Ethical Leadership in the Modern World: A Conversation with Bob Gower

Ruckus’ Director of Marketing and Platform, Kayci Baldwin, recently sat down with Consultant, Author & Speaker Bob Gower, for a fascinating conversation around leadership, teams, and Bob has a deep history of working with leaders

In this first clip, Bob uses Steve Jobs as an example to break down the qualities and characteristics that make a great leader, as well as those he thinks could be left at the door.

Next, Bob shares his definition of Ethic Leadership, how caring for people as people is at the root of all great leadership, and how leaders can keep doing that in a world continues to change so rapidly.

Finally, Bob dives into the one question he would ask to an outside individual to determine the kind of leader someone is.

About the Speakers

Bob Gower helps leaders align their teams on all levels so they can perform at their best. He is a New York-based author, speaker, and consultant, who cares deeply about creating organizations that are a net positive for the world.

Author of two books: Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity and Radical Alignment: How to Have Game-Changing Conversations to Transform Your Business and Life, and a former contributor to the Huffington Post and Inc. magazine.

Likewise, he has keynoted gatherings on four continents, lecturing at Columbia University, NYU’s Stern School of Management, the Berlin School, and many more. Bob works with leaders at organizations: from multinationals like Ericsson, Ford, and GE to non-profits like New York Public Radio and the Wikimedia Foundation, to innovative new companies like Spotify and General Assembly, as well as numerous startups.

Host: Kayci Baldwin has been building and growing communities for impactful brands for nearly a decade. She was a co-founder of Six Things, a brand and digital creative agency dedicated to working with underrepresented founders.

Watch the Full Conversation

Read the Full Transcript

Kayci Baldwin (00:02):
Hello? Hello. My name is Kayci Baldwin. I am with Ruckus and I am here with Bob Gower, who is an author, speaker, and consultant who helps leaders align their teams and is going to talk to us a little bit today about ethical leadership and the modern world, and the ways that we can all level level up as leaders, both current and future. Hi Bob.

Bob Gower (00:25):
Hi, Kayci. Great to be

Kayci Baldwin (00:26):
Here. How are you doing today?

Bob Gower (00:28):
I’m doing well doing well, a little hungry, but you know, other than that, things are good.

Kayci Baldwin (00:33):
I love it. Well, hopefully we can power through these questions and then get you something to eat. I’m excited to learn from you today. I think that your expertise from the time that we’ve gotten to connect previously is something that we can really all benefit from whether we are managing up or managing down future leaders or leaders of today. I think that there is so much wisdom to be gained from you. So I’m excited to, to dive in. Great. Let’s go. So as amazing. So as an author and a consultant and a team coach who has dedicated their career to helping leaders align their teams on all levels what is one of the biggest mistakes that you see leaders make

Bob Gower (01:17):
So many and I’ve made them all myself. But I think like the, the biggest mistake that leaders make is to discount the emotional part of leadership. And also, well actually let me explain it this way. So I think we, we often think of great leaders and so Steve jobs always gets held up, right? So every, and everybody seems to want to lead like Steve jobs to the point where you have Elizabeth Holmes from Theo, like dressing like him. But I can’t tell you how many leaders I’ve worked with who sort of seem to idolize jobs. But I think what they miss is they idolize the wrong parts of him. So they look at him as visionary, which he certainly was. They look him as intelligent as a great storyteller as charismatic, and even as kind of a mercial jerk, right? And, and I’ve watched people try to emulate kind of all of those parts of his personality and all of those parts of his leadership.

Bob Gower (02:08):
But I think what they’re missing, they’re focusing on the noise and they’re missing the signal. The signal is that what jobs did when he came back to apple and then started that meteoric rise. What he did was he trimmed down their their product line to four things. He said, we’re only going to build four things. We’re going to build desktop and portable for business and for professional. And those are the four boxes we’re going to fill, and we’re going to get rid of everything else, that ability to get a team, to focus on what was important and to cut out what was not important, I would say is arguably his genius. Now he also had the genius and the visionary genius of being able to determine what those four boxes should be. Some leaders don’t have that, and they don’t need to be where you are in the organization.

Bob Gower (02:48):
It doesn’t matter. What you do need to do is give your team really good instructions about where they’re going to go and where they need to go. And then kind of get out of their way, frankly, right? Like, Hey, this is where we’re going. How are we going to get there? And then jobs also really dependent upon people like Johnny Ives and other people to see that vision all the way through. But what he did was he held the vision and he held what was important and he helped the team focus. And I think that’s really his ability. And so I guess the biggest mistake, like don’t try to be a jerk, like Steve jobs and think you’re a leader, right? He, that was, that was, that was a how to put it. He was a good leader despite that personality, not because of that personality traits.

Kayci Baldwin (03:27):
I love that. That’s brilliant. So many people really do think that it was about the turtlenecks. Yeah. Somehow and I, I love the way that you

Bob Gower (03:35):
Connect and there’s a benefit to wearing the same thing every day. Sure. Like simplify your wardrobe, if you don’t want to think about it. Obama did that too. I mean, lots of people do that, but you don’t have to wear black turtlenecks you, where, what makes

Kayci Baldwin (03:44):

Bob Gower (03:45):
Makes make you happy

Kayci Baldwin (03:45):
and was that like 1% of the factor? Like, or was that the major thing that impacted his, his success? Probably. I

Bob Gower (03:53):
Think it allowed, it allowed him to focus. It was more of a personal productivity thing for him than anything. Right. Exactly. And it became part of his signature sort of iconic status, but that’s all after the fact, like he was a, he was a good leader for other reasons. And, and frankly, he was a bad person in many ways as well. Right. Like I like, we can’t, we can’t discount that. And we’re going to talk about ethical leadership in a moment too. So I know people that were Steve. Yeah. And he was, you know, he was a problematic character, but he also arguably did great, great things. And I think leaders, we really need to tease out what’s important. What’s not important.

Kayci Baldwin (04:25):
Yeah. And I think, I mean the important part being, simplifying the product, offering of your business and allowing your team to focus on what really matters and not the turtlenecks or the being a jerk to your team members is definitely the most important thing. So that is, is brilliant.

Bob Gower (04:43):
Tell the team what’s important, then get out of their way, tell the team what’s important, get out of their way, like that’s leadership. Right. That’s what that’s basically what we need,

Kayci Baldwin (04:51):
You know, I love it. So yes, as you mentioned, it has come up already naturally, but something that does come up in your work a lot is the concept of ethical leadership. And I’m hoping that you can talk to me a little bit about how you define that and what it looks like in 2022 things have changed so rapidly for us all.

Bob Gower (05:12):
Yeah. So I, I think so I come out of a back. My background is partially my MBA was focused on sustainability. So we were obviously looking at the, sort of the, the, the social as well as the environmental performance of organizations and how can we use them? How can we use capitalism to create a better world? That was a, that was a lot of what we were, we were trying to address. And so I care a lot about the environmental impact that organizations make. I care a lot about the social impact that that organizations make. But I think a lot of that then as you point out, like it comes back to the leader, it comes back to the sort of the moral and the ethical stance that leaders have. When you look at, I still have a background in, in philosophy. That was what my undergrad was in.

Bob Gower (05:54):
And so when you look at moral philosophy traditions, there’s sort of three major traditions in the west. And lots of other traditions and lots from coming from lots of other cultures, but the one tradition I want to talk about today, cause I can’t go into the whole thing is what came from Manuel Kant writing in the 18th century. And it’s a, it’s a tradition called deontology, which if you want to sound fancy at a cocktail party, feel free to borrow that word deontology. But really what it, what he’s talking about is that there are certain rules and certain ways of discerning what rules are that cut across any situation. And so he called these the categorical imperatives and they’re two formulations of the categorical imperative that I think are really, really important. When we think about leadership. One is essentially asking the question of what, if everybody did this, what if everybody behaved the way that I’m behaving right now, would that create a better world or would that create a worse world?

Bob Gower (06:46):
And what I notice is that a lot of leaders they’ll create one set of rules for themselves and one set of rules for everybody else. Right. They’ll cut in line or they’ll they’ll actually lie frequently. Like you actually see, there’s actually been some good research done about this, that people apply sort of a different moral framework at work because it’s expedient or because it’s effective because it creates the impact that they’re trying to create in the world that they would never dream of doing in their personal life. They would never dream of lying to their spouse or lying to their, you know, these are people who go to church. These are people who see themselves as great moral and ethical people. And yet at work they’re really especially when, when things get litigious, right, that they’ll start like sort of creating this sort of different set of rules or this different persona work.

Bob Gower (07:29):
And I think that’s really important was we need to like, are you behaving at work the way you would behave with someone? You love someone, you care about someone in your family, someone who’s who’s wellbeing, you really care, but I think that’s really important. Yeah. The sec. Yeah. And the second formulation of the categorical imperative, which I think is especially important is that so the way can’t put it is that we should always use, think of other people, never as means to an end, but also, but, but we, they need, we need to think of them as ends in and of themselves, including ourselves. And so what this, and so when we think about our teammates, when we think about the people that we work with, while yes, we are all trying to do something together, we are all means to an end. We are also ends in ourselves.

Bob Gower (08:11):
And I think Laslow Bach, who is the great sort of HR. He was the sort of founding HR at Google. He’s written some wonderful books and he runs a consultancy. Now he’s like, basically we need to treat people as if they’re people right at the end of the day, treat people as if they’re people give them the respect, give them a degree of autonomy, give them a degree of, of, of sort of choice about how they live their lives. And also recognize that they are not just a utility to your business, but that they have other lives. They have communities, they have families, they have other ambitions. They may, you know, your, their job with you may actually not be the most important thing in their life. They may have a hobby or they may have sort of nonprofit work or other work that they do, which actually is more important than what they’re doing at, at, at your job. And that’s totally fine. That’s completely fine. This idea that we have to make work the, be all and end all, and you have to be a hundred percent in, you know, that’s what cults do, right. That’s how we end up with WeWork. That’s how we end up with fairness. That’s how we end up with these really toxic. That’s how we end up with Enron. We end up with these very toxic organizations, because people are like, they’re trying to get all of their needs met at work.

Kayci Baldwin (09:14):
Yeah. I can imagine that. There’s a lot of leaders who hear those two points and think like, wow holding myself accountable to the same rules as everybody else would be inconvenient and make my life a lot less fun. And the second in terms of like thinking of people as an end in and of themselves, and I think I was hearing the way you were explaining that. And it’s really just about yeah. Thinking of people as human and thinking that they matter not for their output, but because they exist and like, Hey, that sounds expensive. and so how often how often are those the responses that you, you get to that type of thinking?

Bob Gower (09:56):
Yeah. Well I also, I think it doesn’t, you know, I, I, I, I understand the reaction like, oh, wow, that sounds expensive. But it, it actually doesn’t really need to be. And I think there’s been this conflation, there are a few phrases that really annoy me. Let’s just say that were the really, or they send up some red flags and I, and I should share like with you and your community, like, I was actually a cult member for two years. This is not something I talk I’ve written about it a little bit. It’s not like part of my main brand, but I was part of what they call a high demand group, a group that sort of became every aspect of my life. There was a lot of gas lighting, a lot of manipulation involved. I don’t want to get into the gory details.

Kayci Baldwin (10:32):
Yeah. I was born and raised in one. So we should definitely talk about that.

Bob Gower (10:36):
Yeah. It’s so much more common than we think. Right. We think of it as a sort of edge case, but some, whenever I share this with people, all of a sudden I hear start hearing all sorts of stories and this can even be like abusive relationships often have very cult-like characteristics. And so many of us have even been in the, have been in just like one-on-one relationships.

Kayci Baldwin (10:52):
Yeah. The high demand reframe is really like allows it to be a lot more inclusive because I think the word cult can feel so specific.

Bob Gower (11:00):
Yeah. So what I like to, you know, and so coming from a sort of sustainability and a a background where we’re trying to like use organizations as power as, as forces for good in the world. Yeah. So you, you frequently run into phrases, like purpose driven organization. Right. And I, I get what people are saying, but every cult is a purpose driven organization, right? Yeah. And will bill itself as a purpose driven organization and will utilize its they actually go after people who are idealistic, often people who are actually trying to make the world a better place, people who are empathic and caring and kind and slow to judge, those are the marks for these sort of high demand or cult organizations. Yeah. And, and then the other piece is we are like a family here, right? How like that’s also like cult language, right?

Bob Gower (11:49):
Like we are the family, you know, we are your family. And again, this is this idea, this conflation that we are going to be everything to you, we’re going to provide you not only the security of a paycheck, but we’re also going to provide you a, a sense of sort of status and social status and significance, which everybody create, which is a core psychological need for humans. And we’re also going to give your life a sense of meaning and purpose, right? We’re going to give you all three. These are like three core, very core psychological needs that humans have. And they don’t need to all be met in the same place. Right? If you’re, you know, like you can take a job and only use it to meet your security, of course you want people to say good job and all of that, but you can get your core sense of significance from your community, work from your family, from, from so many more things in life than your job.

Bob Gower (12:33):
And I think so what I, what I see organizations need to do is we need to get a lot better. Actually. Cal Newport puts it really well. Cal Newport’s the, he’s the writer for the, he wrote what did he write? Deep work and the end of email. And he writes for the new Yorker and he talks about this need to structure, knowledge, work more effectively. So knowledge work being like what most of us do, most of the people listening this where, you know, where you’re on email and zoom all day, right? That’s knowledge work, right? Like I don’t, I don’t know what you’re doing, but if your day is taken up with meetings and emails, then you’re most likely a knowledge worker and knowledge work tends to be poorly structured. When we were in the office, we used time in the office as a proxy for productivity, right?

Bob Gower (13:14):
So you come to the office, if you’re at the office nine to five or nine to eight then you’re productive, right. That was sort of, and these and these businesses are run in these very odd ad hoc, very unstructured kind of ways. But if we get much better and this is what I work with teams on, often if we get much better at structuring our work, then we can understand like, okay, this is the piece that you’re responsible for. And when it’s done your time is your own. You can go off and do whatever you want to this idea of nine to five. That’s a holdover from the industrial age. It’s really unnecessary. And I think in the next decade or so, we’re going to see kind, especially, you know, kind of fueled by the pandemic and this now hybrid work or remote first work, which I think is going to become the norm in the next decade that we’re going to see a lot more innovation in terms of like how we structure our work.

Kayci Baldwin (14:00):

Bob Gower (14:01):
I hope can’t

Kayci Baldwin (14:02):
For it. Amazing. Well, when you, if you could ask one question to determine what type type of leader someone is, what would that question be and who would you ask it to? So you don’t have to ask it to the leader themselves.

Bob Gower (14:19):
Yeah. It’s such a great question. I, I love this and thank you for sharing it for me ahead of time. because you gave me a chance to think about it because it’s for sure. It’s, it’s hard. It’s hard to think about like, what’s that one question. And so one, I would not ask leader themselves. I because I think you know, leaders tend to be performative or they tend to be you know, leaders are where they are often because they’re very charismatic and they’re very good at spin. Right? So I don’t, you know, when I first start interviewing people to work with I often take everything. They say everything, especially if they’re talking about themselves with a grain of salt. But I think the question that’s really interesting is I would ask a variety of people around that person, especially people of low status and who really have not who, who this person has no material stake in impressing.

Bob Gower (15:05):
Right? They’re they don’t have any money. They don’t have any status to confer. Maybe, you know, they don’t find the people, they don’t find attractive, you know, like all of the reasons that we might spin our personality up or become a different person or to impress somebody. So I was especially ask these people servers, like the last person that was their server at a restaurant. And I would be curious like, how did you feel in this person’s presence? And I’m kind of going back to like, I don’t, I think it was Maya Angelou said, right? People don’t remember what you, I don’t remember what the first part of the phrase was, what you tell them, but they remember how you, how, how you made them feel. Right. And I would ask how do you feel in their presence? And, and specifically, how do you feel about your self in their presence?

Bob Gower (15:45):
Do you feel smart? Do you feel valuable? Do you feel important? Do you feel do you feel good or do you feel scared? Do you feel undervalued? Do, do you feel put down, right? How do you feel in this person’s present? And this is especially important to ask again of people who have nothing to offer this person, because that is where you know, people that exhibit narcissistic tendencies, psychopathic tendencies, Mave tendencies, which we kind of call the dark triad of personality traits. Those people are, tend to be very, very good at managing their personality, managing their perception with the people that they’re trying to convince, going back to the cult stuff, right. Cult leaders do this all the time. Yeah. But it’s the people that have nothing to offer them where they will let their mask done. And so those are the people that I want to talk to.

Kayci Baldwin (16:34):
I love it. I also think it makes me think about like some of the best bosses that I’ve had or all of the best bosses that I’ve had and what they have in common, which I think is really an ability to see the people around them and to recognize their strengths and then create space for those strengths to come to the surface. And you really there’s, no, you can’t begin to do number two and number three there, if you don’t first see people for who they really are. And, and I, I love what you said about really. Yeah. I think it’s all about treating people with respect and, and not, and not seeing them as like an insignificant, nothing that you’re passing on the street or that’s bringing you your meal, but instead actually seeing people as like the treasures that they are individually.

Bob Gower (17:29):
Yeah. It’s about it. It’s really at the end of the day about caring about people. Like, do you, again, we’re going back to the ethical piece of, of treating people as, as, as, as ends and in and of themselves. Right. Do I honor this, you know, do I care about this person beyond their utility to me, right. Like that. And I think that’s what I look for in leaders. Cause I think the best leaders that I’ve ever worked with, the, the only leaders that I want to work with now, they sure. Yes, of course they care about what they’re trying to do as a company, but they also care about their people beyond their utility to that vision and to that company.

Kayci Baldwin (17:58):
Definitely. Definitely. I think they’re also usually invested. I mean, it’s kind of what you were saying, but to, to just like further connect that dot, I think they’re invested in a lot of their people, even in their careers, beyond the current company, even when you don’t work for me anymore, I still want you to be successful. I still want you to be able to not only talk about this place as some place you enjoyed working, but also being able to use like the things that I taught you and the things that you learned while you were here to go and do something else. Great. That will build your legacy.

Bob Gower (18:33):
Yeah. About 15 years ago, I was hired at a company as a consultant. I was, I was a road consultant, right. I was, I was flying around the country kind of like managing these large digital transformations, but the CEO of the company, which was a tooling company and I was just part of this very small arm of it. He sat me down and he said, look, I know that you’re not going to stay here for your entire career. And like, I don’t even know what he said after that. Like I’m just even filled with emotion. Just like having hearing that from my boss was like, oh my gosh, you are right. And I don’t have to pretend that I’m not that, that this is my, that this is my entire life, which is kind of what all my other bosses had almost had either directly or indirectly asked of me and the fact that he called that out and he’s like, you’re not going to be here forever. We want this to be beneficial to this relation, to be beneficial to you. We also want it to be beneficial to us and let’s make sure that, that, that we continue to have that conversation. And my door’s open to have that conversation. And I still like that, that, that still echo in my head as one of the, one of the most effective leadership conversations I’ve ever had love I ever had

Kayci Baldwin (19:31):
Leader. Yeah. Yeah. I had a, I had a boss who once like pretty, I think it was about the year mark. He was like, when I first hired you, my hope was to get two good years from you. And then to be able to set you like off for whatever it is that you’re going to do next. And it was such a free again, empowering moment to know. I, I think because, I mean, it makes you feel, at least for me, I think it also made me feel that much more valued that even for two years, that felt like a worthwhile investment for that company. And, and again, it does really make you feel seen and it makes you want to do great work for, for the team that you’re on.

Bob Gower (20:18):
And I think, you know, frankly leaders really need to get on board with this, what we’ve seen with the great resignation. I think one of the things that’s driving it, there’s so many piece pieces driving this sort of this thing, we’re calling the great resignation. But one of the things is that the stigma of, of, of job quitting it’s been lessening for years. I mean boom kind of started it all where, you know, getting laid off and, and changing jobs was almost became a, was becoming a mark of honor, at least in that sector. But now it’s spread to almost all sectors. And so recruiters no longer look at, oh, you’ve changed jobs three times in the last eight years. You know, now that’s a black mark on your resume in my dad’s era that, that made you almost unemployable in our era. It just makes you normal. Right. And so I think absolutely. And I think employers really need to remember that.

Kayci Baldwin (21:04):
Yeah, yeah. No, it, it, it’s crazy to think about how quickly the culture around that has changed.

Bob Gower (21:10):

Kayci Baldwin (21:10):
Yeah. So to that end, I think as people are looking to build and retain teams, what is the biggest piece of advice that you would give founders who are looking to build out an executive team with like strong culture defining leaders so that they can build a, a team that will say,

Bob Gower (21:31):
Yeah. Yeah. So I think, yeah, no, I, I appreciate that. Yeah. So I, and I think there’s, so we’re talking about a couple of things that are related, right? So on the one hand, it’s sort of like, how do we retain talent overall in our company, but then also how do we build out that leadership team? And those things are really tightly, coupled and tightly related. And so my work, so I do two kinds of work right now entire for mostly one piece of work I do is leadership team development. So I coach I help leadership teams really develop sort of the, both the culture as well as the operational frameworks to keep them both efficient and engaged. Right. Like, so, and that’s really challenging on a leadership team often because often they do not have shared work and often people on leadership teams think of themselves as many CEOs or many leaders.

Bob Gower (22:12):
Like they’re not, they many people on leadership teams got to where they got by sort of charging forward and often not playing well with others. But on leadership teams, they really have to play well with others. And I, and I, so I think if you’re not a good team leader and not a good team member, you have no business being on a C-suite right now. Which was, which is very different from 10 years ago, 10 years ago. I think you could get away with having people who were like mini dictators, you know, and who, you know, like they were rainmakers in their own domain. And then, and so the leadership team just met, you know, once a quarter to sort of make some vague plans and things.

Kayci Baldwin (22:45):
And just don’t that one next to that one.

Bob Gower (22:47):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So you know, so what I do when I take over teams is like I, so first thing I do frankly, you can actually see my whoops is over there, on that shoulder, my book behind me. So there’s a framework that I use. And the framework I I created was it was to help a group of people. I think of it as sort of an emotional or an operational prenuptial agreement. And the idea behind a prenuptial is when you love each other agree, what you’re going to do when you don’t love each other anymore, right? Like, like let’s, let’s use the Goodwill. We have now to agree how to talk about what we’re going to do when things, when we hit tough patches. And so often when teams first come together, you have a lot of optimism and you have a lot of en you have a lot of excitement, especially when new people come on, they take jobs because they’re enthused.

Bob Gower (23:30):
So at that moment, I want to understand four different things. I understand one, why are you here? Where does this job, where does this role fit into your career trajectory? Right? Are you here mainly because you’re, you’re getting equity in the money. Are you here? Because you really are interested in building skills in a new, you know, like you’re maybe changing you know, what kind of market vertical you’re in and you want to like, you know, like you’ve been doing this, but now AI is the hot new thing. And so you’re joining an AI startup and we’re an AI company and you want to be in this new place, are you doing it because it’s happens to be close to your home? Are you doing it? Because it doesn’t allow because it allows remote work and you don’t want to, and you want to live somewhere else. Right?

Bob Gower (24:06):
Like everybody kind of comes to jobs with different things. So at first is your intentions. Why are you here? The second thing I’m curious about is what concerns you about being part of this team? And I often use a, I use a platform in remote meetings. It’s, it’s called easy retro and it’s, it’s all anonymous by default. So I can actually ask the whole team, the question all at once, like what concerns you about being part of this team? And it could be everything from our market cap, you know, our relationship for, you know, debt to equity ratio. It could be, Hey I’m I’m we have this gap, you know, we have a, we have a gap, a skills gap on our leadership team. It could be that I’m sensing tension between these two aspects of the department and these two departments right now.

Bob Gower (24:46):
And I’m concerned about that. So like giving people, humans, we have a very strong negativity bias. Our brains just naturally go to what’s wrong. So I also want to get all that stuff out. Like, let’s get it all out, let’s get it all where we can look at it. And then the next question I ask is around boundaries or the way I generally phrase it at work is what do you need? And what does this team need in order to do the best work possible? And that could be money and resources. It could be sleep, it could be childcare, right? It could be, you know, all, you know, again, the idea of like, what do you need in your life in, and, and in your world and, you know, tools and information and everything in order to do the best work possible. And what does this team need in order to do the best work possible?

Bob Gower (25:26):
And then what we begin to get is, okay, these are the design criteria through which I’m going to begin to design the operational framework for the team. And also I’m going to begin to understand maybe some of where the cultural tensions might be coming in. And like, if I have to do mediation between two different departments or something like that, we can begin to sort of tease those out. And then the final question I end with is if this goes exceptionally well, and it’s two years from now, I always used like one to two years because life’s moving fast right now. And this has gone exceptionally well, what will be true for the world, for our customer, for you? For me personally, you know, like, and what this does is it does two things. One is it continues the design criteria. It kind of takes that intentions conversation and gives, makes it a little more real, but two, it also puts people kind of, I’m almost giving a post of NOx suggestion, right? Like I’m, I’m getting people to assume that things will go well and neurologically, physiologically, mentally kind of like put themselves in that space, in the future where things have gone well and ending the conversation. There generally leaves people in a pretty good mood because we’ve been through some tough stuff to get there. Right. So those that’s the conversation that I have.

Kayci Baldwin (26:31):
It’s like, that feels like a little manifestation hack. I feel I’ve, I’ve heard someone, oh, I forget where, what, where I heard it. It might have been a talk for all I know, but I heard someone challenge people to just like whenever, you know, constantly throughout their day to just like ask themselves or ask the universe or ask God, like show me how it gets better. Yeah. And how that kind of phrasing of like, can, can hack that negativity focused part of our brain, where instead of looking for what’s wrong with the situation we look for, what’s right with the situation and how that can shift everything. But I love what you, I mean, I think that’s such a powerful question. In terms of looking two years ahead, best case scenario, what is the impact? Where have things landed? What does your life look like? I, I think that’s a beautiful challenge for everyone to think about. And then what your, your point about just everyone having both different needs to be productive and efficient and happy, and then also having different motivations for being even on the same team in the same space, in the same department, right. We all show up with very different experiences and very different requirements to, to be, to show up as our best selves. And so I, I love the framework that you just broke down for us.

Bob Gower (27:51):
Yeah. I mean, people can be doing the same, the same thing for wildly different reasons and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be doing things for, you know, in order to be productive in order to be successful. We do not have to have the same reasons, but we, I think do have to have some sensitivity towards each other and each other’s reasons we have to build. So good culture is actually built out of what social psychologists would call high context relationships, where we begin to understand each other, we develop kind of an internal language we under, you know, because things can be so nuanced. So we under, you know, so people can use words in subtly different ways. And then that can lead to wild. You know, even like things like ROI, like what is return on investment in this scenario can have wildly different meanings.

Bob Gower (28:29):
And so what you need from leadership teams just develop this kind of shorthand. The other thing I wanted to say is that when it comes to sort of retaining talent overall and type of organizations, is that people do not lead, you know, culture organizations, large organizations don’t have cultures in the sense they do have, you know, there is sort of a, a larger sort of sense of culture. But when most people are describing culture, they’re describing their day to day experience with the group, with the people that they work with. People don’t quit for because of the CEO. They quit because of their direct manager, right. That’s, you know, they, if, if things, if things feel toxic at work, it feels toxic because of their teammates and their direct manager. It doesn’t feel toxic because of the CEO necessarily CEO, maybe, you know, three stages, you know, out responsible for that.

Bob Gower (29:12):
But at the same time we need, you know, so, but also I’ve worked with companies where you have great CEOs and, and sort of a layer of kind of like either incompetent or kind of toxic people that sort of making life miserable for everybody, for everybody else. And so, and so what I think is really important that organizations need to do. And actually, this is why I I’ve, I, this one of, one of the main things I do is I teach a class on this for new leaders. Cause I, this happened to me so many times I was, I was, I started off life as a designer and then I get promoted to leading designers and I’d be like, okay, I can do that because I’m a great designer, but no, I can’t do that. It’s an entirely different skill set. Yep. Team leadership is an entirely different skill set.

Bob Gower (29:54):
And it’s not that you need to leave your old sort of technical skill behind in order to lead. It’s probably necessary. It’s important to have some technical or some understanding of what the team is doing, but you actually need to have a whole different set of skills. It’s not that hard. It’s really not that hard to become a team leader, but you do need to like break it down and understand it. And that’s, so that’s where I also spend a lot of my time. And I think that to me is how you create a great culture inside of an organization. It’s by creating great team leaders and great managers, middle managers, essentially.

Kayci Baldwin (30:22):
Amazing. So what are some practical steps in a case where you join a team as a leader and are inheriting an existing team where the culture wasn’t great. What are , what are some steps that you can take as a new leader to improve upon some inherited team dysfunctions?

Bob Gower (30:45):
Well, I think every time there’s been a, there’s a change on a team is an opportunity for things to change, right? Like, and I think so if you’re familiar with sort of the there’s sort of four stages in team development that we talk about Tugman is the Tugman model, sorry, I couldn’t couldn’t think of the person who, who came up with it, but it’s storming it’s I’m sorry. Forming storming, norming and performing. Right. So the idea is that you get the group of people together. That’s the forming part. The storming part is actually really valuable when people kind of like, because it’s like, we’re rubbing off our, our sort of sharp edges on each other. We’re trying to figure out how to work together. We’re trying to figure out how to manage, you know, introverts and extroverts or what, you know, personality differences and skillset differences.

Bob Gower (31:26):
And maybe even, you know, people from wildly different backgrounds, right? This is one of the big challenges. I think of diversity inclusion efforts is that when we, like, if you have a bunch of people who all went to Stanford, they’re all going to kind of see the world in the same way, much easier to create a team. And then you create this like weird homogenous team. That’s not, that’s not going to be very innovative often and not going to be very good. So what you need actually is friction. You need people to kind of rub up against each other and, and and you know, come in with some sharp elbows, that’s really, really valuable to a team. And then, but people who are used to working with people who always look like each themselves, you know, like they, they, they, they start to say, oh, this person is coming in and causing trouble.

Bob Gower (32:06):
This, this different person is coming in and causing trouble. And I want to tell you, that’s a feature, not a bug, right? We need, we need this sort of storm, but we also need to then eventually develop some norms, right? We, and we need to develop like, okay, this is how we make decisions. This is how we plan work. This is how we track progress. This is how we deal with conflict. So we begin to develop norms and only then can we start performing? So when you come into a team, every time there’s a change on a team, the team is going to regress a layer or two, right? So you’re going to, you’re going to, and you’re going to have to go back through those layers. If the team has changed a lot, it may go quite fairly quickly or it go fairly slow. So if I’m coming in as a new leader, again, first thing I’m going to do is do the convers whoop. Here we go. Conversation in the book, what are your intentions, your concerns, your boundaries, and your dreams that helps me understand the lay of the land. I might have a lot of one on one conversations with people to try to get to know them as, as people. So

Kayci Baldwin (32:54):
You’re coming in as a new leader and you’re sitting down with every person on your team and having that

Bob Gower (32:57):
Conversation hundred percent, a hundred percent, both ways. Yeah. You have to, you have to build an individual relationship with the people and you also have to build a group relationship with people. For sure. If you skip over either of those, you’re going to run into trouble. So I see a lot of leaders who will only meet with people individually, but rarely will, they will, will they bring the team together? And then, so you end up with, he said, she said, and you’re, you’re kind of the, the, the, you become like the bottleneck to every, every decision and, and every piece or people that only like bring everybody together for like group brainstorming sessions, but don’t have personal relationships with people. And then often like group meetings become, you know, everybody’s watching the leader think, right. You know, people are just like sitting there waiting for instructions.

Bob Gower (33:35):
And you know, this could have been an email that kind of, you know, that kind of meeting starts to happen. So you actually have to build strong relationships with each individual, especially the individuals. What was it that, that Lincoln said? He’s like, I don’t like that person very much. I should get to know him better. You know, like, especially the people that rub you the wrong way, especially the people. And this is always still, even today, still a challenge for me sometimes. But the people that kind of like make you feel uncomfortable, you need to get to know that person. The other thing you’re testing for, again, going back to the ethics and sort of these character traits is, again, I’m beginning to listen to if every, if I’m triangulating and everybody is saying this person’s a jerk, well, that person might actually be a jerk and I might actually need to get that person out because we, you know, the, the, the, the AISM or whatever is that one bad apple spoils the bunch, you know, or makes the, you know, makes it rotten.

Bob Gower (34:25):
It’s not like, oh, that’s just a few bad apples and dismissive, right. That’s often the way it seems to be used today, but we forget that one jerk can really destroy the team. And so we need, I need to like, understand, like, what is wrong with this team? And it could be the outgoing leader was the problem, and now we’re all great. Right. You know, like, so, so so, so now, so now I have something to work with, or it could be that the outgoing leader was a really empathic and great leader, and they were the one keeping the piece. And now everybody’s jocking for position and all that sort of like, I have to understand what that dysfunction is. And then the other piece I is, I just need to, again, build some operational cadence. You know, I want to make sure that we’re meeting on a regular basis rather than only meeting when there’s an emergency.

Bob Gower (35:07):
I want to make sure that we’re, that we understand how success is measured. That we’re tracking progress, that we have a dashboard there’s a lot of like, sort of basic block and tackle operational stuff that needs to be handled. But the, if the cultural piece is, is rotten, it’s going to make the operational stuff rotten as well. Likewise, bad operations. Like sometimes I’ll identify that, like this particular tool is a pain, sorry, my language, but a pain in the ass for everybody. Like, no, everybody hates this tool, so I can actually win and have a big win by saying, okay, we’re going to get rid of that tool and going to do this other thing. Right. Like, and, and so I actually want to also quickly, I want to have a few quick wins when I come in with the team as well. Yeah. Because that’s important because, because it, because people do come in often to a new leader with a lot of hope. And if you sort of like, don’t do anything for a few months, you might, you know, you, they might lose hope, but also frankly, we have to be careful of doing too much before we have context. So like, it’s a, there’s a lot of give and take there.

Kayci Baldwin (36:02):
Absolutely. It’s crazy. How many jobs are really, really empowered by the simple skill of being a good listener. Yeah. I, I think that’s, so it, it’s funny how often in my conversations with people are here. Like no, if you really ask people and then listen to the answers and they’ll, they’ll tell you but I have learned so much from you in this conversation. Thank you so much for breaking it all down and for sharing your wisdom with us. And yeah. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you would like to share, but this has been absolutely wonderful.

Bob Gower (36:42):
No, this has been great. Thanks so much.

Kayci Baldwin (36:44):
Thank you for the time Bob.

Bob Gower (36:46):
It’s been pleasure.

Kayci Baldwin (36:48):
All right. I’m going stop recording.

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