know?

JH: You can tell pretty quickly. You never know until you start working with someone, but when you start working with someone you can see how they interact with the culture. Another one is we tend to be a little off-center; we tend to be a little weird, a little quirky. So, we tend to hire people that way.

SF: So you get that by the way people dress or what their resume looks like?

JH: I think it’s usually their career path. People that have had a roundabout way of getting to where they are. Someone who’s sort of had the mapped out plan usually wouldn’t be exactly the right fit. We like people that come from all walks. One other principle we believe in is loyalty, and loyalty doesn’t mean that people don’t leave because people always leave. People come and go. That’s the nature. Loyalty means that we have each other’s backs, and in a work environment we keep the politics on the outside. So, our clients and the brands we work with bring enough politics with them and enough issues with them that we don’t need that in the building. So, the building has to be political-free. It has to be a loyal environment where we all work together to accomplish something. And of course there’s going to be one-offs that don’t fit that, but in general that’s what we need as a company.

SF: How do you maintain, especially as you’re growing more successful, how do you maintain that culture of friendship and creativity as you get bigger? You must be thinking about that.

JH: Absolutely. We’re starting to think about additional offices and more hires and more accounts. We really don’t have the answer, but we’re trying to come up with a rigorous process to keep the culture. It’s easy when you’re small the keep the culture nice and tight. As you get bigger, it gets more challenging. There’s one more fundamental belief that we have that I want to cover. Optimistic, off-center, fearless, loyal, and then the last one is the power of story telling. This is a philosophy that everyone has to believe in.  And this is what makes us slightly different. We’re an advertising agency that believes that people hate advertising. So, that would be like a professor assuming that people don’t want to come to school. But the idea behind that is that no one is sitting around waiting for you to interrupt them. No one is sitting around waiting for your ad. No one is sitting around on their computer or in front of their TV or on their phone waiting for you to cram your message down their throat. So, if you believe that everybody hates advertising, another truth is that everybody loves a great story. So, if you can think about connecting with an audience through a great story and the power of that, the power of nailing a truth of whatever you’re advertising, whatever you’re communicating, wrapped in a story, that has power. That has entertainment. And that gets people interested and it makes them listen to your message. And so, that’s a little way for an advertising agency to come at things a little differently.

SF: Is that distinctive? Aren’t all ad agencies going after the power of compelling narrative that has bonded people since the dawn of time?

JH: Yes, but I think they may approach it, and sure a lot of agencies do tell great stories, but I think they may look at as: we’re going to have a message, we’re going to tell it to the audience, and we’re going to tell it to them the same way. We’re going to pound it into submission until they know that our message has gotten in there. We just fundamentally come at it a little bit differently.  In our creative teams, we believe that people aren’t just waiting around to hear what we have to say because they’re not.

SF: They’re not.  And that is an assumption that is important to make if you’re going to be able to connect to their hearts and minds. So, the North Face piece I have seen. It is a compelling story with beautiful music and a great song. A song that in my playlist for my East Street radio segment, I started with Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “This Land Is Your Land”, which he did back in the late 70’s. It’s a song that I believe should be our national anthem. That is an important song and important theme to bring to that story about what North Face is all about. It’s more than just exploration. It’s also about a shared ownership of our nation and our future.

JH: That’s the next level down, that’s correct.

SF: So, tell us what it’s like to be managing creative people. So you got these positive, optimistic, fearless, off-centered people who don’t want to deal with the political stuff, but want to get the work done, which of course everyone wants that. What do you do personally as the CEO to make sure that continues to be the way that things are?

JH: That’s a great question. It’s a constant struggle, frankly. But I think you do that through lots of sharing, lots of communication, lots of storytelling. One thing that we do every year is the whole company goes on a retreat. This year we went to Mexico, and the company all goes. We take three days, which can be challenging for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends because it’s just the whole company. We do an off-site. We’ve done it for the past four years. And the idea is we have artists, we have speakers, we outline what we’re all going to accomplish that year together. And then at the end of the year, we measure what we all did together. So, the idea behind that is that sometimes working together and collaborating is getting off the merry-go-round and spending time together, and getting to know people on a level deeper than being in a meeting with them. We found that to be incredibly effective way to build both the vision for what we’re going to do together, and also to build bonds for people that have to work together or are cross functional in different departments so they normally wouldn’t spend time together. It’s been key. And then throughout the year we have all company meetings every Monday where we have different people in the company talking about what’s happening within the company. So everyone has a voice. The idea is that everyone should feel part of it and be able to stand up and speak in front of everyone else.

SF: So, how do you keep people motivated working on the more commercial clients when you have the White House as a client? I know you’re working with the U.N. Doesn’t everybody want to work with those social causes?

JH: We do work with Ben & Jerry’s. We do Jim Bean. We’re doing work right now with the NFL. We do Nordstrom Rack. So, there’s a lot of clients in there. One filter we have is we tend to work only with clients that we think people will want to work on, and they tell us. We tend not to go after or pitch clients that won’t get people excited. So, that’s one way we do it. And we try to tailor – football oriented people on NFL, fashion-oriented people on Nordstrom. So that’s one way to do it.  We don’t always get it right

SF: And that’s an important way to find out what people really care about. We’re almost out of time here, Jason. I have to ask you, you call yourself a functioning workaholic. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I also know you’re a dad. So, what’s it like being a dad and a CEO of a dynamic company like this? What kind of dad are you, or can you be as a CEO?

JH: I think that’s fundamental to your life’s work — the balance between those and the integration. I call myself a workaholic, but I would also call myself a ‘familyaholic’ as well. That’s pretty much what I spend my time doing. I’m passionate about both. I don’t always make the right choice, but you have to make selections of where you’re spending your time. And there’s sacrifice on one end, but you really try to weed out a lot of the extraneous stuff from your life to really set your goals and make sure you’re not working a lot, adding in other things that take you away from your family, but you try to focus on those two things. That’s one thing that I’ve found, whether it’s the right way to do it, it works for me, which is really just focusing on workaholic/familyaholic.

SF: Committing to those two and to work that has a positive social impact. So, in the last fifteen seconds here, what’s the one piece of advice you want to give to our listeners throughout the U.S. and Canada about how to be in a senior executive role and be an effective parent too.

JH: Well, that’s a big question. I would say it’s cliché and you’ve hear it a lot, but it’s the truth: if you are going to spend your energy and your time, then it has to somehow relate to a passion of yours if you are going to be successful and if you’re going to be content and happy. It doesn’t have to be the exact thing you want to do, but it has to be related to something that you’re passionate about. That’s sort of the key to success.

SF: I couldn’t agree more based on everything that I’ve seen and heard, and I appreciate you sharing that simple but powerful wisdom. Jason thank you for joining me today.

To learn more visit http://www.mekanism.com/ and follow Jason on Twitter @jason_harris.

Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Character in the C-Suite: Fred Kiel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life Stew Friedman spoke with Fred Kiel, a psychologist, author of Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and their Companies Win and coauthor of Moral Intelligence. For more than thirty years, he has helped Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives.  And he’s known for his popular TED talk, Psychopaths in the C-Suite. They discussed how leadership character produces results at work and in other parts of life.

Stew Friedman: Let’s start with the definition of character; how do you define character?

Fred Kiel: fred kielWe look at character in two different ways.   Everyone has their own self view of their character, and only you know what that is, what is in your heart, your intentions.  Most people view themselves as being highly principled and having strong character. However your character is revealed in how you treat other people and that is all that other people see; your behavior. So people judge your character based on your behavior, they view it as a reflection of what is in your heart.

SF: So these are two very different things, aren’t they? How you view yourself and how the world sees you.  And is character something that you see as immutable or is it possible to develop our own moral intelligence as you mature in life?

FK: I think it is very much possible to grow and develop; people do all the time. How you treat other people, a reflection of your character, is a matter of habit.  We have identified a long list of habits, or ways that people reveal their character, and based on how they treat other people.  Because they are habits, they can be changed. You can strengthen habits and you can replace bad habits with good habits; we all know that from other experiences in life. If you change your habits in the way you treat other people, it begins to change the inner you as well, and you become a stronger, more principled person.

SF: Can you give us an example, perhaps from your book, Return on Character, of one of the most prominent habits you see going awry and how to change that habit?

FK: One very good habit that leaders would be very wise to emulate is showing an interest in the development of other people, showing an interest in their personal goals as people.  Leaders are thought to be very goal-focused and a big mistake many leaders make is that they don’t stop to think about the fact that they have relationships with people.  They fail to show that interest in people and that has a major impact on the commitment and the level of engagement of the people around them.

SF: My late friend and mentor, Joel DeLuca, used to say, “relationships before strategy” as way to capture that.

FK: That’s a great way of saying it.

SF: If you have been trained and rewarded for getting results, without really caring about those around you as human beings beyond what they provide in terms of value in the work place, then how can you change that habit?

FK: The first step in habit change is to become acutely aware of the nuances of how you treat other people as objects.  The only way that you can get really objective data from others is through anonymous surveys. We have a 360 tool that we help people use to get that clarity. Maybe it is a series of different behaviors such as walking down the hallway and not giving people eye contact because you are on phone, or looking at your smart phone when you are in a meeting, or when you are talking to someone.   All of that telegraphs that I am not very interested in you as a person. So awareness is the first step.  The second step is deciding how important this is to you that you want to change. One of the things that we have done through our research is to show the impact these bad behaviors, bad habits, have on the bottom line. They really do diminish the bottom line in financial terms.

SF: Tell us how you found that.   What did you find in your observations about the connections between character and economic outcomes for businesses?

FK: We collected the return on assets for the two years prior to the time that we conducted our research with each CEO in our study. Then we compared return on asset figures for the ten strongest character CEO’s and teams in our study compared to those at the other end of the character spectrum, the low character CEO’s.  We found, amazingly, nearly 5 times the amount of return on assets for the strong character CEO’s vs. those CEOs low on character.

SF: How did you distinguish between these types of CEO’s in terms of their strong or weak characters?

FK:  Cultural anthropologists have identified certain practices and beliefs that people all over the world practice.  We chose four of these universal moral principles that all cultures teach their children; integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. For those four moral principles we the identified a whole list of behavioral indicators of those four principles. We began with 65 and, through our research, we cut it down it a shorter list of 25.  Then we selected random samples of employees to rate how often the CEO’s and their senior teams display those behaviors.  So, for example, behaviors for integrity is how often they tell the truth and keep their promises.  For responsibility, for example, we ask how often do they own up to their own mistakes and accept the consequences of their decisions. For forgiveness, it was how often do they respond in a curious, forgiving way rather than a shaming and blaming way.  And finally on compassion, it’s how often do they show an interest in people and their personal goals and how often do they treat people as people versus treating them as objects. Once we had the independent ratings from random samples of employees we created an algorithm that put them together in to one overall score, which we call the ‘character score.’ Then we were able to rank these 84 CEO’s based on the strength of their ‘character score.’ And we got a nice spread; it was a matrix that could go from 0 to 100; the highest scoring CEO and team was at 92 and the lowest was at 54.  Then we looked at the two extremes.  We selected the bottom ten CEO’s and their teams and we compared those to the top.  There were really no significant differences in tenure, age or education.  But when we put in the character measures it just jumped out.  Nearly five times greater for the strong character CEO’s.  Also for the level of workforce engagement, it was 26% higher.  The high character CEO’s had a much lower risk profile in legal incidents and lower audit fees compared to their revenue base and fewer morality issues, fewer union problems for those workforces.

SF: So it pays to be good! Phyllis is calling from Pennsylvania.  Phyllis welcome to work and life.

Phyllis: As we are moving forward to a society that is more social media driven, one that has virtual office workers where everyone is communicating via email and managing tasks via email, how do you suggest employees or leaders start driving more towards knowing their employees better, understanding what their interests are and their goals are? I think we are getting a bit disconnected.  I have been in Information Technology for about 17 years and I have seen us moving to a virtual environment in communicating and we are not doing a good job of it. I think we are getting disconnected with people.

SF: That’s a great point that you raise Phyllis, about being less connected. Fred, what do you think about how the digital age has changed the nature of how character is revealed and expressed?

FK: This is the new normal.  Most organizations are global. They not only have distances to deal with, they have different time zones to deal with, so it is definitely a challenge.  But technology is also filling in with face-time services like Google Hangout and others.  I work in a virtual organization and only three or four times a year do I see all of our company together in one spot. We have a lot of opportunities to talk remotely through technology. It takes more effort but there is a real art and skill to showing who you are to another person even when you are on the telephone. With email you have to pay special attention to make it very conversational and to focus on not being so very curt and short, as most of emails are.  It really pays dividends to build relationships that way.

SF: So what do you do to make it work in your organization?  What have you seen in strong character leaders in terms of how they operate virtually? What kinds of things specifically, what sorts of habits do they bring to bear on their relationships?

FK: When anyone started off every meeting just by getting right to the tactics, it could be a problem.  There’s usually some conversations in the beginning, and, just like in face-to-face meetings, they are run by people who have relationships. They just don’t jump in to the business context, they talk about events surrounding them and what you might call small talk, but that is just increasing the lubrication for the relationship.  That can be done by telephones, Face-Time and Skype, for example, just as well as in person.

SF: But the tendency, that Phyllis is raising here, is for us to ignore the pleasantries and small talk, as you call it, that are the grease that make the wheels of relationships run. So how do we reverse that? If you are caught up in the hamster wheel of virtual relationships that get right in to business what can you do to break in to that?

FK: I think it is a matter of awareness and personal discipline to not let that happen. Relationships require maintenance and a lot of people overlook that.  That’s why we have such a disconnected workforce in many companies; because leaders treat employees like objects and don’t pay attention to the relationship. Mangers need to see and understand the connection; if you behave this way it has an impact on the bottom line.  The best place to start is to increase awareness because that provides the fuel for wanting to take care of this as an issue.

SF: The awareness provides the motivation.  I would like to pick up on what you speak about and in your book, Return on Character, as the real reason leaders and their companies win. You have got a blue print there for building your own leadership character and creating character driven organizations that drive better business results. How can people build their own leadership character to make it stronger than it is right now; where should one begin?

FK: You need to begin by popping the bubble we live in. All of us have our own cherished view of ourselves. Everyone views themselves as being of strong character. Through our research we discovered that of these 84 CEO’s there were about 30% of them that had a fairly accurate view. But the other 70 percent grossly overestimated themselves. They were at the bottom of the curve, based on the surveys of their employees, but rated themselves higher than how the so-called virtuoso CEOs rated themselves!

SF: So there is a humility factor with the high character, virtuoso, CEOs.

FK: But CEO’s at the bottom of the curve rated themselves 30 times higher than their employees rated them. So first step in change is to pop that bubble and it is difficult.

SF: Scary.

FK: Most people don’t want to tell you the truth; they learn ways to work around your annoying habits rather than telling what they are. So it is only with real persistence that you are able to get people to tell you the truth. You need to make it very safe for them by being very open and reacting with curiosity rather than by being defensive.

SF: Most people are fearful of speaking truth to power so, as a boss, how do you make it easy for somebody to tell you that you are causing problems for them?  And how can you stay open and keep those channels for feedback open so that you are continually learning how you come across, in terms of your character, to people around you?  How do you keep those channels open?

FK: If you are a boss, one way to demonstrate to others that is safe to give feedback is to openly talk about what you understand are some of your weaknesses and mistakes.  Openly ask, ‘I’m open to hear more about this and that’s why I would love to get feedback’. Now if you have a history of not being so open, then you often won’t have people who are willing to say anything. So it will be a challenge.  You may turn to using a 360 tool to provide people with the cover of anonymity in order to get feedback. If you do use the 360 tool, then you are not able to get a very accurate picture from your direct reports. We discovered that direct reports live in the same bubble along with their manager.  Or they are too fearful that they are going to be identified so they don’t tell the truth. We found that we got much different pictures when we went lower in the organization.  When you cast your net wide then you get real anonymity and the wisdom of the crowd, so you get the best judgment.

SF: So the best data for senior executives is at least a level or two removed from where they sit?

FK: Yes, two or three levels down.

SF: But then you have people observing from afar so they are making attributions about very limited data in terms of what they can observe, right?

FK: This is the beauty of the wisdom of the crowd.  When you combine the judgments of people who are independent of each other then you may only have a certain piece of the puzzle.  But with all aggregated and averaged you will come in with a very accurate picture as has been demonstrated over and over.

SF: So the place to start really is to have the courage to look at what people see when they see you. How does this affect your capacity to bring together work with other parts of your life? If  your character central to who you are, then by being a strong character leader, someone who demonstrates these habits of integrity, compassion, responsibility and forgiveness,  how does that help in terms of being able to create a sense of harmony between work and family and community?

FK: As you change your outward behavior, that is the outer journey.   But there is usually an inner journey that people take when they are focusing on strengthening their character habits. Most people go through an inner journey of trying to understand their whole life and create their own personal narrative. A coherent narrative helps to make sense of some of the painful and unhappy experiences earlier in their lives and they can see the impact these have had on the person they are today. This is just a process of becoming a more integrated person.  Often when you become more other-centered, that is what character is all about; it is becoming more other-centered.  The more you become other-centered the more that you find you are curious about others rather than judgmental.  And all of that is an inner journey that helps to become a more integrated person.   As people achieve that sense of integration they generally report a much more sense of balance and peacefulness in their lives.  They have had time for inner reflections so that they pay attention to other things that are important to them other than just career.

SF: I suspect that you have worked with people who have had transformative experiences that kind of shock them into realizing there’s a problem with their character. What is it that typically up ends a person’s view of themselves that opens them to creating some change?

FK: Well the common concept is that of a wakeup call and that can happen in any number of ways.  For example, having your spouse say, “Honey we need to talk.”   And then to discover that things are fraying at the edges with regard to your home life. That can be a wakeup call.  But just getting the data in 360 [feedback from those around you] about how the organization views you, what your reputation is in the organization, can be a real dramatic wake-up call. We have the experience of that being a jarring experience for people to have their bubble popped, to see how they are truly viewed by others.

SF: Especially the people at the lower end of the spectrum of character. You must get a lot of resistance from people who see a view of themselves that is shocking and discordant with their own view.

FK: Actually we don’t.  If you position this as something that is really smart for them to do, they understand that there is a connection between how they treat people and the bottom line.  And they are motivated to improve the bottom line. And then, of course, the art of being a helper in this kind of journey with somebody is not to be judgmental but to shepherd them through this process. Usually when you give that data to people they take it in what appears to be pretty reasonable fashion.  You find out in the next few days that they have gone through a more dramatic, more painful time. We always say this is not the kind of information that will harm you; it will cause you pain but it won’t be any kind of pain that harms you.  In fact it is the kind of pain that is necessary for growth.

SF: When asking students and clients to do a form of 360 that involves not just their work environment but the other parts of their lives as well, when they engage in dialogue to discover directly how other people see them and they are fearful of doing this because they are afraid of what they are going to find out, my offer to them is wouldn’t you rather know than not know? Leaders have to deal with reality, don’t they?

I am going to be at graduation this weekend here at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Wharton school’s MBA program graduation.  What would you say to the graduates here about what they can be doing and thinking about with respect to taking their characters to the next level of strength and development?

FK: I would ask all of them to reserve time in their lives for reflection and for getting feedback.  They should approach life with curiosity and openness.   That is the best formula for moving down the road of character development; is to be open and vulnerable and curious.

SF: You have been studying this for a long time; what changes have you seen at the top of organizations in the time that you have been in this field and exploring questions of character in the business world?

FK: I have seen some remarkable changes where people come to me privately and say, “How did you manage to pull off a personality transplant?” And it is not that we do that at all.  It is just that we bring the tools to people to really get in touch with who they want to be as people so that their outer behavior matches more closely with their intentions and with the good person that they believe they are and want to be.

SF: It is not magic, there’s a method.

What about the changes in society? What have you seen over the last couple of decades in terms of values, aspirations and character of leaders at the top of organizations?   What trends have you observed?

FK: Over the last 3 or 4 decades we have evolved into much more of a me-focused society especially as it relates to business leaders and other leaders.  But I see encouraging green shoots coming up to change that. Harvard business review just published an article yesterday on compassion and leadership that would never have been something that would have been in that kind of publication even two years ago. So I think society is changing. We also have a whole new group of young people coming up called the millennials that I am pretty high on.  I see them as people that are much more willing to take a look at these kinds of issues and place a higher priority on character development and relationships.

SF: I am seeing that too, not only with my students, but also in our 20-year longitudinal survey. I agree that there is hope for the future as more young people are thinking of what it means to have a positive social presence and impact in the world.

For more information about Fred Kiel visit his web site www.returnoncharacter.com and follow him on Twitter @FKiel.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Solving a Problem Created a Business — Nova Covington

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Nova Covington, CEO and Founder of Goddess Garden Organics.  She joins me today to share her unconventional journey from her rural upbringing to leading one of the fastest growing and most innovative natural skin care companies.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Nova Covington is the Founder of  Goddess Garden Organics. She joins me today to tell us about her unconventional journey from a rural upbringing to leading one of the fastest growing and most innovative natural skin care companies and how her mission driven company is profiting by embodying its values. Nova, could you give us the capsule summary of where you came from and how you got to be the founder of  Goddess Garden?

Nova Covington: I grew up in the Canadian wilderness and the Oregon rainforest. My family was always inspired by natural healing. My great grandmother was an herbalist so she passed down to the family love of things like echinacea and goldenseal. I was brought up thinking natural products were all the  rage everywhere.  It wasn’t until I became a mom in my 30’s that I had an experience with my own daughter that inspired the real impetus for starting the company.  My daughter, Paige, was born and was allergic to synthetic chemicals. Even with the products that I was finding in natural grocery stores, she was still breaking out in hives.  That first year we started with sunscreen and I was like “wow! there’s up to 35% toxic chemicals in this bottle.”  And no wonder she’s having a reaction.

SF: Even in those that were labeled “organic?”

NC: The organic movement hadn’t quite started yet.  Even natural products had parabens and known carcinogens and a lot of synthetics were still being used —  especially bubbles and surfactants.

SF: Surfactants?

NC: Yes. That’s the stuff that makes soap foam. Any foaming is usually a synthetic.  There are a few natural sources, but that was the inspiration for starting the company and we really have bootstrapped this brand. We started as a small farmer’s market brand in Boulder, Colorado. Like other great brands, we grew up in Boulder, like Justin’s and Celestial Seasonings, starting at farmer’s markets learning our market. I was my target market so that helped a lot. I understood what I was looking for and solving a problem really created a business.

SF: How did your growth happen so rapidly or is it only recently that you’ve experienced a surge in interest in your products?

NC: The first event we ever did was back in 2005. We sold out of sunscreen at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  Hindsight being 20/20 I would have ditched all our products and just gone right for sunscreen.  But in 2009 that’s really when we launched in the natural channel.  We launched in Whole Foods and that first year we had about 100 stores. Since 2009 we’ve more than doubled each year. This year we’re on track for more than 170% growth. So we’ve consistently—I jokingly say we’ve — organically grown.  Word of mouth has been huge for us. Folks love our sunscreen.  It’s a little more elegant. If you’ve ever tried a mineral sunscreen, a lot of competitors have very greasy and white formulas.  Ours goes on sheer and it’s nice to use. It even comes in a spray bottle, the container you’re used to with sunscreen. We did some really good innovative things as well. We put testers on the shelf on the first day so folks could try the product before they purchased it.

SF: So sunscreen was the big mover?

NC: That’s right. Sunscreen was the big mover and we’re still only focused on sunscreen. This year we’re launching multiple other categories.  But for that you’ll have to wait till the end of the year. It’s going to be exciting.  You’ll be able to find our new products in the fall in Whole Foods. We’re innovating some really cool concepts between multiple categories in skin care that haven’t been done before. Innovation has really been the name of the game for us. We had the first “testers”, the first family-sized tube in natural and it’s still our top seller. Nobody copied us. And we wonder “why not?” People are always scared of the price point because it is an organic product which has been great for us! It’s made in America. It is more expensive. And we buy from organic farmers in the U.S. So we totally support organic farming businesses here in the U.S.

SF: So you did this out of the need to help your daughter, Paige, deal with the hives she was getting from these synthetic products?  How did that morph into a company with a mission to make a difference?

NC: I think the mission to make a difference came even before the company started.  I started at Hewlett-Packard, had a great corporate career, got a Master’s degree, and did all these different things but the whole time I was thinking, “I’m not using my skills. I really should be doing something good for the earth.” I was training leaders to be better leaders but in the long run is this good for the earth?  That was always in the back of my mind so I knew I needed to do something and my path was going to be to do something influential — developing products like ours.  We’re alternative products is really how I see it, for folks who either have allergies or want a better product for their families. Two, it’s totally safe and effective.  We’re only using pure minerals.  There’s no side effects.  There’s no allergies and in the long run that affects the planet. What’s happening is the sunscreen chemicals are so small that they’re going through our water treatment plants and making it all the way to the ocean — even from the middle of the country like where I am in Colorado. There’s bleaching happening in the coral reef and they have tied it to sunscreen.   If you go to a snorkeling tour in Mexico, if your bottle doesn’t say “reef safe” on it, it will be taken away by the Mexican government in the protected areas.

SF: Wow!

NC: The Mexican government is all over it.  And of course you don’t want to be in and out on a snorkeling trip without sunscreen.

SF: Of course, but you have to have sunscreen that’s not going to kill the reefs.

NC: It’s the same environmental issues. We can’t process it out in the water treatment plants.  That’s actually why it’s a hormone disruptor for us as humans, especially for kids, and there’s infinite websites that I have used throughout my career.  The entire website was created as a breast cancer research database to help determine what the healthy product is and what’s safe.

SF: So what would you say are the core values of Goddess Garden?

NC: We want people to enjoy the sun again. We want people to have peace of mind, as they are putting on their sunscreen, that they are not doing more damage to themselves and the planet and it’s the best possible product and that you’re well protected. I mean the sunscreen is serious. Those bad burns are the ones we know we don’t want. Parents take it very seriously. They really want to know the product works and so that peace of mind is being able to enjoy the sun again and we’re a family brand. Our employees are treated as a family as well. So, I think that family values, and not in the generic sense, but caring about people and flexibility in the workplace is always one of the benefits that I make sure my employees have.

SF: How does that play out?  Can you give us an example of what a common practice might be in order to be ensure that people have flexibility and are being honored for who they are outside of work as well as at work?

NC: One of my marketing team members took three weeks to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  And I said “do it.” He used all his paid time off and took some unpaid time as well. We’re still a fairly small company. We’re still under 50 employees.  I think being able to travel and do those once in a lifetime opportunities that come your way whether it’s travelling with your family, whatever it is that inspires people.  And a lot of people volunteer. They spend their time in outside organizations so on certain days in the week they say, “okay see you later” and go and volunteer for whatever it is. I think having work-life balance is really critical for me as well as my entire company.

SF: How is it for you as the CEO? I’m sure it’s not easy to draw those boundary lines to enable you to be the mother you want to be, spouse, friend, et cetera.  How do you do it personally?

NC: I think the first lesson is “you’re not perfect.” If I’m being an awesome CEO, I’m not being a perfect mom. If I’m a perfect mom, I’m not a great CEO. So, you can’t really be perfect all things at the same time.

SF: Bravo! It’s an important idea. You can’t do everything all at once.

NC: No. One little step at a time is how we got here. We always tell the team that each day to do what you can and chip away at the goals and head towards the vision.  And all of a sudden you’re there. Wow! Yeah we made it!

SF: So what does that mean for you though personally as you try to accept “okay, I’m not perfect.”  You have to make some adjustments in order to be the person and the leader you want to be.  And not just work but in the other parts of your life.  What are some of the most important principles that you try to follow to realize that ideal?

NC: I think one is not trying to micromanage and control every aspect of the business. I have fantastic people who I totally trust. I’ve collected these amazing people in our company that are from all over the place, from great brands, that have really done great things like Chipotle and Starbucks.

Having people that I really trust;  and without my supportive husband who’s been the real reason why I could not have a salary for a few years in the beginning when starting the company, and all those things that you do, the sacrifices you make as an entrepreneur. He has been so supportive. He’s actually the formulator of the products; he has a nutritional science background.  He’s really been the rock. And a year-and-a-half ago he left his upper level management job at IBM to join the company.

So, he’s my COO now. That is the key to me having more balance and having somebody great that I trust in that role.  He does the CFO job as well. He has an MBA from CU Boulder with upper level management experience from IBM.  He had about 400 employees under him and he helps me a lot. Without his help, I wouldn’t have as much work-life-balance as I do. We’re usually juggling.

SF: How do you find time for your personal life and your family time when you’ve got your COO next to you at home?

NC: Well, our kids start to bill us a dollar every time we mention Goddess Garden. They cut us off, “can you discuss this later at work?  We don’t want to talk about Goddess Garden.” I have an 11 year old and a 4 year old and the 4 year old is happy to cut you off!

SF: The 11 year old?

NC: She’s pretty into it. She sees herself as a part of the brand.  Up until this last year her picture was on the package with mine — another very unconventional move that we made.

SF: You mean to have your personal picture on there?

NC: Yeah that was an innovation as well and now I see a lot of brands putting a picture of someone on the front.  But we did a big re-brand in the fall and launched in March with our brand new packaging with a great design firm from San Francisco

SF: So your kids cut you off but, how do the two you, your husband/COO/CFO, find time to devote to the things that are beyond your company when you’re together at home?

NC: There’s a few things we do. We have a lot of hobbies in common like road biking. He supports me while I’m doing yoga and I support him while he’s mountain biking. I think spending time to do the things that you need to regenerate yourself is important. And then we have date night once a week. Having time together without the kids, without the business. Especially when he joined the company full time that was when we said, “Ok, we need a night designated as our time.”

SF: And how does that effect the performance of your company – having the time that’s just for the two of you?  In other words, how do investments in your family life, community and for yourself actually help you at work?

NC: By staying more connected, which is super important when you’re running a company together, you have to make sure you agree on things.  Communication is really important. We do take time, when the kids are asleep, to talk about business issues. We have a 9 PM cut off rule; past 9 PM we can’t talk about business anymore. Those are some of our techniques that we’ve accumulated to help us stay balanced. And still, you struggle everyday. Balance is an ideal we all shoot for but you have your days when it gets a little out of control.

SF: I abhor the term “balance.” And I’ve been advocating for over 25 years now that we talk about harmony or integration among the different parts of life because balance is impossible. A better way to think about it is how to create a sense of integration or harmony over the course of our whole life not at any one minute.

NC: I love it! Not having a separate work self,  I think being myself at work helps me. I totally agree with your point on balance. I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions but I choose a word for the year and a couple of years ago my word was balance. About half way through the year I said, you know balance is always a struggle.  It’s like a knife edge you’re trying to stay on top of. I agree with you; it’s the wrong metaphor. And harmony was my word of the next year after that.

SF: What does the future hold?

NC: We’re going into 4000 CVS stores Memorial Day Weekend. We’re in REI and all the natural grocery stores.

To learn more about Nova Covington and Goddess Garden visit their web site www.goddessgarden.com

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Bulletproof in Work and Life: Dave Asprey

Contributor: Arjan Singh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dave Asprey, a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur who spent a couple of decades and $300,000 to hack his own biology. He’s lost 100 pounds without counting calories or excessive exercise, used techniques to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points, and he has lowered his biological age by learning to sleep more efficiently in less time. This transformed him into a better entrepreneur, husband and father.  He’s the Founder and CEO of Bulletproof, a company focused on teaching people how to upgrade their performance in every aspect of their life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You were a very successful person when I first met you, over a decade ago, when you were a student here at Wharton.  You decided, though, that you wanted to make some dramatic changes in your life. What was the spark? Why and then how did you make significant changes in your own life and body?

Dave Asprey: Dave AspreyYou actually get some of the credit for that spark. I took your Total Leadership class. I was already working on upping my brain and I recognized that I was obese.  I had already lost a lot of weight before I met you. I lost half the weight that I wanted to lose.  It was interesting to understand that I needed to get my brain working right in order to get the spiritual and emotional things that we are capable of when we are performing really well. And what happened when I was in your Total Leadership class is that you encouraged a type of quantification, a measurement.  I was focusing on my weight, how much was I eating, my IQ, my reaction time, and what I could do for those variables. But I never looked at investment return on the time and energy that I put into things. And it was your framework that said “if you’re spending a lot of energy in a particular area and you’re not getting results, maybe you shouldn’t do that.” And that made me start looking at how can I make this easier instead of just how can I get this done.  It is that sense of ease and ability to not just do it with struggle and striving and just working really hard but to do it with a little bit of effortlessness and joy. That has become a big part of me becoming successful as a human being and bio-hacker.

SF: How did you create that sense of ease or joy in the process of taking care of yourself?

DA: We have this model that I wrote about in my recent book The Bulletproof Diet. The easiest way to explain it is to think about a Labrador Retriever, a big sloppy dog, and if you look at a three behavior set a dog has, those are behaviors that we have.

One, if something comes in front of our vision then we’re either attracted or scared by it and want to run away. This is a good survival behavior. It’s kept us from getting eaten by tigers and ensures we find interesting stuff. But it might distract us when we want to stay on task.

And then we have this other survival behavior which is eat anything so we don’t starve. And it keeps us from starving, but it doesn’t work if it is getting in our way. That Labrador will eat something even if it makes it sick or even if it gets obese. And these are instincts that fuel us, too.

And the final thing has to do with reproduction of species. The dog sees a leg and it wants to mate with that leg.  These three human behaviors can cause an enormous amount of stress and struggle. And the one that I found was most pernicious was food. Because if you’re eating stuff that makes you constantly just a little bit hungry – or even worse, “hangry,” the combination of hunger and anger.

SF: Hangry? What does that mean in terms of how it affects work and life?

DA: When you get hungry that “Labrador” in your body starts to get growly and then you treat people unkindly. To get past that, using willpower, comes at a cost.

Your willpower is a finite resource and you don’t want to waste willpower on being hungry all the time. You don’t want to waste willpower on doing things that are really hard for you, especially if they are things that are easy for someone else. So for me I made a resolution that I was going to spend my energy on things that I was really good at, or uniquely good at. And I would take the things that either did not bring me joy,  things that were more difficult than they should be, and I would find someone who enjoyed them or was just better at them than I was and I would work with them.

I don’t try to address my weaknesses. I try to fill them in with partners.

SF: Can you give an example of that?

DA: Even though I did go to Wharton, finance to me is like Valium; it knocks me out. I don’t like accounting and I don’t like finance. So I hired a kick-ass Chief Financial Officer instead of pouring extra effort into that when I would’ve gotten sub-par results anyway. And it’s the same reasoning you teach in Total Leadership. If you’re putting effort into this and you’re getting very little return, then you need to change your technique put in less effort. It’s a relatively simple example; hire a good CFO.  But if I was weak at marketing and strong at finance, I would hire a Chief Marketing Officer.

SF: It’s really about knowing what your strengths are – what you’re good at and what you enjoy – and knowing where you should invest.

DA: Exactly. It is easy to do the things you’re good at, and like, and it’s fun.

SF: How did this apply to your diet? And how did that affect your career?

DA: I spent seven weeks of my life with electrodes glued to my head doing advanced neurofeedback in a program called 40 Years of Zen. It teaches you byusing a lie detector when your body is perceiving something that you believe or don’t believe. It’s an advanced form of meditation.

SF: Your focus on getting data that helps you learn is inspiring.

DA: During this time, it gave me a very keen awareness of the inner dialogue that we all have. It’s different for each of us, but we all have this inner voice in our heads. What I learned was that every time someone put a bagel, a cookie, or a piece of candy in front of me, there was an immediate response – almost like a knee jerk reaction – that said “Eat that.” And I would tell myself “No, don’t eat that.” It’s the same as when you train a dog. You tell the dog “Don’t eat that” and the dog says “No.”

If you eat in such a way that induces food cravings, then you will feel that those cravings are hunger.  But every time there is food, you will use your willpower that should be going into making yourself an awesome life, making yourself good at your work, or good at what ever that matters to you and you’ll apply it to telling yourself not too eat that hamburger or whatever it is. Since willpower is a finite resource, there is willpower fatigue, there is decision making fatigue – like muscle fatigue.

Why would I waste muscle on basically telling myself no to something?

The breakthrough was figuring out that there are things you can do by either avoiding causes of food cravings or by fueling the body properly so when someone sets that bagel or cookie in front of you, it doesn’t register and your body doesn’t tell you “Eat that” and you don’t have to tell it “No” because you are actually satisfied by your diet.

SF: What are the keys to a high performance lifestyle?

DA: Number one: meditate. There are so many ways to meditate. You can just do deep breaths, you can take a class on meditation, or you can do the neurofeedback way that I have done. Find a way to meditate and use technology to do it faster.

Number two: don’t sleep too much. More sleep is not better or worse. It’s just more sleep. People who live the longest sleep six and a half hours a night. That doesn’t mean you should sleep less. It means that people that are healthy need less sleep and that’s why they are living longer. Get healthier, you will need less sleep and you will free up extra time every day.

Number three: don’t over-exercise. People who listen to your show, people who are high performers are naturally driven to do things that are supposed to make them stronger, better, and faster. When I weighed 300 pounds, I exercised 90 minutes a day, six days a week for almost two years and I didn’t lose the weight. The reason was that over-exercise is just as bad as under-exercise. You can get four or five hours a week of productive time back by exercising more intelligently, by doing it intensely for short periods once or twice a week instead of doing it for long periods every day.

SF: Where would you advise listeners to start?

DA: There are two easy places. The first one is the Bulletproof Diet Book explains all of these bio-hacks, including this psychology of willpower and food and how that willpower bleeds over into your business performance and your life performance. That book is a condensed version of the quarter million words or so that I have written on the Bulletproof Blog.

That said, on the Bulletproof Blog homepage, there’s a get started link that gives you basic things to do. The whole point of Bulletproof is not to be perfect, not to do everything. It’s about choice.  If we can help you understand on a roadmap that choice A leads you to slightly better performance than does choice B, then just make choice A. And the difference in your overall performance can be profound.

SF: What’s in store and on the horizon?

DA: The Bulletproof Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, California is slated to open in May. We are hiring for that.  The rest of the Bulletproof team is virtual and we are hiring for that, as well. It is a good sized company and we have people all over the west coast who work from home, which is a new model there. In May, a documentary called Moldy will be released. This is about a very common source of what I call Kryptonite – things that make us weak that we don’t know about in our environment. And we are going to open more coffee shops and continue producing content, especially about things affecting 100 million people that they don’t know about.

To learn more about Dave Asprey, please check out Bulletproof and follow him on Twitter @bulletproofexec

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

ArjanArjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC) Singh is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

Finding Career Purpose in Tragedy’s Aftermath — Chris Marvin

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Chris Marvin, WG’11, Managing Director of Got Your 6.  He previously served as a US Army officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal.  After returning from combat, he has worked as an advocate for other veterans, notably as the Director of the Fellowship Program of The Mission Continues. Marvin earned an MBA from Wharton, where he was a student in Friedman’s Total Leadership course.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: As a wounded veteran, what was your experience like when you came home?

Chris Marvin: ChrisMarvinI was wounded in a helicopter crash near the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2004.  I was a platoon leader for an army aviation unit.  I was 25 years old, I had 25 soldiers and officers under my command, I was in charge of $25 million of equipment, and to top it all of, I was also in the 25th infantry division.

I broke both of my arms and my foot, damaged my face, knees, hips and shoulders.  When I came home, I was really struck by a few different things.  First, there are a lot of people willing to help.  I was very lucky that I had family that was very supportive, and the medical system was helpful to me during my four-year recovery.  About a year after my crash, I was going to my mailbox, and I pulled out an envelope that was addressed to me from a nonprofit I had never heard of.  Inside was a $500 check.  At the time I didn’t need the money.  These people didn’t know me and didn’t know whether I needed it or not, but they sent it anyway because they had my address and they knew I was wounded.

SF: They were trying to be helpful.

CM:  Yes, but to me, it felt like they assumed I was in need of charity or pity, and I didn’t feel that I needed that. I had a lot to live for and a lot to get back to and wanted to be challenged to continue my service and leadership.  So, I gave the $500 to a local food bank because I knew that the community—wounded veterans or not—needed that money more than I did, and it set me on a path.  I found that little spark that resided in me to help people. And I used that to help others understand that veterans, wounded veterans especially, are not always in need of charity.  A lot of times we just want to be challenged to continue our service here at home and to be part of something greater than ourselves.  I spent a lot of time working with other veterans and on the national network to help veterans re-instill that sense of purpose in their lives.

SF: Why was it important for you personally to be able to help other wounded veterans?

CM: We have a group of people who have chosen to serve in the military over the past decade or so.  If you think about it, these are a few million people that have raised their hands and volunteered to fight the longest war in the history of America. They’re predisposed to service in some way and they’re taught leadership skills funded by our taxpayer dollars, so they’re tax-subsidized leaders, if you will.   And when we come back and are out of our uniform, we don’t stop feeling predisposed for service and trained to be leaders.  We want to continue to do that.  The problem is that oftentimes Americans don’t expect us to do that.  They thank us for our service and expect that we’re done.  But for me, I was 25 years old, and I had a lot ahead of me.  I wasn’t done with anything; I had barely started anything.  For me, it was important to rediscover a sense of purpose, and I did it in a few different ways.  A couple of years after I received that check I discovered a nonprofit that was challenging wounded veterans to do service in their communities.  That nonprofit was called The Mission Continues, and I got in on the ground floor and led their fellowship program for a few years before I came to Wharton.

SF: Tell us a little more about your role in leading the fellowship program at The Mission Continues, which was co-founded by Eric Greitens, who was one of the subjects of my recent book, Leading the Life You WantHe was one of the six people I profiled, and you’re the one who introduced me to him.

CM: He’s a great leader and a great mentor.  I was in recovery and living at home in Hawaii.  They were just getting started and didn’t have a lot of funds.  We were giving out fellowships for wounded veterans to engage in volunteer service in their own communities.  We were able to do this for a few dozen people while I was there.  Since I left, they’ve really blossomed financially, and they’ve given out thousands of these fellowships.  They’re the leader in what we now call the veterans empowerment movement, which refers to these groups of nonprofits that aren’t treating veterans as charity cases but are instead asking them to step up and become leaders in their civilian communities.

SF: What led you to Wharton?

CM: I was lucky that because I was wounded, I was then exposed to people from the military community who are operating at a very high level like Eric Greitens or others who had served in the military and were making the transition to bigger and brighter things.  I thought that maybe business school would be a good for me.  I look back on these things, and they all stem from one incident, one event in my life, which was being wounded in combat.  It took me a long time to realize it, but that helicopter crash was a pivotal event and I came to understand the idea that something so tragic could also be something so beneficial.

SF: In Leading the Life You Want, I describe how great leaders find creative ways to use their experience, sometimes traumatic, to benefit others.  What did it take for you to convert that terrible experience into a transformative event that propelled you to a better life in some way?

CM: I don’t think there was a moment when I decided that I was going to change.  I think that was always in my mind.  Whether it was conscious or not, it was hard for me to admit it out loud.  There was one fatality in that helicopter crash, and you don’t ever want to say that that was the best thing that ever happened to me because that day wasn’t a good day.  It wasn’t about that day or about where the helicopter ended up or about the individuals that were injured and the one that died.  It was about every day beyond that day.  I think that it was always innate in me—even as I lay in that hospital bed—either get busy living or get busy dying.  You either give up or you don’t, and I never had any intention to give up even when I was still trapped in that helicopter before they extracted me from that aircraft.  While we often say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, I don’t believe that’s how society tends to look at returning wounded veterans.  They often assume that we’re in a really bad place, but maybe for most of us who have been wounded—depending on our injuries—it could be and probably should be one of the better things or best things that’s happened to us, at least from the perspective of a formative experience that’s full of growth.

SF: What exactly did you have to do to be able to convert that experience into something of value in your future?

CM: I think one of the major lessons is the idea that in one moment everything I had to wake up for in the morning was gone.  Then the only thing I had to wake up for was my physical therapy.  So I focused on that for a while until that was no longer something that I needed to focus on all day every day.  And then you try to focus on something else.  The discovery is finding that sense of purpose, and I had a lot of things fill in the blanks before I found The Mission Continues.  I used to be the guy who played really conventional sports in high school—golf, basketball, baseball, and track—and I ran track in college.  But after my injuries, I couldn’t do almost any of those.  The one thing that I can’t do very well now is run and jump, which is very ironic for a college triple jumper.  But I started surfing and doing yoga, which are low impact.  I also learned Hawaiian; it was part of my experience of being there and being in that culture.  I took up these things to fill that time gap and that purpose gap. There were many things that I found to fill my time, of which the Mission Continues was not the least of them, in working with other veterans to find their purpose.

SF: So tell us about how Got Your 6 works.  What do you do, and how does it help?

CM: Got Your 6 is the endeavor to change the narrative in America about the veteran.  So you heard me tell the story about the $500 check and how I didn’t want to be treated with pity or with charity.  We think that those narratives are too prevalent in our culture.   We’ve done some great surveys asking Americans what sort of cultural perceptions of veterans are typical, and it’s two things: broken heroes.  It takes a measure of cognitive dissonance to believe that someone is both broken and heroic at the same time.  For us, those things are fine—we’re not telling anyone that they’re doing anything wrong—but at Got Your 6 we try to normalize the portrayal of veterans.  We specifically focus on the entertainment industry.

We have relationships with the major studios, networks, and agencies in Hollywood where we’re able to work with their content creators.  We help inform them about the breadth of veteran experience that they could be incorporating into their shows and films.  We show them that they don’t have to very heavy-handed about it.  It doesn’t have to be a veteran show about a veteran character with a veteran storyline.  The best example is Modern Family.  Ed O’Neill’s character is a small business owner, a patriarch, and a loveable guy who mentions every once in a while that he was in the Navy.  So he’s a normalized veteran.  He’s a lot of things, and he happens to be a veteran.

SF: That cues the watching audience that there’s a normal guy who’s doing normal things who is also a veteran.  How does that help returning veterans?

CM: I think what our society has done over the past decade or so is to exceptionalize veterans, whether it’s positively or negatively.  Our society has a notion that veterans are different and separate from civilians, and when you exceptionalize, by nature, you’re segregating—you’re pushing them outside of societal norms.  Our society has the conception that how a veteran will react to societal norms is different from how a civilian would, but it’s just not true.  One of the biggest things we joke about is how veterans are people too.  They’re mothers and fathers and husbands and wives, and they’re living the rest of their lives—usually the majority of their lives—after their military service.

SF: But they have had a unique experience, right?  So in some ways, that does make them exceptional.

CM: Not everyone’s had helicopter crashes.  In fact, less than half of the people who served in the military since 9/11 even went to combat.  That’s important, but all of us did maybe two things that were very similar: we all wore a uniform at some point, and we all received tax-subsidized leadership training.  So you as taxpayers have invested in this cohort of people by given us this training.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t ask for a bit of a return on that investment. That is what we’re trying to promote and what the data support as well.  A lot of the problems that we hear anecdotally about veterans aren’t supported by the general cohort’s data.  Take, for example, unemployment.  Veterans have been more employed than civilians for around 102 of the last 105 months.  When people try to narrow it down and say that that young veterans are unemployed at a higher rate than all other people, perhaps they are, but that’s usually because they’re young or they’re job switchers or they’re taking some time off.  Usually it’s not because they’re veterans.

SF: There are a couple things that are in the news that I want to make sure that I get your take on.  American Sniper had a huge box office this past weekendYou have seen it; in fact, I understand that you prescreened it.  What’s your take?

CM: I was lucky to prescreen it and attend the premiere in New York, which was fantastic.  We at Got Your 6 think that for the most part American Sniper got it right for veterans.  That means a couple of things.  Veterans are really nitpicky about the technical details. Nobody in Hollywood is going to get it perfect, but as far as films go, this one got a lot of the technical details right.  To the degree that it is showing the American public what it might be like to be in Iraq or Afghanistan, I think it did a great job of that.

I think that what is really revealing for American Sniper was that when Chris Kyle, the character that Bradley Cooper plays, runs into a little bit of difficulty, he’s able to solve the difficulty by helping other people.  I think that’s a storyline that’s not always going to be worthy of the big screen but that we see over and over again in the veteran community.  Veterans who might be struggling and looking for that sense of purpose can often find it if they start helping other people.  That’s the language that you speak as a veteran and as a military member.  That’s why you do this in the first place.

SF: Part of the struggle is that his commitment is so overwhelming that it creates real tension in his marriage.  What did you think about that portrayal of work-family conflict?

CM: It’s a really tough nut to crack when you talk about some of the difficulties that families deal with when they’re separated. The military causes these separations and, in the last decade, on a more frequent basis for many.  About 4.3 million people have been in the military, and about 2.5 went to Iraq and Afghanistan.  That’s a large group of people who fought the longest war in the history of America.  It was an all-volunteer force, so this isn’t something that’s forced upon them and their families, but it doesn’t make it any easier to have mom or dad gone for six, nine, or even twelve months.  I think American Sniper deals with that well and deals with some of the reconciliation at the end, and that’s really important as well.

SF: To see their struggle and how they had to work through that tension was very powerful.  It seemed realistic to me, though perhaps a little soft around the edges.  We didn’t really get into the guts of the difficulties, but you saw the tension and the psychological disengagement that he continued to suffer.  He was so focused on the war even when he was back at home, so much so that he couldn’t be a part of his family’s life and that was a real struggle for him and for his wife.

CM: American Sniper did a really good job to show his desire to be back with his unit when he was at home and his desire to be with his family when he was with his unit overseas. This guy was at the top of his profession—he was one of the greatest American snipers. He’s really great at that, but he also wants to be a really great dad and husband too.  You can’t do both of those things at the exact same time.  They are in a way mutually exclusive.

SF: But he finds a way, over the course of his life, to create a kind of harmony.

CM: I think over the course of his life, he does, but not within the deployments.  Clint Eastwood and the team did a great job of showing the back and forth.

SF: You were at the White House today.  Can you tell us what’s on the horizon for Got Your 6 and what work you’re doing with the federal government?

CM: The big thing we’re able to do, because we work with nonprofits and the entertainment industry at the same time, is that we can bring the subject matter experts—the people who are working with veterans at nonprofits—to the content creators in Hollywood to help create some more true, real-life scenarios.  I hope in the future American Sniper and other films like Lone Survivor that have done it really well won’t be the exception.  They’ll be the norm.  And I hope we’ll have a part in doing this as well.

SF: So we’ll be hearing more from you.  What’s the key message that you want our listeners to take away from what Got Your 6 is all about?

CM: We want people to believe that veterans make America stronger and that veterans make America stronger when they come back to your community, your church, your school, your neighborhood, and your workplace.  The training that they’ve gotten, the leadership experience they’ve received, and some of the struggles that they’ve endured have made them stronger.  Instead of broken, we like to say battle-tested.  And I’ll leave one call to action for your audience.  The next time you’re with a veteran, and you want to say thank you for your service, please go ahead and do it, but promise to ask a second question or make a second comment as well.  Dive deeper into the conversation.  Don’t walk away after thanking them because I’ll just speak for all veterans and say that’s the part that we actually don’t like.  We want the second question.  We want you to ask something else and show us that you care a little bit about what we’ve done beyond the “Thank you for your service.”

To learn more about Chris Marvin and Got Your Six, please visit www.gotyour6.org, or follow on Twitter @GotYour6 or @ChrisMMarvin.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Andrea Yeh Andrea Yehis an undergraduate junior majoring in Operations and Information Management and in International Relations.

Projects, Not Jobs: Jody Miller, Business Talent Group

Contributor: Sathvik Ramanan

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jody Miller, the Co-Founder and CEO of the Business Talent Group, which teams up the world’s best independent professionals to provide consulting and project-based support to companies. Jody previously served in senior roles in business, government, media and law, and was deputy to David Gergen under President Bill Clinton and White House fellow under George H. W. Bush as well as mover and shaker at Time-Life, Lehman Brothers, and Americast. Before founding BTG, Ms. Miller was a venture partner with Maveron, the Seattle-based venture capital firm, from 2000 to 2007. Stew spoke with Jody about project-based work and other disruptions in she made to the otherwise standard career path.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: After going into venture capital, how did you get to where you are today?

Jody Miller: 625_Jody MillerI enjoyed venture capital but it’s still very different to be an investor than to be someone who’s really driving a business. I missed that.  And, at the same time, I was being sought out to do consulting projects because I knew a lot about interactive television from my experience at Americast. I started building teams, finding other independent professionals—many of whom worked at major consulting firms—and started helping clients who were coming to me solve their problems with these independent professionals. Before I knew it, I was one of the largest outside contractors to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, doing a series of five projects all with different teams constructed of independent professionals.  What they were saying to me was Boy, this is really interesting and unique. No one else is really doing this.

SF: What was interesting and unique to them?

JM: One was that no one else was offering them this blend of former consultants with former executives. Number two was that it was actually producing a better result for them than just going to a classic consulting model.

SF: You mean it was less expensive?

JM: No, that was the third. But the actual result was better because what they ended up having were people who had deep knowledge about whatever it was that they were doing. So for example, one of the first projects we did was on education, helping them with an online education company they’d invested in. We brought in someone that had actually led an online education company and paired them with a former consultant and that combination produced a really magical result for the client.

SF: So you’re able to access talent that’s very specifically relevant for the project.

JM: Exactly.

SF: And most of the people that you connected to project work are not in the work of sales and creating the business, but rather they do the implementation. Is that right?

JM: Our projects can be very significant and involved, but a lot of the folks in this market want to think about the project itself. They want to think about the problems. They don’t want to just be responsible for overseeing, which is what happens in a lot of consulting firms where you rise to the top and your job becomes selling business rather than rolling up your sleeves and actually doing the work.

SF: What kinds of effects are you seeing in the talent-side of the equation in terms of people’s lives and how people are changed by this form of employment?

JM: It’s really interesting. We survey our talent pretty frequently, and they always say the same thing about why they’re doing this. Surprisingly, it’s not flexibility—that isn’t even in the top two. Most importantly, they want to choose what they work on and who they work for. They don’t want to be forced to work with people they don’t like.

SF: Well that’s a kind of flexibility; it’s just not about time.

JM: That’s true, but it’s fascinating. Psychologically, it’s also really interesting. Let’s just say there’s a great project available but with somebody who’s really not someone’s cup of tea. It’s a different mindset if you know its only going to be for this project and then you’re out of there.

SF: You think, I can put up with this jerk for another two weeks because this is a really cool project, and I’m excited about it.

JM: Exactly. I’ll put up with this guy or this woman for a bit, and then I’m out of here. That’s very different than if you’re in a permanent situation where you’re thinking I just can’t do this anymore. It frees you up in a way that I think is very liberating for people. Obviously, it’s also nice to be able to decide when you take on projects. I have a hypothesis that when this model really does become ubiquitous, the rate for summer work will be significantly higher than the rate for work during the school year. A lot of people want more time in the summer, and I think the market doesn’t adjust for that today, but it will someday.

SF: Interesting! So what other tips can you give to people who want to be successful in this new labor market? What do you think are the keys? You mentioned having the stomach for some uncertainty and being able to present yourself in terms of the work that’s relevant to the task at hand. What else is there?

JM: Staying current. You’ve got to have a sense of where the world is going and how you fit into it. If you need to supplement your existing skills, you need to know what those things you need are and how to get them. It requires a constant ability to understand where your skills are and where the market’s needs are, and then you get the skills you need to supply what’s most in demand.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

To learn more about Jody Miller and her company, visit her web site www.businesstalentgroup.com or follow her on twitter @jodygmiller

About the Author

Sathvik Ramanan Sathvik Ramananis an undergraduate freshman in the Vagelos Program in the Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania.

This CEO’s Got Your Number — Shelly Ibach

Contributor: Sathvik Ramanan

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Shelly Ibach, president and CEO of Select Comfort Corporation, an innovative leader in sleep products and services and creator of the Sleep Number bed. She was recently recognized as one of the Girl Scouts’ Women of Distinction. Stew spoke with Ms. Ibach on creating a corporate culture that values the employee as a whole person and how to connect employees to a company’s mission and vision.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us more about the connection between your sleep products and that end goal of individualizing the sleep experience and enriching it and how this affects what you do as a CEO to shape the company’s culture and its business strategy?

Shelly Ibach: Shelly IbachAs a mission-based culture, it was always important for us to establish a vision that was really big enough for the mission.  Our strategy and mission are consumer-based, and we are focused on innovation.  This means we need to have deep insight into our customers and be able to translate them into innovations that will solve sleep problems.

SF: So you have to be listening very carefully.

SI: Absolutely, and pay attention to trends. When you’re an innovator, it’s not only about the invention, but it’s also about the application. So the simplicity for the consumer is critical.

SF: Simplicity so that that they can understand what it is that you’re offering and how it’s going to help them?

SI: Exactly, and in the example of SleepIQ technology, all you have to do is get in bed and sleep. You don’t have to turn anything on; there’s nothing you need to wear, and it’s a full-body algorithm about you as an individual. And that information is there for when you want it. To be able to take an invention, like the sensor technology that comes with SleepIQ, and then move that into a consumer durable so that it truly is the inner net of things – that’s the kind of work that our team passionately pursues on behalf of our customers.

SF: What do you need to do to enable your employees to come to work every day, not only well rested, but also impassioned about this mission?

SI: We have to have an environment where everyone is clear on our goals, our strategic framework, and our vision. Our vision is to become one of the world’s most beloved brands by delivering unparalleled sleep experiences.  Everyone must understand how their role can specifically contribute to our strategic, long-term vision. People want to, and need to, be able to contribute and bring their whole self to work and be valued for their contributions.

SF: So How do you produce that line of sight between what I as an employeedo every day  and that inspiring end goal? What are the practices that help people see that connection?

SI: A big part of it is embracing diversity and striving to unleash each individual’s greatness. We have a number of recognition programs and one of our annual and most important recognition programs is called the Bradley Erickson Award. This is an award that is voted on by peers at headquarters. We seek to recognize a person or a team that has not only led innovation or collaboration across the organization, but also embraces the whole person, so it’s personal as well as work-related.

SF: So this is about recognition – it speaks to your values – and that’s certainly what you want to do with recognition programs. But on a day-to-day basis, how is it that you help people to see the connection between who they are as individuals and what you’re trying to do as a company?

SI: Our customer is at the core of everything we do. So at any meeting that we go to in our organization, you’re going to hear about “Sarah.” “Sarah” is our target customer. That helps connect the mission and the vision and the strategy. Everyone is thinking and making decisions on behalf of “Sarah,” and that’s a common thread throughout our organization.

SF: So “Sarah” is a fictional person who embodies the central brand proposition?

SI: Absolutely, yes. We get to know “Sarah,” not just from a demographic perspective, but from a psychographic one, and we strive to understand what she values and how our innovation can contribute to her life and improve not only her life, but her family’s life. That’s what motivates us.

SF: So as you talk to other CEOs, what do you share about your company’s practices that others find intriguing or try to adopt themselves? What should people who run companies or parts of companies be focused on as they try to figure out creative ways in their lives or in their businesses to connect the individual to the core interests of the end user – the customer, consumer or client?

SI: For us, it goes back to the customer. We do everything with our customer in mind. We’re a company that has a net promoter score, so we measure from our customer’s point of view whether they’re interested in repeating and referring. That’s the most important measurement we have. We believe that as we continue to evolve and focus on our customer’s experience, it translates to financial improvement as well.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Sathvik Ramanan Sathvik Ramananis an undergraduate freshman in the Vagelos Program in the Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania.

Radical Innovator in Healthcare — Stephen Klasko

Contributor: Akshat Shekhar

Work and Life is radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Stephen Klasko, President and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University.  Dr. Klasko has advocated for a more holistic approach to health care delivery, along with the smaller iterative changes that make such an approach possible.

The following are excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about “interactive action” and why that’s so important.

Stephen Klasko: Stephen KlaskoPart of what we’ve done in healthcare is focus on the past. Think about everything you can do as a consumer online.  The Friday after Thanksgiving you can be in your pajamas watching Game of Thrones and do all your holiday shopping.  But if you have a stomachache can you put “stomachache” on your iPhone and get an appointment with a doctor?

SF: WebMD—doesn’t it do that?

SK: No because with WebMD you cannot get an appointment with a doctor or really do “telehealth” like you would do anything else.  My goal is to look at what’s going to be obvious 10 years from now in healthcare and just start doing that today. A lot of that is changing the DNA of the system one physician at a time. The number one thing about the Affordable Care Act that hasn’t really been talked about is that we haven’t changed the physicians. Our physicians are living in the 80s and 90s, and yet we’re trying to build a 21st century healthcare system.

SF: Let’s stay on this concept of “interactive action,” and then talk in more detail about what you’re doing to change both the mindset and skillset of the medical community. How does “interactive action” come into play?

SK: We’ve gone to our docs and said, “I want you to visualize yourself as a patient, figure out what you would want if you were in their shoes, and then just start doing it.” I’ll give you a couple of examples. We started a model where our doctors, nurses, and population health professions are all working together in a simulation. We have things happen that would normally happen in a hospital, and we look specifically for their first communication. After, we talk to them about what they can do to change the way they interact with other folks in order to be more effective. There’s almost none of that in medical school. I never learned how to interact with a team member until I learned by doing when something went wrong.

SF: This simulated environment is for the seasoned professionals already on the job, right?

SK: Actually it’s for both. We created the Center for Transformation Innovation not only for the seasoned professionals, but also for our medical students. Everything about medical education is ‘look to the left of you, look to the right of you—only one of you will get in.’ It’s constant competition in medical education, but then we’re amazed when physicians don’t work together as high-powered teams. A lot of my research has been based on what makes physicians different from average people. Interactive action is about taking steps to go from having physicians being autonomous, competitive, and hierarchical creatures to having them become more interdependent and members of a team.

SF: Wow, that sounds radical, Steve. So what does it mean for a physician to become a member of a team?

SK: It means you have to teach doctors more “followership” as opposed to leadership. We thought it was a big revolution to teach doctors leadership, but some of us are pretty good leaders already. We like to give orders. Now it’s about how we become followers. Maybe the nurse knows more about something than you do, and you have to listen. It’s about listening skills, interaction skills, and ultimately making those practices an important part of what they do every day. We’ve shown that this model provides better care because medical teams are communicating better.  In an accountable care organization in Florida we showed improvements in the triple aims of patient satisfaction, cost, and quality, just by communicating and interacting in a different way. Rather than doctors giving orders, we encourage getting teams together and making decisions together.

SF: What resistance have you met in trying to push a different mindset and role for physicians in the medical community? What was the most important hurdle you overcame?

SK: I actually did a study with Richard Shell from Wharton about why doctors don’t understand collaboration and found that doctors blindly followed rules. When the MBAs didn’t get it, they said, “We failed.” When the doctors didn’t get it, they said, “I’m really sorry, but at least the other person didn’t win either.” The way we select and educate physicians now creates a cult around a competitive, autonomous, hierarchical, and non-creative bias.

SF: Non-creative?

SK: The issue is not that we’re not creative, but when we asked MBAs and entrepreneurs if creativity was something that helped them in their profession, they said yes. Doctors, not so much. When I went to Wharton, they said, “You are so lucky to be in a $2 trillion industry in transition. Things are going to be good and going to be changing.” Then I’d be back in our old lounge, looking at the same set of data, and doctors would say, “I wish things were still the way they were 20 years ago.”

SF: They were threatened by change.

SK: The MBAs felt change would help them come up with an answer, whereas we doctors felt we would be autonomous creatures losing control.  We found that to deprogram this cult that we doctors are entering into, we have to change the DNA of the system by selecting and educating physicians in a totally different way than we do in medical schools today.

SF: That’s a big agenda, Steve. Where do you start with the education and socialization of medical students?

SK: We still accept students based on science GPAs, MCATs, and organic chemistry grades.

SF: Well, I want my doctors to be smart.

SK: One thing is that we’ve been surprised that doctors aren’t more empathetic communicators. Is a doctor with a 3.9 in memorizing biology much better than a doctor with a 3.6 or 3.5? Or would you rather have a doctor with a 3.5, who memorizes 92% of the Krebs cycle instead of 100%, but also can communicate with you? We started a medical school admission model where we actually choose the students based on emotional intelligence. We’ve chosen 56 students a year based on empathy and social awareness. Once they reached certain academic minimums, we knew they were smart enough on science.

SF: So technical excellence is needed, but you also need to be able to communicate effectively and listen well. Once you make a certain cut, then you test on other factors?

SK: We look for self-awareness and empathy, much like Google and the airline industry do. They want to conduct behavioral and clinical interviews. We take these applicants to art museums, for example, and we ask, “What do you see?” Half the kids can only see what they see linearly.

SF: Concrete thinking.

SK: I’ve delivered over 2,200 babies, and I know it’s easy to deliver a healthy baby. But if you deliver a Downs Syndrome baby and the mother asks, “Doctor, what does that mean?” you can’t reply “It means that the chromosome…” Consider that doctor compared to another who says “Your vision of what a perfect baby means might have to be adjusted.”

SF: Now you’re helping me understand.

SK: It’s about seeing versus observing. To see is to see linearly, to see the DNA, but to observe is to recognize what signals the patient is giving you. We believe the folks we accept based on empathy and self-awareness will be better partners, better fathers or mothers, and better in their work-life integration.

SF: Why is that important to you, as the CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Health System?

SK: It’s important to me because I believe that in order for healthcare to fundamentally transform, it needs to be about the people that provide the care. If we have a more stable and caring workforce of physicians and nurses, patients will get better care, and we’ll be able to provide better access to them.

One of the things we do at Jefferson which I love is that we have a practice which includes standardized patients. We have the physician go through what they would actually go through in an examination, but then we have the patient critique them while videotaping the doctor throughout. Normally medical schools just check off whether or not you asked all the right questions, but we look at the communication skills, and we ask the patient how he or she did in that regard. If a doctor or faculty member says, for example, “That’s ridiculous, I wasn’t looking at my watch,” we can check at the video like when a golf instructor tells you you’re lifting your head in your swing.

SF: Does it break through to them once they see the data?

SK: Well, if they’ve been doing this for 20 years, they’ll say they think the video was doctored! For the medical students, they really get it: think about not doing that, and think about the fact that we unleash doctors on folks without any of that cultural bias training. Part of the training we’ve done is that we’ve coached these medical professionals and residents so that their overall professionalism skills will be up to where they need to be.

SF: The fact that physicians need to have lives that are enriched not just in the clinic, but also in what they’re doing in the home and community—why is that important to you and the future of medicine?

SK: That’s sort of my job, as a president of a university. I gave a talk on “Humans of Tomorrow” in the Hospitals of Tomorrow for US News and World Report, and I started out by telling my introducer, “You know what? I may never get invited back here after saying this, but I think you’re a big part of the problem in healthcare because what you judge us on is not based on what you personally would want in a doctor. You judge us on technical attributes, but not how our folks are doing after spending $200,000 at our university.” He looks at me and says, “You’re right—you’re right that you’ll never be invited back!” But since I charge these students $55,000 a year, I view an important part of my job as ensuring that five years from now, that doctor that came from Jefferson not only provides great care, but he or she also provides great caring. I also would like to know that they’re great mothers or fathers and partners, and I view that as my job too, not just teaching biology and cardiology and OB/GYN.

SF: How did you come to that understanding that an important part of your job is that people have lives beyond work that are enriching and meaningful?

SK: Frankly, a lot of it came from when I went to Wharton and law school and seeing that there are different ways of teaching. The way we select and educate physicians is not only maybe creating a cult, but it also might not be the right way to the future. I looked and saw that so many of my physician friends had gone through divorce and had not been happy in their profession. The Wall Street Journal says 70% of physicians feel unhappy 2 or 3 years out, and they’re also not happy about their futures. I think they’re unhappy because they’re autonomous, competitive, hierarchical, and they don’t think creativity.

Our goal is to create physicians that are excited, for example, about change, so that when something like the Affordable Care Act comes, they ask “How can I help?” as opposed to “How can I go back to where we were 20 years ago?”

If you go to a tennis coach for a year, you expect to be a better tennis player. At Jefferson, we’ve launched a pilot initiative to make our patients feel better a year from now. We’re bringing in more than just the typical physicians to help them do that. Medicine needs to go from these episodic sicknesses to continual and sustained wellness.

SF: That’s so exciting, Stephen. For people listening out there, can you share what you have learned about creating meaningful change in organizations that you’d like to pass on?

SK: If you look in my office, there are two quotes. One’s from Buckminster Fuller: “If you really want to change something, don’t try to change the existing reality. Create a new model that makes the old one obsolete.” A little further in my office is another philosopher, Mike Tyson, who says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I believe if I’m running a mom-and-pop shop or academic medical center and something needs to be changed, I need to start by creating an optimistic view for people around the future. We have a great morale here because we’re trying to envision and create the future today.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, a Wharton grad,  is the President of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health System.  To learn more about his work follow him on Twitter @SKlasko.

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About the Author

Akshat Shekhar akshat shekharis an undergraduate junior at Wharton and in the Engineering School.