While the empire comes first approach may have worked in the past, it’s not going to get where we want to go in the 21st century. We need a new model which disperses power and not collect it. Joining Patrick Veroneau on today’s podcast is Kevin Hancock, the author of The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. Patrick and Kevin dissect the concept of shared leadership, highlighting the importance of having every individual share their voice in order for any organization to succeed. Tune in to learn more about this new leadership model.
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Shared Leadership: Celebrating Individual Voices With Kevin Hancock
In this episode, we’re going to talk about leadership and the importance of voice, not the leader’s voice, but the leader allowing other people to have a voice. My guest is Kevin Hancock, who is the CEO and President of Hancock Lumber, as well as the author of the book, The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. On this episode, I talk not only to Kevin about his book, The Seventh Power, but we also talk about how a diagnosis for Kevin of spasmodic dysphonia prevented Kevin from using his own voice, and relying on those in his organization to elevate their voices. What he found in that experience was how important it was to have other people be able to share their voices for an organization to succeed. Why don’t we jump into that conversation?
Kevin, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. I enjoyed so much reading your book, The Seventh Power. One of the quotes that you had in here that I pulled off said, “Our growth only ends when we call off the search.” To me, this book seems as though it’s an outline for that search, as well as a roadmap in terms of the seven lessons that you’ve outlined here, and some of the great stories. I was hoping you could start out by giving the readers an opportunity to hear what was your motivation for writing this book?
Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. The motivation for writing the book, it’s become clear to me that we need a new leadership model for the 21st Century. The leadership model that dominates goes back thousands of years. It’s that ‘power to the center, command and control, the empire comes first’ approach. While it might have worked 100, 200 or 1,000 years ago, it’s not going to get us where we want to go in the 21st Century. We need a new model that’s about dispersing power, not collecting it and making other voices strong. I believed that. I’ve been practicing that within my own company, but I felt something bigger was at play here. I set out on what turned out to be a series of adventures, as you pointed out, Patrick. It took me from the Navajo Reservation in the Arizona desert, all the way to Kiev in the Ukraine, looking for some clues about what this new leadership model might look like and might be about.
You’re not just somebody that wrote a book, you’re walking the talk. You come from experience in terms of this needing to re-look the model that was being used, command and control.
The backdrop, as you know, Patrick, about a decade ago, I acquired a rare voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia that made speaking difficult. I’m the CEO of a lumber company in Maine. We have 560 employees. Our mills do business all over the world. Quite quickly, I had to find a different approach to leading that didn’t include a lot of talking. That led me down this path of sharing leadership bit by bit until it became a broad vision of everybody can lead, every single person in this company leads us.Leadership is an inside job. It's about working on ourselves and modeling and mentoring what it is we want to see. Click To Tweet
When power is dispersed and leaderships share an organization’s performance, it could expand exponentially. That was the vision I had. I’ve spent the last several years trying to fulfill that within our own company, and our performance took off including most importantly to me the employee experience as defined by the employees. We have been the best place to work in Maine for several years. I had seen firsthand what was possible through my own work. I felt though this was bigger than a lumber company in Maine and my own experience. That’s what pulled me out into the world to do more research, which became the basis for the book, The Seventh Power.
One of the powers that you talk about is culture, which is what you spoke to is you’ve created that culture. One of the other powers though that I resonated with me was around change and where it’s created from within. To me, that is something that seems to be the piece as I’ve seen it often that’s been missing in regards to impactful and durable leadership change. It does need to start internally. I wonder if you could speak to that.
That is where it starts. That was my big epiphany or tipping point. When I was a younger manager and leader, I thought that leadership was about paying attention to what other people were doing. What ended up happening, however, with my own voice condition, which started to force change upon me. The pattern I started to see, which is the most powerful change I could create was from me changing. The entire orientation of leadership to me needs to be flipped. My primary job as a leader, as I got a line from Gandhi, “Become the change I wish to see in the world,” and to focus more on getting myself–right, and trusting that when I do that, that starts to create the cultural conditions for others to do the same. The short idea there is leadership is an inside job. It’s about working on ourselves and modeling and mentoring what it is we want to see.
There was a quote that I’d used for many years that was attributed to John Quincy Adams. It was, “If your actions inspire someone to do more, dream more, learn more and become more, you’re a leader.” What I love about that was there’s nothing in there about a title. It’s about your actions. Your actions inspire people to do those things. It speaks to what you’re saying. In doing a lot more digging on that one quote, you’ve come to find out that it’s attributed to Dolly Parton. I love it even more because if you think about when’s the last time you heard something bad said about Dolly Parton? She always seems to be on the right. Her actions do inspire people in many different ways. To me, it’s even more fitting. It speaks to what you’re saying, this idea of, actions are what inspires us. Those come from, “If I’m not comfortable with who I am internally, how can I ever be there for other people?”
The big push within our organization with our managers has been to encourage them to pay a bit more attention to themselves and a bit less attention to others. When I say attention, I don’t mean a lot of focus and energy. We have to show up for everybody around us, but when you want to change something, all you need to do is sit down, close your door and look inward and work on yourself. That’s an empowering concept too. Think about it this way, in that older, traditional model, where someone else has to change for my world to get better, think about how limiting that idea is, how debilitating that idea is. The power I need is beyond my control. The whole concept of this leadership model in my book is the power you need is sitting right inside you. It lives within you.
I did an episode very early on where I talked about the most important leadership tool that I thought you might be able to possess is a mirror to look at yourself.
There is a music passage in my book at the end of one chapter from one of Michael Jackson’s songs. The line I took, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror and I’m asking him to make a change.” That’s a brilliant mind.
We hear a lot about mindsets right now. Growth is fixed. The fixed mindset is that belief that it’s other people that are at fault here. The growth is about saying, “How do I change things? What do I need to do first?”
In fairness, to help people think about this in a different paradigm, the 24/7 connectivity of social media and television media has made people feel overwhelmed and less in control. If you sat and watched the news all day, you would feel a loss of control. One of the things I’ve push though and I talk about in my book is the world in real life is more manageable than the world through a screen. When you shut that screen down and focus on what’s in front of you, the ability to control, impact and influence what’s in front of you is greater than we might think.
All we can do is if we build out what we’re talking about, I’ve concluded that change is a three–step process. We change the world first within us, then beside us. As a result of the change, we created within us, it impacts people beside us, which then impacts people beyond us, within, beside and beyond. You’ve got to have the discipline, the fortitude and the insight to know where to do the work. It can be scary to realize, “I’ve got to start with myself.”
I will often attribute that back to intentional vulnerability where I have to put myself in that position of being vulnerable. If I want things to change, it requires me to do that. To me, that’s the greatest sense of courage or demonstration of it. When I make myself vulnerable, it speaks of my greatest strength and not a weakness.
I try to talk openly about this within our company. I’ve never seen a weakness or a problem within our company that I could not trace it back to me. Something I could have done or didn’t do that could have helped influence a different outcome. For example, Patrick, we had a situation at one of our stores a couple of years ago that I was disappointed in how things were handled. Five or six of us came together as managers. What I ended up doing on the meeting is I went in the room, and talk about the list of things I felt I had done or had not done to contribute to that poor outcome. Spontaneously, everybody in the room did the same. We made so much progress. The only thing that happened in that room is everyone talked about what they could have controlled, meaning within them, what they could’ve done differently to helped create a different outcome. When you’ve gotten that vulnerability, it creates a whole different culture. The only finger pointing ever turns inward in that example where I’m pointing at me.
When I hear you tell that story, it reminds me of the work done around psychological safety. There was an environment there where people felt as though, “This is okay to talk about deficiencies or what we didn’t do well, or my responsibility in this without feeling as though I’m going to be punished or retaliated against or ridiculed,” whatever it might be. There’s a safety component there that’s created.
That makes me think about, for me, the mission of all of this, the goal or the outcome. I articulated that in a form of a question, Patrick. What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, heard and safe? There are about 7 billion people on Earth. Let’s say, pretend all 7 billion of them now felt trusted, respected, valued, heard and safe. What might change? Everything like change. The root of all evil lies in the absence of people feeling trusted, respected, valued, hurt and safe, and not judged, honored exactly as they are, which makes me think of one of the big lessons or chapters in the book, which is dedicated to this idea that listening is for understanding, not judgment.
There’s so much talk about listening and the importance of it. The critical question there is why are we listening? The conclusion I’ve come to is we need to be listening simply to understand. It’s meeting people where they are at that moment and understanding where they’re coming from. When you give up judgment, the world gets so much lighter. It’s much easier to interact with people when you stop trying to be the judge of what’s happening.
I love how you broke out each of those. I will often think in terms of valued and heard, when people don’t sense those, you either run into experiences or situations where people disengage. They pull back or they engage in ways that are unproductive to the group, the society, wherever they are. We’re living that right now, and I truly believe that, where people don’t feel valued and heard wherever they are. Some people pull back and other people act out in ways that are unproductive as well. We see one of those two things happening. Your chapter in there on the power of listening, I believe it’s a superpower. We need to learn to listen to understand. There’s a curiosity that we’re not listening to try and have the right response, but we’re listening to try and see it from the other person’s perspective. I would agree with you, I see too much now that we listen to undermine, and not listen to understand.
That’s a great way to put it. In any group, people are going to be cautious about sharing their true feelings unless they’re confident that it’s safe. Think about the power of this. What if you had a company where everybody that work there could say what they honestly thought? I gave a talk centered on this, Patrick, you’d love it, to manufacture a company a couple of years back. I had a gentleman who worked there who waited to talk to me afterwards. He said, “I loved that vision. I’m going to tell you, the last time I said what I thought around here, I got sent home for a week.”
It’s funny, but it’s not funny. People have learned that you can’t say what you actually think in many cases. What unproductive ways of human capacity and potential of the truth lives in all voices? I write about this a bit too. You think about a picture of a faraway communist capital, a monolithic parade where everyone’s marching and chanting in unison. That’s not alignment. That’s intimidation, force and fear. That is not alignment. Alignment comes from the diversity of thought. That’s where alignment comes from when everybody feels like every idea is valued. That’s how you create support for decisions and outcomes.Change is a three step process: we change the world within us, beside us, and beyond us. Click To Tweet
Back to your story about that person that came up to you after and said, “I got sent home for a week.” I think about that and I speak to it now in the work that I do is saying that even if I wasn’t the recipient of that, it’s set a ripple effect because other people saw what happened when I spoke up. They learned through that to say, “I don’t want to be like Jim. Jim’s no longer here when he spoke up, so keep your mouth shut.”
That’s exactly what happened. An important point that we talk a lot about with our managers is the pivot point is how you respond when someone says something that you don’t totally agree with. What we’ve tried to do here at our company is get over the need to respond at all. Here’s what I mean by that. We’re talking about a subject and you, Patrick, make comment in a huddle with a lot of employees. My general response is going to be this, “Patrick, thanks so much for sharing that.” That’s it. I don’t need to qualify what you said. I don’t need to validate it. I don’t need to denigrate it. I need to honor that you were willing to say it. You already said it. The fact that you said it makes it powerful. Once people start to see we’re not searching, there is no right answer, people will start to speak with their authentic, true voice. The irony of my journey is I had to lose a piece of my voice to end up on a mission of trying to honor everyone else’s authentic voice.
There was a story that you told in here when you were in Kiev about how that whole thing transpired in terms of how you found out about that in the beginning. I was shocked to hear the number of people that were involved in this in Ukraine. I never had thought about it, Holodomor. There was an interview you have with a woman. I was wondering if you could speak to that because I will tell you, as I read that, I welled up. If you think of the life that we’re living now about how difficult things are, and then you read this. It puts things in perspective in terms of our spirits, what we can handle and still move forward.
I’m glad you’re asking me about this, Patrick. One of the core things in my book is that throughout human history, leaders, those who had the most power, have overreached and abused it. They’ve gone too far, which has consequences clearly for those who they overreach against, but also ends up collapsing the empire. The leaders get greedy. They go too far. I wanted to write about an example of this. I came across a true historical story of the Holodomor in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. The Soviet Union had formed against all odds about a decade before Stalin had replaced Lenin, and had come to power. The Soviet Union was rolling out its first five–year collective plan. The Ukrainian peasants weren’t going along. They were used to their independence and running their own farms. They had some of the most productive farm land in all of Europe. It was the breadbasket of Europe. Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party in response to this recalcitrance, decided as crazy as it is to say as horrific to respond by starving the Ukrainian peasants to death.
The communists went door–to–door, took all the food sources, goats, pigs, wheat, everything, and blockaded a large section of the Ukraine for about 24 months. As the breadbasket of Europe, about 7 million Ukrainian citizens died of starvation, which Holodomor translated means forced starvation. I got it in my head, and this is a lumberman from Casco, Maine, that I would go to Kiev in the Ukraine and interview a couple of the last living survivors of the Holodomor. I ended up connecting with the Holodomor victims’ memorial in Kiev. I made plans to travel there. They took me out and we interviewed one gentleman, Mykola, one woman, Hanna. I simply recorded their stories, honor their stories. They both were born around 1925. They were old enough to have remembered the Holodomor and yet still be alive now. Both are in their 90s. I have a big chapter at the end of the book about that story with the subtheme being overreaching has consequences.
What gives me goosebumps in that story was given these two individuals a global voice for their story to be heard. To tag onto the end of that, that’s an example where corporate leadership needs to have the old model of corporate leadership, which was about staying in your lane, keep your head down or worry about your own product or service. While we’ve got to be exceptional at that, the world needs something bigger and broader for corporate leadership now. We need corporate leaders to get out of their lane to think about their roles more broadly and to engage bigger topics like, “What if we lead differently?” That’s what the book is about.
That story to me is powerful and I hope people will have a chance to read that because one of her lines was, “I’m still around.”
It was surreal, Patrick. We’re on the eighth floor of a Soviet–era apartment complex. The elevator has got 8 million wires sticking out of it as we turn up. I spent two hours with her. I asked her thoughts about Stalin. She paused and she said, “Stalin is dead and I’m still here.” She slapped her leg and had a big laugh.
For those that are reading and in leadership roles who might be saying, “I don’t have the time right now to develop or to focus on developing leadership, or to work on my team or my organization to focus on the importance of leadership.” What do you say to that?The truth lives in all voices. Click To Tweet
I would say I’m sure you can prove you’re right. Anyone who wants to be too busy for that will easily be able to. Anyone who wants to fight time to prioritize it will easily be able too.
Kevin, I have appreciated this so much. I love reading your book, and the time that we’ve been able to spend together, I have a great deal of respect for you. Thank you for that.
I’m always honored to be with you, Patrick. I appreciate the way you give a louder voice to important leadership ideas. Right back at you.
Psychological safety is important especially in the environment that we’re in. Even if the workplace has experienced seismic shifts in terms of what is going on, employees should still feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of the team. To shed some light on this topic, Patrick Veroneau is joined by the Co-founder of Aristotle Performance and Managing Partner for North America for System 2, Neil Pretty. Neil collaborates with leaders to create high-performance learning environments. If you’ve ever wondered what psychological safety is or why it is important within organizations, communities, or homes, for that matter, then this is an episode you’re going to want to stick around for.
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Psychological Safety And Its Value At Work With Neil Pretty
On this show, we’re going to talk about psychological safety. If you’ve ever wondered what it is or why it is important within organizations, communities or homes for that matter, then this is an episode you’re going to want to stick around for. My guest is Neil Pretty and he’s an expert in this area. He’s the Cofounder of Aristotle Performance. He’s also a Managing Partner for North America for System2, which is a global consulting group focused on a more humane organization and the creation of better outcomes. Psychological safety is important especially in the environment that we’re in. There’s so much power from this. I hope you will stick around and gain some great insight into this. Let’s get into it.
Neil, thanks for being on the show. We had an opportunity to talk about a topic that is so important. As we come into 2020 here, the workplace has experienced seismic shifts in terms of what is going on. As it relates to your focus, expertise, and something that I certainly have a great interest in, as it relates to organizations is around this concept of psychological safety. I was hoping we could dig into that and your background in it. How do you think this is changing as we come into this decade or this era of 2020?
Thanks for having me on, Patrick. I appreciate that. As we come into 2020 and as you asked that question, I can’t help but think of a challenge that was put forth to me several months, which was to write an article on what modern leadership needs that’s different from the past. My response at that time is that it’s no different at all. We went through a period of time of command and control, but what made good leadership 100, 200, 500, 1,000 years ago makes good leadership now. It is the kind of leadership that makes people feel that their whole self is welcome and they have something to contribute. Psychological safety is about, can you bring your whole self into the workplace?
Our leaders create the conditions and our organizations were designed in a way to enable that so that people can show up as their whole selves. What has changed is that the economies that we work in and the way organizations make money is dependent on how well people communicate with each other. Psychological safety is ultimately a thing that seems intangible. We all have that moment where we didn’t speak up or we didn’t say something. An example was shared in a group call with some of the global leaders in this field. A CEO got up and thanked his team for buying this other company. The purchase was good and it was doing well, but they’d never actually bought that company and nobody corrected him because they were worried about the consequences.
It’s even something so simple as that. I’ve worked with an organization where somebody didn’t speak up in a meeting and it costs them millions of dollars because of one error that one person didn’t speak up about. The consequence is go home. Now we’re living in our homes and working from our homes. There is this extra pressure to make things okay at work. This psychological safety piece feels intangible. It’s rooted in our human biology. The chemical responses in our body that happen when somebody says something mean, nasty or makes us otherwise not feel like we’re part of the group.
I would think the whole safety piece of this is really important. You mentioned biological. One of the things that I have found interesting, and this was probably months ago at this point and believe me, I am so into this idea of psychological safety. It makes complete sense to me. From the outside, somebody that doesn’t understand this. It’s equating this with snowflakes like you’ve got to be soft. If you need psychological safety, suck it up. You’re not toughen up. We need cry rooms and all this other stuff. What struck me was a couple of months ago, I was watching a National Geographic show and it was about a motorcycle gang in Florida. One of the higher-ups within this motorcycle gang had flipped or had gone as an informant.
When they were interviewing him, he said, “I decided I had to leave the organization because what I was finding was this well-organized gang that we were a part of was less tolerance for people having different views. People were being killed because they were questioning what the gang was doing.” He thought at this point, “I didn’t feel safe.” For me, psychological safety hits everybody whether it’s organized crime or if you’re in prison. There is that biological component where we need to feel safe.
There was a quote from a board member to Elon Musk that said, and I’ve shared this with lots of people, “No one comes up with a good idea while they’re being chased by a tiger.” I take it one step down and say that we also know that being part of a group is inherently better than being alone because alone, we’re more likely to be chased by a tiger. We will sell our dignity and our ideas, we will let go of all of those things to be part of a group because there is such a deep-seated need to be part of a group. Organizations work more and more in teams. That’s our group. Performance in an organization happens at the team level. We’ll notice that you go from one team to another team. Once high-performing and everybody’s fully engaged and switched on, then you go to another team and it’s a completely different dynamic. We will always be tacking upwind against human nature as leaders and as organizations, but this is one of the most foundational things of the human experience. It’s a desire to be part of the group. Does anybody remember high school? It starts young and it’s part of our human experience to want to be part of that group.
We’re looking at coming out of 2020 at this point. Let’s use March 2020 as our start point. How have you seen the shift from a more remote workforce as being impacted by psychological safety? What does that mean in this environment that we’re in?The economies that we work in and the way organizations make money is dependent on how well people communicate with each other. Click To Tweet
The thing that I have noticed the most is groups having almost inexplicable explosions or breakdowns. Somebody shows up at a meeting, they say something and the whole thing falls apart. Everybody is at each other and whatnot. When you dig down to what’s going on, it’s that person was having a moment in their lives because they have seen too much news that day. It got to them that day or something happened at home and it got to them. They weren’t given the grace by the team to allow them to have their moment because we’re all imperfect. I’ve found that those moments are more frequent because people have been inundated with things that caused them to feel fear. I almost think of it as your cortisol is already up at 70%. It doesn’t take much for it to push over that threshold of now you need to have a fear response with your team. That’s what I’ve noticed as more of these random events have shown up, and the team not knowing how to handle it because they are also amped-up already.
When you say that, I immediately think of these disagreements that may have happened in the workplace. Even those disagreements are in my house now. I can’t even separate that anymore in terms of a disagreement with the group of colleagues at work. That now might be in my living room at this point because I’m working remotely.
I had this thought several months ago that maybe people choose their life partners as the people that they can recover from work with the best. You’ve been most of your life at work and it’s like, “Why not choose the person that helps you recover from that the best?” Now you’re in it with your partner. I’m at home all the time and my wife is downstairs. We have to create boundaries and read social contract with each other. What’s okay? What’s not okay? When is it okay to make noise? When is it not okay to make noise? All of these kinds of things. That’s a lot of extra stuff to juggle. For leaders who are already underdeveloped and underprepared by their organizations have another bag put in their lap. It’s a lot of extra stuff for people to navigate when it was already tough to navigate.
There seems to be a misalignment between leaders’ expectations and behaviors, and the new realities of those that they need to follow them based on this environment. That’s what I hear you saying as well.
When you say that, I think of the misalignment between organizations setting the stage for their leaders, and leaders setting the stage for their people. A specific example is someone I know who was asked to do an OKR session and develop OKRs with his team. Ultimately, he was told, “This is the KPI. Go figure out how you’re going to do the KPI, not create an OKR.”
For those that might not know, what is OKR?
Organizational Key Results.
The KPI is?
It’s the Key Performance Indicator. When he walks into this room and everybody goes, “Why are we here?” He’s like, “Because the boss told us to be here.” It’s not because there’s value around creating OKR. He was not given any kind of guidance for how to facilitate a meeting. What were the guidelines around what was expected was different from the espoused values, live values, and all these different competing factors. Ultimately, it was met with significant levels of apathy because everyone realized that this is another way to measure us, and not another way to engage us or bring us onto the team or improve our lives. He was left holding back without any help from above.
This brings me to another thought. We look at engagement numbers for the last two decades, which have been right around a third of employees within an organization are engaged. What does that look like now?
It has to be significantly lower. I hear in conversations with people how apathetic they are because as long as they do what they’re told, they feel like they’ll keep their job. Organizations don’t thrive but having individuals who are there to just do their job so they have a job. Organizations thrive on people that care about what they’re up to. Amy Edmondson’s work has a 2×2 where one access is psychological safety and the other is performance accountability. With low-performance accountability and low psychological safety, there is apathy. As performance accountability increases, people become more anxious. With less performance accountability and more psychological safety, there is comfort. If you have both performance accountability and psychological safety, that’s when people are in the learning zone. You can create whole organizational structures that increase and enable a learning zone, which is where you have the highest performance. What organizations and what people tend to do is they’re apathetic. They realize they’ve got to pick with the pace, so there’s performance accountability that’s attached to them.
People are on performance improvement plans and all these things, and then their anxiety goes up. Because people can’t live in anxiety all the time, they try to go back to comfort. If it doesn’t work, they go back to apathy. They end up in this cycle of apathy, anxiety and comfort. They’re swimming around in this without accessing greater levels of psychological safety. They break through that wall and develop into a sense of belonging, a sense of wholeness with their team, and they don’t feel engaged. When people don’t feel engaged at work, they don’t feel like they have meaning. People don’t learn from that. They don’t contribute from that. They are not giving what they have available to give to the organization.
The environment that we’re in now, I’ve seen quite a bit of it and had conversations around this, people are feeling very scared about the security of their jobs. If I don’t have job security, if there isn’t psychological safety, I’m not one that can have that conversation. I’m concerned about my job because it’s almost like the fight, flight or freeze. I’m in the freeze place where I’m like, “Maybe if I don’t say anything, they won’t notice and I won’t raise a red flag like a question that they’re not thinking of themselves.” I had this conversation with a rep in the pharmaceutical industry because that’s an industry that now their reps aren’t getting into hospitals or medical offices. You have thousands of reps across the US that are at home and had been at home since March 2020 wondering like, “How long can we do this?” Zoom calls aren’t that effective in that environment. How long is this going to go on? There’s not a lot of conversation around that. There’s a lot of stress and concern about job security.
I think that fight, flight or freeze response is that psychological safety response. You have this primed pump with all the stress so you dare not make a mistake. What’s ironic about that is this is the perfect time for organizations to be making mistakes. They have a great excuse to be making mistakes, learning and developing what works and what doesn’t work. A lot of people say the same thing, “Zoom doesn’t work for this.” It doesn’t work the same. Once you’re in that place where you’re worried about job security, anything that you can do to say, “This is why it doesn’t work,” is almost another way to protect yourself against trying something new and failing. Saying it doesn’t work protects you better than failure and allowed you more than failures.
I’m going to see if we can get on track here. We know that from Gallup research it says that 70% of my ability to stay with a company is not directly related to the person that I report to or that manager. First, we have to have a manager that agrees that psychological safety is important. If that manager is reading this, what are some of the things that the manager can do to promote an environment of psychological safety?
Number one is listening and practicing good listening. Developing coach-like skills. Being able to ask good questions and be present with the people that you’re with, and be with them for however they’re showing up. People are showing up sometimes charged and get easily triggered because of everything else that’s going on in the world. Being okay with that and accepting that that’s part of the reality that you’re going to have to manage as a leader. Holding space for inquiry, questions, and getting people to talk. One of the most clear indicators of a high functioning team versus a low functioning team is the difference between what we call a hub and spoke style conversation or a zigzag style conversation. Being able to not have a conversation where the leader asks a question and somebody answers, the leader asks another person a question and they answer, that goes around in circle. That’s a hub and spoke style conversation. You cannot have that conversation.
You need to have that conversation where members are asking each other questions. There’s general inquiry around what’s going on and how things could be different or better. One of the questions I often ask my team is, is the idea that I brought forth to everyone not any good at all? Part of that is the goal of being humble and inviting dissenting opinions into the room, and setting the stage for people to question me. That’s a critical thing for leaders to do. Amy Edmondson’s work has a leadership tool kit in it of set the stage by participation and respond productively. The part where that breaks down the most often is in responding productively. Do you give someone a side-eye? Do you make it hard for people?
To share a story about that regarding Zoom, I worked with a CEO who was pretty good at getting mad at people. He would get mad through Zoom. Every single person on the Zoom screen thought he was mad at them, so the whole team suffered his wrath equally. What was going on was that he was getting upset with the individual and not giving them any way to make it better. This is one of the other suggestions which is to be specific about feedback so that it’s actionable and it’s not targeted at the individual. When you praise people, praise the individual for who they are, how they show up, and what they bring to the table.
From a manager standpoint, when I hear you talking about that, I immediately go to the need for that person to go first. As a leader, I need to show vulnerability to be able to get this group to feel as though they can do it too. If I’m not going to put myself out there, the group is going to hold back and say, “I’m not going there. I’m not saying this.”Curiosity is the foundational root of learning. Click To Tweet
You’re bang on. Leaders have to go first and the challenge for leaders is that they’re often scared. One of our colleagues did a study that revealed that one of the most impactful things for the people in her study for the leaders was the fear of being labeled a micromanager. Their fears of how they were going to be labeled by their team changed how they wanted to behave in a way that was destructive to the team. You asked about my experience with psychological safety. My experience is rooted in experiencing human conditions. What it’s like to be thrown into different environments? How are people going to respond? It started with my first leadership position at thirteen years old where I sat down with my Army cadet section. We all sat in a circle and I said, “How do we want to be as a section?” I was promptly stood up, taken outside, stood at attention and screamed at because that’s not how things are done in the Army. Leaders often suffer that. It might not be visceral or obvious but leaders suffer that. That impacts teams and it takes a big level of comfort with yourself as a leader to be able to push through that.
I find it fascinating that you say that. You were thirteen and you’re being hauled out because that’s not the way it’s done. I immediately go back to three different high-ranking military officers, one in the Navy and two in the Army, that I’ve had on the show. All three of them spoke to the fact that they had legitimate authority. They had the title to be able to tell somebody what to do, but that was what they used last because they knew that it wasn’t going to get real buy-in from people. You’ll do it because I said so but it won’t look the same as if you want to do it. If I can get you to want to do this, it’s going to elevate all of us. It’s going to look completely different. They had that competence in themselves to know I shouldn’t have to tell you what to do. If I ask you involvement type of questions, approaches and behaviors, we’re going to end up in a better place.
What’s interesting is you keyed onto the next level, and these military officers know it at a subterranean level within themselves as well. In that same study that I referred to where managers were afraid of being labeled a micromanager, the issue was that because of that, they didn’t establish authority. Because they didn’t establish authority, they had to use their power from title to manage the team.
It’s like this paradigm shift.
It’s completely different, and authority is such a different thing to wield in power. If you were to take away all titles, the natural leaders would rise to the top and some toxic ones but that’s a whole other conversation and a pretty small portion of the population. Most people are “toxic” simply because they’re not skilled or feel able to establish authority.
If we shift things down and look from an employee standpoint, who wouldn’t want to try and create an environment about more psychological safety unless you’re somebody that’s part of a team that’s a bully, or somebody that wants to keep that sense of control over the group. How do you recommend as an individual trying to have this level of psychological safety promoted as part of your team? That’s going to be much more difficult.
It is in a lot of ways much more difficult. People talk about everyday leadership like, “We are all leaders.” Not everybody is a natural leader, but there are things you can do that can make your team feel more stable, secure and able. As leaders, we have the biggest impact on that, what’s okay to say, what’s not okay to say, and having members established boundaries like, “That wasn’t cool.” It is a good way to approach and establishing healthy boundaries between people and what’s okay on the team. It’s being in a relationship with each other.
I worked with a team where the people had worked together for six years, and one gentleman did not know that the other guy’s daughter had autism, for example. He had no idea after working six years together that his colleague had a home life that was quite challenging. He had to learn all these different things from the daughter that had this. It was an interesting dynamic as a result because they didn’t know each other. They simply didn’t know each other so they couldn’t have honest conversations. They couldn’t be vulnerable with each other, so there was a breakdown between members.
Getting to know people, especially over Zoom, having that water cooler time. I often suggest that team members set up slack time with each other where they go for a walk together on the phone because they’re not on that video call where they have to use extra calories to read what’s going on over the Zoom screen. Walking the same direction, people tend to solve problems that way. Getting in a relationship with each other is something that can build that comradery regardless of what the leader is up to. Leaders often will follow soon and be like, “This team is different.” They can be nudged in the right direction that way.
We’re like icebergs. We see about 10% of each other and the other 90% of who we are sits below the water. I will jokingly say that the only way you find out what else this person is about is you have to stick your head in the water. That oftentimes takes work and it can be painful to do that. I do believe that when we have a better understanding of who we are like in this situation, what if this is somebody that maybe leaves early on certain dates. You didn’t know why and now you find out that it’s because of physical therapy or some type of event that they have to go to for one of their kids. It changes how you view that person because it’s not as though this person is a slacker. This person has other obligations that need to be taken into account. It’s so important.
As you say that, I can’t help but think that those people are usually the ones that are the most committed to their job. Here is this other team members often going, “What a slacker.” Studies show that those people that have those obligations often do the most work because they’re trying to make up for that time. They take it home with themselves and stuff like that. You have this breakdown in a relationship but not a breakdown in performance.
Often, we fall back to our unconscious biases when that happens. I just make a value judgment on you because it’s the easiest thing for me to do as opposed to taking the time to understand what is going on. That becomes more difficult in this environment if we’re working remotely. We’re starting to see the real value of the water cooler conversations and what that provided around belongingness and connection.
A mentor of mine, Darren Jacklin, said to me once, “You can say anything to people in the relationship because you have the relationship to make mistakes.” That stands true. Time and time again, we talk about psychological safety. The examples are all these massive issues like Wells Fargo, Volvo and Boeing. They’re catastrophic but it’s often the sarcastic comment that’s catastrophic for us personally that has the most impact. A team I worked with had a sarcastic comment that was made between two members. The one guy took it personally and they didn’t talk to each other for six months.
We have worked with teams where members didn’t talk to each other for five years, and they had to talk through intermediaries. Those are the moments that affect organizational outcomes and people, and that sarcastic comment was made. On the other side, there was an individual who didn’t give him any grace, didn’t give him any leeway. You mentioned icebergs, and we talked about KPIs and OKRs. That will get you down to the surface level of the water when it comes to performance, but there is an iceberg of opportunity below the surface that psychological safety helps access. That’s that collective knowledge that’s accessed through that portal that changes how organizations function and how they go home. Even down to the point where a lot of people go home for medical reasons, and call in sick and they stopped doing that.
You mentioned a verbal example. Somebody says something sarcastic. I think about the nonverbal so if somebody’s in a meeting rolling their eyes when somebody else says something. Even if that person doesn’t see it. It still signals to the rest of the group that this is not a safe place to go against the grain, or to think outside of the norms here, or to throw up new ideas because this is what happens when you’re not looking. I could be that person that’s getting the eyes rolled. It’s almost like we kill the goose. That’s it and we never know about it. It never comes to the surface. It’s just you know what happened. I’m not coming with an idea anymore.
You’ve drawn something that this is a moment for leaders. As a leader, you’re in the room and one of your members rolls their eye. What do you do? It’s critical to bring that, “John, you rolled your eyes. What’s that about?” Exploring it with some curiosity instead of anger, frustration or reprimand. You can explore that with curiosity. Curiosity is the foundational root of learning.
It takes a very confident leader to be able to do that without being worried about getting derailed or sucked into a conflict themselves that’s going to end in an unhealthy way.
I always ask, what is the muscle you’re reflecting? Those managers were scared of being micromanagers. The muscles they were reflecting was their fear, and their fear was reflected in their teams. The managers who reflect the muscle of like, “This is terrifying for me but I know that it’s in service of the team. I’m going to do it anyway. Here I go.” They are showing to their team that it’s okay to push through that wall, and expect the other person on the other side of that question is going to respond like an adult because you’re treating them like one.
As we wrap things up here and we’re talking about psychological safety, if there was one behavior that you think is one that is most valuable here, what would that be?
I might say sarcasm. Partly because of my journey, but partly because I’ve seen a lot of damage from it on team. Some people don’t get the joke. Some people get the joke and don’t like it. Sarcasm is almost always at the expense of someone else, and saying something that’s sarcastic or even otherwise is somehow at the expense of someone else. Not their idea, not their thoughts or their question but who they are is very destructive. We have a society that sees it as natural to be joking and have fun. It is quite disruptive. Leaders and members of teams will often try to use humor to break the tension, but that sarcasm is often reflected by some insecurity that we see in ourselves. It’s getting people to reflect on why they feel a need to be sarcastic, and also maybe shift a behavior that is commonly destructive for the team.If the first step seems too big, make the step smaller. Click To Tweet
You answered what I thought or I’ll ask, what is the most damaging thing to psychological safety? I would be curious, what do you think is the skill or behavior that is probably most important for developing psychological safety?
When it comes to developing psychological safety, it might sound a bit weird, but getting teams to do the check-in, bringing your whole self. The act of inviting people to do a check-in. The check-in isn’t just like, “I’m Neil. I checked-in.” It’s like, “This is what’s going on for me.” Those teams that have individuals who show up at some points in time, and they’ve had too many cups of coffee, and they’re wired. They’ve watched or read too many news articles, or they spend on Instagram all morning and they’re flustered, or they got an email from someone outside or inside the organization that’s set them on a different path in their day.
If you can take two breaths for each person in the meeting to say, “I’m Neil. I have too many cups of coffee. I’m a little wired. My kid was running around. My energy is anxious and stressed out.” If I’ve brought myself into the room that way, people know a little bit more about me. They know a little bit more about how I’m showing up. They can have the opportunity to reflect on that. If I say something that’s a little bit cut short or a little bit sharper, he did say he was a little bit wired. It can build some buffer around how we interact with one another, as well as demonstrating that we want to bring our whole selves into work.
When I hear you make that suggestion about checking in, it reminds me of a group that I’m involved with. I’m not a facilitator anymore for them but as a group, we used to have to go around and do a check-in before we met with families that we were helping. It was called the Center for Grieving Children. The whole point of doing the check-in was to release anything that I was dealing with that would prevent me from being present in the moment for the group that I was with. As I hear you say that, there need to be small steps for that to happen where groups feel like I can check-in. The power in that of if I do have things going on, if I can bring that up to the group before we start, maybe it does provide an opportunity for me to be more present and let go of that. Also, the group understands where I’m coming from, and that I might not be 100% here but now at least you know why. That’s great.
What I’m hearing from your response is that not only is it a place to bring up what you don’t want but to bring up energy that you do want. I had a meeting where someone said, “Hold on. The energy here is low and tired. Why don’t we try to access some of the energy we had in this other meeting? What would it be like to do that?” We simply spent one minute each, and five minutes later, how we were all in the meeting was different and the results were amazing.
It’s the small shifts. That’s the important thing here that we talk about. Psychological safety or a lot of this stuff is not about making these major 180-degree changes. They’re tweaks and small things that could be done that will make such a difference as everybody I know looks forward to exiting 2020. What’s 2021 going to look like? Is it going to be more of the same? What are we going to do to change it? We can start doing that now.
I often say to people, “If the first step seems too big, make the step smaller.”
On that note, I want to thank you for taking the time and sharing your expertise in regards to psychological safety and how to bring it to life within organizations because it’s important. If it’s done there, I look at this as we need this everywhere in our personal lives and the communities. When we have psychological safety, we’re richer for it. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Patrick. I appreciate it.
About Neil Pretty
My experiences in life, at work and as a leader of hundreds of teams across numerous industries has provided a deep understanding of the human condition and what it takes to produce results. The realization that psychological safety was the most influential factor in effectiveness and results was confirmation of what my experience had taught me.
As a result of that journey the goal is to provide opportunities for people to feel more empowered and enabled at work and in their lives and for business to thrive as a result has become a focus of my daily efforts as well as my entrepreneurial pursuits.
This is the most complex problem facing leaders and organizations today. How do you make the whole greater than the sum of its parts? How do we make human nature work for our organizations instead of against them? How do you tap into the talent that is currently underutilized?
Everything in life is a series of conversations. How well a team interacts has the greatest impact on how well they perform. Psychological Safety is the simplest way to measure, track and improve those interactions.
Simple metrics and simple changes consistently provide access to an iceberg of opportunity and human capital that is hidden below the surface. These initiatives and interventions can take teams and organizations to a whole new level of performance where their people are their competitive advantage.
There is so much missed opportunity, squandered talent, and so many teams that are teetering on the brink of sink-or-swim. I want to connect the dots for people at all levels, and help them showcase their talents while translating them into high performance results.
I spend my time collaborating with other leaders to develop strategies and initiatives that achieve these goals.
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Unlike desires or dreams, our thoughts and feelings don’t reside in our minds alone. The body holds your physical health and your ability to function. But the mind houses your spirit and your motivation to function. On today’s show, Dr. Krishna Bhatta is with host Patrick Veroneau to talk about how the mind and body are closely connected to improving one’s mood and overall health. Dr. Krishna shares his journey on how intermittent silence changed him and how this had been a useful practice in his daily life. He shares how slowly practicing, same time (for 10 mins), same place for certain weeks or months, you will start to open new doors and work from the inside out.
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Intermittent Silence: How To Achieve Self-Mastery Of Body And Mind With Dr. Krishna Bhatta
If you have been exploring different ways to incorporate meditation into your daily lifestyle, then this is the episode for you. My guest is Dr. Krishna Bhatta. He’s the Chief of Urology at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. He’s also the Chairman and Founder of Relaxx LLC, which is an app on meditation and specifically, one of the models that he’s created is called Intermittent Silence. I’ve been using it and I love it. The conversation with Dr. Bhatta was one that I enjoyed. In this environment, if you’re looking for different ways to improve your own wellbeing, then this is a great episode for you. Let’s get into it.
Dr. Bhatta, thank you for being on the show. Dr. Bhatta is the Chief of Urology at Eastern Maine Medical Center, but also created a meditation app. He’s in the meditation space. There is some uniqueness to what he is promoting, the model that he’s developed. I was hoping that we could talk about that, Dr. Bhatta.
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be with you. You have been in the leadership space at least in Maine that we know of. It’s great to connect with you.
This is such an important component. We had an opportunity to talk prior to this. In regard to the leadership development that I’m involved in, I think very much about this idea that it needs to start from the inside out, which is much in line with what your app is trying to provide individuals. I was hoping you could go through this idea in regard to your app, which is Relaxx, and this idea of intermittent silence and how do we do that?
Let’s start with the app. We can talk about the components of the app, and then we can talk briefly about intermittent silence. There are three major components or three elements that we are born with. Normally, when people talk about any spiritual progress, they talk about mind and body, enhance the mind, enhance the body. We have come up quite a bit as far as body and mind. We exercise and we do comfortable house and comfortable living. We have done a lot with our body and our mind. We go to our universities, colleges, and we have high standards that we become great doctors, scientists, and leaders.
There is another element in our life that we come with which we ignore. That’s where the problems happen that even though you’re successful in body and mind, you still are prone to depression and burnout, because there is another element which I call the flame, which represents your individual personal consciousness. There is a piece of consciousness in you that stays with you even after your body dies. That flame is an important factor that continues to represent you in some form or the other. That is the basic concept. The practice of intermittent silence and meditation comes there.Chakras are work centers of energy in the body that are all connected. Click To Tweet
What is the impact of intermittent silence as it relates to the flame?
The flame is the one which the code restraint, and you want to know your consciousness. You want to experience that and the silence by resting your brain, and by being in what’s happening in the surrounding. You’re journey to the inside starts with that. It’s only ten minutes a day practice. By slowly practicing at same time, same place for certain weeks or months, you will start experiencing new doors start opening. More than that, you can also use after that from the inside out. You can create a theater or an atmosphere inside that silence where you can experiment on things that you want to work on. If you want to work on congruence, one of your instinct. You can work from inside, not just imposing it on your mind, which is good to have that. You can create a conditioning by training yourself, but if it grows from inside you, then it becomes yours forever.
As the practice of intermittent silence, to do this is a short amount of time too. Is it about ten minutes?
Yes, ten minutes a day.
Could you walk me through what is that process? I did it myself. I’ll give you my feedback after I’m done.
I like to know that from you. It’s four components of intermittent silence. The first one is close your mouth. When you close your mouth, you’re without words. You stop communication. The whole department of communication, and expression, and words processing that happen inside your brain, all those neurons and associated fibers get rested. That’s the least benefit of that, then you close your eyes. When you close your eyes, everything that’s associated with visual pathway, optic neurons, and everything that is associated with observation gets rested inside your brain. There is a silent listening. Silent listening is listening to any sound and all sound around you, but not trying to analyze that or process that, just silent listening. The fourth one is watching your thoughts silently. Let your thoughts pass by and let it transit. These are the four basic steps of this thing.
All the brain cells and neurons in your brain will thank you. We say that 86 billion neurons for that ten minutes of rest. As we were talking, in the beginning it may be uncomfortable. We are not used to an inner journey. We are not used to being silent. You want that ten minutes to go away in three minutes. That happens. That’s expected, but once you cross the limit that’s uncomfortable and restless, it creates a space inside which you can do wonderful things. You are observing outside and you are expressing outside. Instead of doing that, you can create your own bubble or theater inside you. The expression that if it goes inside, internalize it. You can have a situation where you can only have positive thinking. You can create some obstacles if you want to, but you can create a positive imaging as well.
Let me tell you a story about a patient who I was going to do a prostate surgery, cancer surgery. He told me that he wants me to read a book before I do the surgery. He gives me the book, I read the book and the book was by Vincent Peale, Positive Imaging. It’s a nice book. I thought, “I’ll read the book. Why does he want me to read the book?” This guy had been practicing for a week before surgery. Every night he will lie down and imagine that he’s on the surgical table and I’m operating, and everything is going well. This is the power of positive imaging. In this period of silence, once you have practice and you have done your ten minutes, you can create that theater. Whether it’s the leadership course you’re going to give, or you are going to give an interview. You can do the whole thing in your personal space and then act it out. Eighty percent or ninety percent of that will be the same as what’s going to happen. I used to do surgeries. If I’m going to do a big surgery, I’ll act it out. When I go, I’m well controlled. Sometimes things will go this way or that way, but at least 90% of that has been rehearsed.
It’s interesting you talk about that too, because whether I’m working with athletes or leaders in organizations, the successful ones take that to heart, especially athletes about visualization and expectation. You need that first if you want to elevate yourself. That ability to go inside and develop this sense of expectations is important. One of the unique things about your method though is breathing through your nose the whole time and keeping your mouth closed. As a morning routine, I will generally try and work on breath for a short period of time. I’ve always been told to breathe through the nose and not through the mouth. Why is your approach to close your mouth the whole time?
It’s more to do with communication expression so that you can internalize it and master the air and rest your thing. What you are saying is, what is the difference between meditation and intermittent silence. When you say meditation, it’s a huge area. There is guided meditation, breathing meditation, and mantra meditation. It’s like going to Himalayas. When you go to Himalayas, it’s vast, 1,500 miles of spread. When you go to Himalayas, you need winter gear, hiking boots and warm clothing. You need to acclimatize yourself or need oxygen if you want to go higher. All that thing is packaged in intermittent silence. In any meditation you want to do, you have to deal with your thoughts. You have to deal with sounds that you’ve got listening. You have to deal with your observation power. Observation also includes mindfulness. You need this package for any meditation you want to do. If you want to do jogging meditation, you won’t close your eyes because if you close your eyes, you may not know where you are going.
If you are doing breathing meditation, that part you can modify. Once you have the hang of silence, because all the guided meditation, they take their mind and they guide you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need that silent period. That’s where you experience the depth. It’s like going to the source, but once you get to the source, then find the force. That part is not mentioned by many people. Most people will take you to that silent place and there’s a comeback. Once you go to that silent place, there is a lot of energy there that we can be useful in your practice in daily life.
I experienced that when I did that for the ten minutes. What was interesting is as I started, I listened to you and then you were gone. I was like, “It’s all silent here. There’s nothing.” In the beginning, it was a little uncomfortable. There was no instruction, no silent music in the background. It was just silence. I jokingly said before this that I didn’t realize that my house, even at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning, was as loud as it was. It’s the different noises, the radiator or the house settling, or my stomach rumbling that I never paid attention to before. As I came out of this and was trying to focus on letting those thoughts continue to drift by, I kept getting caught up in thinking about the process and questions that I was going to ask you when we had this interview and trying to let those go. After finishing, as it relates to the model that I’ve been doing a lot of work on for another client, I came up with a whole different approach to what I was going to do. I looked to that space that I gave myself. It provided me a great sense of energy after I was done.People who can teach others leadership and other things are born with a high energy level. Click To Tweet
That brings me to the inner conversation. There are two kinds of inner conversation. One is what you just mentioned. Something came up from there and it happens like my whole intermittent silence came like that from my meditation, the whole process. I then tried to formulate it and structure it. That is one type of inner conversation. The other kind of inner conversation is that you want to brainstorm on something, you take that particular thought, and now you have a space. You have created a place where after you have listened to the sound and everything else, you can create and say, “I’m going to experiment this or experience this,” then do a brainstorming. One is the thoughts come directly that you never anticipated and never thought. The other is you can also use it as a brainstorming session or honing in some skills, one of your twelve questions you can work on. It can be a powerful tool.
I found it very powerful. I can’t wait to do it again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll do it at some point too. Is there a reason why you mentioned trying to be consistent in terms of when it’s done and where it’s done?
They said the best time is either the dawn, sunrise or sunset, because the universe’s energy changes at that time. The whole point here of doing same time, place and technique is somehow you will find after a week or so that your body is looking for that, it’s waiting for that. It’s strange but it does happen. When you get up in the morning, you feel like breakfast. Your body, your whole space, it seems like everything becomes aligned that way. I find it helpful to do it the same time, same place, and same routine.
One of the things that I saw on your website that I found very interesting is you talked about mind as friend. In my own experience and the work that I do, and from what I see outside is that many times, those minds aren’t their friends, and how important it is to have your mind as your friend. What does that mean and how does it impact?
I started saying that because people started calling it names like monkey mind or something. I said, “Come on. This is going to be with you. Whether you like it or not, your mind is going to be with you for your life. You can’t get rid of this so why not have a friendly relationship?” Mind has two components, minding and mindfulness. The minding part, sometimes you can say, “Come on, stay out there. I’ll come back to you.” You also mentioned about energy body and food body. We have food body, which is we eat healthy, and food translates into body fitness, but there is also another layer of the body, which is energy body. We sometimes feel goosebumps, sometimes you feel that way. The Chinese call it chi and the Japanese call it qi. There is a lot of meditation in Relaxx app with chakra meditations. Chakras are work centers of energy in the body and they’re all connected.
The whole point is when you do exercise, you are healthy. You feel different. The same way, once you start creating and conserving energy, you feel like you are living at a higher energy level. The higher the energy level, the more peaceful you are. Some people are born with higher energy. People who can teach other people leadership and other things, you are born with a high energy level. There are people who are not. They should work on that because if you live at a lower energy level, the more irritable and sensitive you are. It’s important to work on the energy level consciously for leadership, entrepreneurship, medicine, whatever. It’s generally a good idea.
I would love people to have an opportunity to go on and try your app. You mentioned chakra, that there’s a number of different examples on there or options for people to meditate in different ways, not just in regard to intermittent silence, but there are other things on there that are valuable. Go to the App Store, it’s Relaxx, and your website is Relaxx.org.
There’s download link on that there.
I downloaded the app and tried it. It will become a regular part of what I do. I enjoyed it. I hope other people will take the opportunity to do that.
Thank you, Patrick. It’s great to know you. We can talk about how we connected sometime.
I know we have more work that is going to be done together in terms of a couple of clients that I have mentioned about having you come in and do this talk again. I appreciate this. The universe has sent us to each other for this type of work. Thank you for that.
Wishing you all the best.
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It’s probably fair to say that most health leaders are genuinely concerned about making healthcare better. However, not all decisions coming from above translate well into practice from the patients’ perspective. Tom Dahlborg never realized this until he found himself on the other end of the stethoscope. When he became a patient, he saw how some of the decisions he once taught made things better didn’t make things better at all and sometimes even led to outright harm. Since then, he has become a huge advocate for patients’ welfare. In his second book, “From Heart to Head & Back Again,” he takes a walk along the memory corridors, back to the time when he was in the patient’s robe and shares how that experience impacted his view on what should be done to make the system become a better one for the patients. The task that Tom takes upon as his own is nothing short of herculean, but he believes it can be done if we go back to the core values of healthcare – which is the intrinsic motivation to care, love and be kind to one another. Listen in as he shares this powerful message with Patrick Veroneau.
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From Heart To Head And Back Again: Making Healthcare Better From Both Sides Of The Slate With Tom Dahlborg
Thank you for joining me on another episode. My guest is a repeat guest, Tom Dahlborg, a good friend of mine as well, an author, as well as the Executive Director for the Michigan Center for Clinical Systems Improvement and a huge advocate for patients. That’s what we’re going to talk about. His second book, From Heart To Head & Back Again, talks about his own journey as a patient in the healthcare system, what that looked like and how it impacted his own mission and view of what needs to be done in terms of being advocates as a patient for ourselves. Also, how to help other people in the system to make sure that we’re providing the best possible care we can for them. I hope you enjoy this episode. Let’s get into it.
Tom, thank you for being on the show. This is such an honor. This is number two for you being on the show. You were on in regards to your last book. I know we’d had a conversation in regards to this book coming out. I couldn’t wait to have an opportunity to talk to you about this, From Heart To Head & Back Again: … a Journey Through the Healthcare System and what an important time to be having that conversation. As we jump into this, I’d love to hear what was going through your mind when you first decided to go in this direction with this book?
I had been working in health care at that point about halfway through my career. I was still fairly young and thought I knew a lot and thought the things I was doing as a “health care leader” was making things better. It wasn’t until I became a patient. I got to see the other side of the slate, the other side of the picture, that it became clearer to me of what flames of good are in the healthcare system that we have to continue to fan, and also where those opportunities are. I’ll give you a specific example. At that time, I was building quality based incentive programs. Now it’s called value-based purchasing or pay for performance. I was building these programs thinking, “I’m doing the right thing. I’m helping things move in the right direction.”
Quite frankly, what I found as a patient was that these incentives didn’t work. I’ve written about this since that time of how studies have shown that you cannot incentivize someone to care. You cannot incentivize someone to love. What you do when you do incentivize people, you’re removing that intrinsic, “I want to do good. I want to help.” Creating these extrinsic drivers to do the right thing. It’s so contrary to what we want. As a patient and being married to a nurse and as a “health care leader” at that time, what I thought I knew and what reality was were two different things.
It took me a while to recognize that quiet place, process and think about, contemplate, “How can I help turn the tide? How can I undo some of the damage I helped to create to try to help others, be it the physicians, the nurses and all the folks on the front lines, the patients and families and others? How do I help recreate a system that’s going to lead to goodness for goodness sake, not caring because I got paid to care?” I started the journey and this was back in 2015 of, “I’m going to go to that place of sharing my own story,” meld that to my observations and the stakes I’ve made. Some opportunities I saw it maybe helped a little bit to try to tell a compelling story and lead to betterment within the system.
When you talk about your story, what is this? What did happen?
The bulk of the story, I was working in military healthcare at the time. I’m not a military person myself, but my family is. I wanted to honor my family and took a pathway to engage with a healthcare institution in May. During that time period, I got very sick. I was told I would never work again and to get lined for a heart transplant. I was that person that went to the pain clinic and they said, “Here’s your menu of narcotics, would you want to stop?” This was back in 2001. What’s the old saying, “By the grace of God, I did not follow a path leading to the addiction.” We think about the opioid epidemic now, a lot of this because of the broken system. I lived through that system luckily or through blessings and being married to a nurse. I didn’t fall through that full path.
As I went through that journey of illness, where I had to resign from my position as COO for a military healthcare organization, I was that person that initially thought, “I got this. I’m a health care leader. I know the CEO of the hospital. I know the head of the Cardiology Department.” It didn’t matter. I was incredibly sick, scared and vulnerable. Every day, I looked in the mirror and saw a lot of the brokenness I was part of. That was hitting me in the face in addition to be having three young children and my bride and thinking I was letting them down the entire time. You have all these emotions. You have this vulnerability, and it didn’t matter who I knew I was scared.
The journey is through that. Those flames of good that helped me get through and also identifying those opportunities that we need to make better because I was a health care leader and I’m married to a nurse and I couldn’t navigate. We couldn’t navigate to the best of the ability that we should’ve had or could have had. The system is that broken. There’s goodness in it. There’s also brokenness. I wanted to, again, highlight the good, use the term celebrate the good within the system and fix those opportunities.There is goodness in healthcare and we need to celebrate that. But it is also a broken system that needs to be fixed. Click To Tweet
When you’re thinking back to yourself in the system, you’re somebody you know how to navigate, or at least you think you do. Where do you think for you the biggest challenge was in the beginning for this? Where you’re saying, “This needs to change.” It’s almost an a-ha moment for you it seems.
It was. I’d say the biggest a-ha was looking in the mirror and gone, “You don’t know what you think you now,” and having to relearn, re-see and look through. We talk about empathy, look through other’s lenses, look through the lens of that nurse in that emergency department, looked at the lens of that technologists in the X-ray department, look through the lens of the physician, look through the lens of the other patients. It was these opportunities to see differently, from other angles, from other perspectives. That was the a-ha to say, “Tom, you don’t know.” When I was full of ego and hubris and said, “I got this. We can manage this illness.” I had no clue. I’d say that was the biggest piece of it.
Add to that, when you think about Deming and the 94/6 Rule, which is all about 94% of brokenness is system related and 6% is people related or person related. As a leader, what do we typically do? We go and we blame people. We don’t look in the mirror and fixed system. What we need to do is it’s both and. It’s like, if it is a person issue, you deal with that appropriately. Sometimes it’s coaching and mentoring and sometimes it’s not. You also have to fix the system. That was the other a-ha was the level of brokenness of the system, including the financial drivers within the system that were leading and continuing to lead to that and escalate the brokenness.
You bring up an interesting point because I think of that often in regards to you might be thinking a physician doesn’t have time yet they’re being directed. They need to see so many patients within a certain time slot. It becomes very difficult. I remember hearing this back to my days when I was in that field as a pharmaceutical rep is having a physician say, “What do you do with the patient that comes in?” It’s their fifteen minutes and they’ve got two minutes left and they drop this major issue that they’re dealing with. Maybe it’s depression or anxiety that they didn’t even say anything. You have two minutes, what do you do with this? Do you say, “Time’s up, what’s next?”
It’s such a great example. The physician primary care physicians sticking with them for a while, and they’re on average obligated to generate 30 RVUs, Relative Value Units per day. For a lay person that means, an average office visit, they need 30 of those per day. If they were all average offices, so we know they’re not. That means you’re triple booked every fifteen minutes. I have on a maximum of five minutes. Don’t understand the patient prior to walking through that room. Don’t understand it and contemplating next steps post visit. Don’t connect at a human level with that patient, that family not being positioned to listen. Now, thinking about malpractice, putting that hat on for a moment, I’m now well positioned to make a mistake and to do real harm in not only am I going to harm somebody else, that’s also going to come back at me with a malpractice lawsuit.
This is the broken system that physicians are thinking about all the time consciously and subconsciously. This is going through their minds. When I talk to physicians, nurses and others, they say this is what keeps them up at night, knowing that they are going to hurt somebody because the system is not broken and trying to get through the day, try to see as many people as possible because access is also an issue. They want to try to hit on that mark and get as many people in as possible. Normally, they don’t have the time to do it all and they don’t have the system in place to do it all.
Yes, there are some bad doctors and bad nurses. Just like in every walk of life, what I’m finding is most, if not more than most wonderful people that are burning out because the broken system in that burnout leads to disengagement and leads to harm, harm to them, to patients, families and to communities. These were the things that I saw through my own journey, and a different lens that I hope this book is going to help to number one, call attention to it, and then give some practical opportunities for people to make a difference themselves.
For those that are reading that might not know there’s a term that’s used called HCAHPS. It’s like customer service surveys in healthcare. That has a financial impact on the institution because they get paid based on those.
I was in Cleveland Clinic years and years ago. They were recruiting me to work in the patient experience space as a leader within Cleveland Clinic. They said, “What’s your experience with HCAHPS?” I told a story about being a transport aide in a small community hospital and about connecting with this elderly person. I had gotten to know this person because I was wheeling her around the hospital for the last couple of weeks. She called me Tommy. One day I was bringing her down for her treatment for cancer and I wheeled her down there, she puts her hand on my hand. She goes, “Tommy, please don’t leave me. My family’s not here and I’m scared.” I radio up to my transport department and let them know that I need to stay with, I’ll make up a name, Mrs. Smith for the next X amount of time.
They allowed me to do that. That’s patient experience. That’s customer service. That is caring and loving within the healthcare system. I’ve told that story to the folks at Cleveland Clinic. They looked at me and they said, “What about HCAPHS and the financial ramifications of that?” I was like, “Cleveland Clinic is amazing. They’re a great organization.” The people I was talking to was so caught up in the financial drivers, associated with numbers, with metrics, they forgot the heart of what we’re trying to do here, the heart of healthcare. Hence the title of the book is bringing that heart back in and remembering that we’re to care and ideally, we’re here to love and focusing on metrics. Financial drivers to get people to care, it’s doesn’t work. What we need to focus on is positioning people so that they know they’re cared about and they’re loved so that they can then share that love and that caring with others.
Tom, think of how many times that scenario plays out now where families aren’t even allowed into hospitals. I had to go to the emergency room. I’m admitted to the emergency room since I sliced my finger in high school, but getting wheeled in there and going through an intake and Cindy, my wife being told, “You can’t stay in here, basically we’ll call you.” That was it. It was not a pressing issue that I was dealing, but I think of all those people that maybe this is it. That’s the last time you’re going to see this person and how scared the family member is, but also how scared the patient is of leaving, thinking, “I’m on my own,” which is what you said this woman said.
I share in the afterword of the book, the impact of the pandemic in the space of caring. I highlight a couple of a good friend of ours whose two family members died alone. One of them in a nursing home or a nursing facility and the other one at home. When we think about the pandemic and how we’re trying to keep people safe, when you think about quality improvement, you have to understand what your measures are? What does success look like keeping people safe, but also the unintended consequences? These undetected consequences is isolation, lack of caring, people feeling scared, the mental health and the emotional health of these people.
There’s lots of other things I won’t even go into, but we have to understand the full picture, that 360. Develop a system, a model where we can mitigate, some of the times you can’t change the badness. Sometimes it’s just is. Yet, most times it’s not. We can create systems, which allows connectivity for us to address some of those other things. There was a study some years ago that if I remember right, it was that isolation and loneliness more dangerous to anyone, to someone than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. That’s what the study can’t found. I believe it.
This was part of my journey, when my bride had to leave me in the hospital the first time when I was admitted and again that sense of loneliness and despair. Even though they were wonderful caring people around me, nurses and so forth, in my own head, I was alone and it was devastating. I even talked about it was more devastating than the issue with my hat. We need to open our eyes and look at the intended and the unintended consequences of all these types of decisions. Those that impact the health and wellbeing, not physical, but mental, emotional and spiritual of people we need to be addressing.
In regards to the isolation, there’s so much research. One of the behaviors that I will often talk about is around creating belongingness. We know how much research there is. We are pack animals. We need each other. Thousands of years ago, we couldn’t have survived without each other. If we were voter outside of the group, that was a death sentence. I would argue that now it’s still a death sentence. It looks different now when we’re pushed outside of a group or we’re isolated because of the environment that we’re in right now is a concern for me that I see with this pandemic, the isolation that has been pushed on many. You’re wearing a 22 shirt from the military talking about how many people commit suicide every day.
Twenty-two veterans per day in America are committing suicide. That’s one of the reasons because a lot of my book is generated as based around my work with veterans. I’m not a veteran. I try to highlight often as much as I can the challenges spectrums were facing and be it, my work within the VAs and so forth, but also to let people know that, 22 veterans per day are committing suicide. I believe although I haven’t seen the intense study to support it, that number is increasing during the pandemic, not only for veterans, but for others as well.
If you are a veteran, if you’re in crisis or if you know a veteran and you know they’re in crisis or potentially, there’s a suicide prevention hotline, a Veterans Crisis Hotline, it’s 1-800-273-8255. The pandemic is escalating. These challenges that people are facing. We need to find additional ways that we can support, care and love for people during the pandemic and beyond. The Telehealth has done a lot of good things on this and yet it’s not the same. A lot of the studies because the pandemic has been going on for X number of months now is that Telehealth is missing some key very basic aspects of healthcare, such as blood pressure checks.Healthcare is all about caring and loving, not hitting the numbers. Click To Tweet
We’re missing out on that part and we’re missing out on the human connectivity. We’re missing out at that opportunity to develop that relationship and that trust to have the appropriate touch. When you put a hand on a shoulder, on a hand to connect at a human, bringing humanity into healthcare, keeping humanity in healthcare, we’re missing out on that. I see a lot of people talking about technology as this panacea. Technology is a tool. It’s a tool to help us, care, love and connect better. It’s not the solution in of itself. We need to keep that in mind. Too often, we think the easy button is technology. Like we’re talking about with some of these other things, there’s a lot of unintended consequences as we go down that technology path. We need to be aware and have our eyes open as we’re making these decisions.
There are a couple of things. One, going back to the conversation we had around HCAHPS and some interesting research that I will often reference where they looked at healthcare organizations and their HCAHPS scores and what they did was they transpose these, that’s the word I want to use here, with engagement scores of the institution. What they found was that the lower the engagement was within the institution, those HCAHPS scores were in line with those. There was a pretty significant gap in terms of, if your HCAHPS scores were high, then chances are, you had an organization that the employees were more engaged versus less engaged. That brings an important question to you, Tom, is that you mentioned about the majority of this might be system related, but there’s a people component. As I look at it, didn’t the people create the systems? If we have disengaged individuals, isn’t that what we need to start?
It’s a phenomenal point and you’re absolutely right. The system is made up of people. When Deming talks about system related versus individual or person related, he’s talking about processes and operations, which are created by people. Yet, we go to the place of, “I’m going to blame that nurse for being mean.” No, we create the system that led to her or his burnout that led to them being disengaged, that led to them being tired and not being able to go to the bathroom for the last twelve hours. Now they missed something. They forgot a pill. We have to fix, as I’ve said, both ends.
We have to fix the system that allows that nurse to be engaged again, that safe container. They feel whole and healthy so that they can now deliver the caring that we all need to have delivered within the health care system. It’s definitely both ends. The system is made up of people, people make broken systems, they also make good systems and we need to be aware of all of it. I’d go to the place of fixing where the fixes need to be made. Is it people? Is it system? Also go to the places of them, again, going back to your point of celebrating.
When we have that nurse, that doctor, that respiratory therapist, that transport aide that I talk about in the book and so forth, that they’re doing something well and they are living love, living caring. We want to celebrate that. We want to honor that. We want to show that, number one, it’s the right thing to do. Number two, when we start to recognize that these are the behaviors that we’re expecting, that we’re going to hold people accountable for when they’re not, but also celebrate when they are, that also changes culture. It leads to that culture change, which to your point, leads to system change as well.
I would agree with that especially around celebrating when things are going well. If you have an organization, where the only time I hear from you, Tom, is when I’m not doing something right. I’m now on a good path, I’m doing the right thing, you never seem to come around and tell me, “Patrick, thanks for making the change or this is exactly what I was hoping that I’d see from you.” That then says to me, “You noticed my effort and I want to continue this because this feels a lot better than the Tom that shows up with the stick potentially or wants to point out what I’m not doing right. I like this.” We don’t do enough of that, the celebrating. Everybody’s different. Not everybody needs the same type of recognition. That’s the important thing here though is if you’re leading somebody, it’s your responsibility to understand what is it that motivates that person in terms of how they want to be recognized. It’s not a one size fits all.
That gets back into a relationship. You need to have relationships with these people. They’re not cogs. They’re not widgets. I hear that from doctors and nurses all the time, that “I feel like a cog of a machine”. I feel like the patients are widgets. We’ve created this factory and production mentality, we hear all the time. “Did you achieve your production goals?” This is healthcare. This is life and death. This is so much beyond. Regina Herzlinger wrote a wonderful book. It’s Consumer-Driven Health Care. She’s out of Harvard that takes the analogy of the French fry at McDonald’s and poses it and puts it into healthcare. I’m like, “I get the logic. However, we’re talking about human beings here. We’re talking about life and death. We’re talking about emotions.”
I love my French fries. If they’re good, my emotions change in a positive way. Don’t get me wrong. However, in all seriousness, we’re talking about people that are on the edge of losing their careers, life, family, and losing all they own. It’s far more than a French fry. We need to truly get to that place of focusing on relationship, understanding and creating the systems that allow people to be on it the way they want to be on it. To ensure that the organization is all about the caring, loving and delivering of great evidence-based health care, not production, not hitting HCAHPS numbers, not these other pieces. It’s about the outcome of a kid and loved on this person. I was going to say got better, but sometimes as we know, people are on the dying journey as well. We also want them to be on it throughout that journey. We want to be there with them for that piece of it. It’s far beyond just the metrics and the numbers.
We’re not going to solve the administrative side of this, but what would be interesting for me to hear is if you’re in the system, what would you recommend for them? I’m somebody that’s part of the system. “How can I make this better for myself? What things can I do to help advocate for the change from the receiving end of this?”
I’m going to answer this differently. My aunt read my book and she said, “Tommy, what the book did for me is it brought more awareness to me that I want to be grateful for all those people that work in the healthcare system for when they are caring about me when they are taking care of me. I don’t think I was doing that in the past. I want to make sure that I’m doing that.” As you and I were talking about Patrick celebrate, yes, we want to celebrate within the system. Should we rely on patients and families to celebrate the people in the healthcare system?
No. However, if I’m a patient and a family member, and I can go to that place of gratitude for somebody who cared about me, it makes a huge difference. I hear from nurses and others all the time that when that patient or that family said, “You were there and you held my mom’s hand until she passed. That means a lot to us. I’ll never forget.” That changes lives. That instills that caring in that person to want to continue to do that. That’s a big piece is that lens in that place of gratitude as a patient. Another piece is, understand that you’re not going to understand. Find the experts. I was lucky. I was married to a nurse who was an expert. My bride, she was going through crises as well, emotional crisis and everything else. We were going through this together.
You need to be able to identify other experts, patient navigators, family members, who know the system, whatever it might be and lean into them as well. Make sure that you’re truly aware as you’re making decisions. This expert influence is incredibly helpful on what those decisions should be and could be and what the ramifications are. I had an unnecessary invasive procedure because here I am, again, health care leader married to a nurse, I didn’t know the odds. I was scared. My doctor said, “This is the right thing to do because I said it.”
I was at that place at that point with, “I’m going to do it because my doctor told me I should do it.” You still have to advocate for yourself. If you can’t emotionally or otherwise have that expert, that trusted person that you can lean on, that can say, “Here’s what it means. Here’s what the risks of going through with that. Here’s what the benefits are of going through with that. Now let’s figure out what’s best for you,” and so that’s key as well.
You bring up such an important point there in terms of advocating for yourself, having people that understand the system on some level to be able to bounce things off of. I’ve heard of even people, especially if they’re dealing with life-threatening illnesses, is having somebody go to their appointments with them. If I’m sitting there and listening to the doctor, I’m listening for different things than the patient might be listening to. I might be so wrapped up in concern of this, that I’m not picking up the other pieces. Having somebody else there is important.
That’s how you can manifest or that’s how you can put into action. Those experts bring them with you or consult with them before and after, because it’s helped with them before you make any specific decisions, especially life jeopardizing decisions. Several years into my career, I should’ve known that. When you’re in the midst of it, you’re not in that place emotionally and otherwise, at least I wasn’t. We would have benefited from somebody like that. Someone who sat in that room that was dispassionate, that loved me and cared about me, but was dispassionate it’s about the facts and about the evidence.
Along those lines, was there ever any thought for you of, “I’m going to get a second opinion?”
We went through a number of different doctors. It was the 7th or 8th opinion, for lack of a better term, that saved my life. It was going down that path of being open to. I was tired. I was beat up. My career was over. I may die. My family is going to be left destitute. My wife was a nurse so that is an exaggeration, but still how I felt from an ego, a humor perspective, I was letting everybody down. I was done. I was pretty much given up at that point. This has been going on for a long, long time. This amazing nurse that I had worked with, she got down on a knee in front of me at one point while I was sitting in a chair and she held my hands and she said, “Tommy, this is a detour. We’re going to get you through this.”The cheapest and easiest way to start change is to love and be kind to one another. Click To Tweet
She wasn’t doing it because she was financially incentivized to do it. She was sharing her heart with me because she cared. She loved. Not just me, but she’d loved people. That was the person that she is to this day. It was her who connected me with that next provider probably 7th or 8th that showed me a different way to practice medicine, care, to take healthcare, and create healthcare. It was that, in that container that my wife, myself in that position and others became part of that led me to being able to work again, write a book and tell a story and hopefully help others.
One of the things that I think of, if you’re saying you got to number seven, that there was something inside of you, that’s saying this isn’t right. You were listening to that on some level, bringing in other people, “The expert is saying this, but it doesn’t feel right.” I wonder how many people don’t do that because they’re afraid. They don’t think they’re going to be listened to whatever that might be. They don’t have that opportunity to find what’s going to work for them.
Some of those physicians were recommended by my cardiologist. Some of them were, “Let’s look at it through a different way.” My cardiologist is very good. “Let’s look at it through different lens. Let’s connect to these other specialists that can figure out. Is there anything else that’s driving this, is there any other opportunity?” On top of that, it was also that probably stubbornness in me that said, “No, I’m not going to grow up with my family or my team.” Even with all that I’m even saying, “I wasn’t going to give up.” I gave up. There was a point in time where I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I remember I was in the bathroom and I’m on the ground. I’m in tears saying, “I can’t go on.”
Thank God for my bride, at that point, that helped me get past that and the rest of the journey. As we said, cry a number of times as a healthcare leader married to a clinician and my sister’s a nurse as well. To throw out my family, I can’t imagine folks that speak a different language. I can imagine it more because I talk and I hear these stories, but it was so hard for us from all different perspectives. We owe it to all people throughout the country, the world to have access, to have the right information, to have someone who cares and support stuff, to have that expert opinion, to have the mechanisms, the systems in place where people are engaged. Creating betterments and creating opportunities for people to get better or to go down that dying journey in a peaceful way, we owe it to them.
The system is that broken. Not that I knew at all by any means, although I thought I did, if we couldn’t manage it, I can’t imagine people again, as I described the elderly and others trying to manage it. It’s impossible. We created such complexity that it’s leading to more and more harm. When you think about the harm we do in healthcare, when you think about the lives lost to the pandemic, lives lost to diabetes and heart disease and so forth, medical errors is way up there on that list too because we’ve created a broken system that leads to harm and we need to do much better.
I’m going to put you on the spot here, Tom, you’ve got one copy of this book that you can give out. Who would it go to?
Part of me wants to answer it with, “I want that patient, that person to read this book so they are well positioned to understand. That’s part of where I would be coming from,” but if I had to go, it’s one answer. I would want the Dr. Fauci of the world, the folks that are out there at the highest level, to brilliance and doing lots and lots of good things to also read it from another perspective. It’s those people that can drive policy change and can drive many of the other changes that we need here. I would answer it that way.
I should have given you two books because there are two different ways it can go. I can see both of those being so important. There are so many good professionals out there, practitioners that are caught up in the system that there’s an opportunity missed in terms of a patient feeling as though this person is interested in what’s going on with me, as opposed to, “I’m number 23 out of 30 that are going to come through this other day.”
I have a chapter in the book called The Heart Attack. I remember I was going to a visit for one of my appointments and my name isn’t necessarily easy to say. I said who I was. The person at the front desk, a very nice person. She’d gone through it. She couldn’t find my name. She finally found it. She goes, “You’re one of the heart attacks.” That’s what I became. I became my diagnosis. I was no longer Tom or Tommy or Mr. Dahlborg or any of that. I was a heart attack. It’s not an operation, unfortunately. How often do we hear, “I have three diabetics I need to see before the end of the day or whatever it might be?” We need to change that. We need to bring that humanity back into the equation. We have long ways to go. There are incredible people that I highlight in the book as well, doing amazing things, everyone from the front lines through the entire system, to CEOs of healthcare organizations, doing it the right way. We need the fan their flames as well so they don’t burn out.
Tom, this has been a pleasure as always having this conversation with you. It’s such an important topic right now as this pandemic goes on. It seems like even fewer resources to do a larger body of work in terms of helping people. Thank you for your commitment to that through this book.
I appreciate that, Patrick. The last point you made, there are lots of systems to be changed and we can love now. It doesn’t cost any money. If we can connect, if we can love, we can care and we can start that and every one of us could do so. It’s the cheapest, easiest way to start the change is to start to love and be kind to one another.
I would completely agree. Wishing you all the best in that.
Thank you, Patrick, for having me on again. You have a phenomenal show and a phenomenal platform and what you do with cables, changes organizations and positions, people to make a difference and kudos to you.
Thank you for that.
- Michigan Center for Clinical Systems Improvement
- From Heart To Head & Back Again: … a Journey Through the Healthcare System
- Consumer-Driven Health Care
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Depression has its way of convincing you that there is no way out of the darkness you are in. Tracey Maxfield was able to overcome that, escaping the rabbit hole of depression and, now, helping others do the same. She joins Patrick Veroneau to share with us her journey of coming out of that in this honest, raw, and hopeful episode. Bringing her book, Escaping the Rabbit Hole: My Journey Through Depression, Tracey talks about what it was like experiencing an acute depressive episode, how she battled through it, and recognized that there is hope. She shows others that there will always be a way out, even when it feels like all hope is gone. This conversation is particularly for those who have struggled and are struggling with difficult moments in their lives. Allow Tracey to remind you that tomorrow could be better. Join her as she shares the kind of mindset we need to have, as well as how we can impart that to our children as they grow up and face the realities of the world.
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Getting Out Of The Rabbit Hole Of Depression With Tracey Maxfield
My guest is Tracey Maxfield. She’s a retired nurse and a powerhouse. She’s an author of the book, Escaping the Rabbit Hole. She’s also the host of the very successful podcast called Engaged, Educate, Empower. In our conversation in this episode, she talks about her own experience battling depression and going down her own rabbit hole. The value here is trying to help people recognize that there are hope and ways to either help themselves or identify and help somebody else that going through a very difficult time. Certainly, we are in our environment right now where many people have struggled with going down on a rabbit hole. I hope you enjoy this episode. There’s so much value here.
Tracey, thank you for taking the time to be on the show. I appreciate it. We’re living in some unique times. We would both agree and we had this conversation about some crazy things that are going on. Your background certainly is well-suited in terms of you’ve had a wildly successful podcast as well as a blog. You had a book that you’ve written in regards to Escaping the Rabbit Hole that talks about your own journey. I’d like to have you tell your story in terms of what was it like to end up to where you are now and how did you get there? As we talked about before, how do we help people dealing with so much on their plate right now in these times?
Let’s take a step back and I’ll tell you a little bit about my story. I’m a nurse and retired with 37 years of experience. Back in 2011, when I started a new position, it was more of a supervisory team leader role but that was the first time I encountered a bully, and the bully was my superior. After about 4.5 years of constantly being harassed, threatened and intimidated, it wears you down. It culminated on August 20th, 2015 with a meeting that I had with her including union reps present. It was the icing on the cake per se. She basically came in with fully-loaded guns and fired at me. Personal, professional insults, lies and threats. It was horrible but what happened was I ended up falling down the rabbit hole.
I had a nervous breakdown or an acute depressive episode. My life changed. I can say I’m coming up to my anniversary of falling down the rabbit hole. My life since that day has never ever been the same. Certainly, it’s now better than it was, but in order to get to where I am now, I had to go through an awful lot, as you can appreciate. With depression, it’s not just the emotional cognitive. It’s the physical, suicide ideation and suicide attempts. It’s the feeling that you’re never ever going to be the person you were before and don’t even think that you can ever regain a possibility of life. It was through a lot of hard work, which comprised of journaling, expressing gratitude, sessions with my psychologist, medication and adopting a daily routine of a holistic approach to try and look after myself. All the time, as I started to get a little better, I started a blog. It was upon my psychologist’s recommendation to write a blog because most of my friends were healthcare professionals.
We’re talking social workers, doctors and nurses. When I would explain to them what I was going through, they couldn’t understand it, “You don’t look depressed. You seem fine. You’re functioning fine.” I was getting so frustrated that he recommended, “Start a blog. Tell them what it’s like living them with depression and give them an idea of what your life is like.” As soon as I started that, immediately, the conversations were, “We’re sorry. We never realized it was like that. This should be in a book.” Every single time I made a post, it was the same thing, “This should be a book.” After about six months, I was fortunate to be in touch with someone on LinkedIn who had previously written and published books.As human beings, we are our own worst enemies because we are so self-critical. Click To Tweet
I contacted her and said, “Do you want to take a look at this blog? Everyone’s going, ‘This should be a book. What do you think? Please be honest.’” A couple of hours later, she contacted me and said, “I have an editor for you in Toronto. Your book needs to be written.” Writing the blog, even though it was very painful because I was very raw and honest, it was also very cathartic. That definitely helped with the healing process and me coming to understand and coming to terms with what I was going through. The reason that I wanted to get the book out was because every day, I felt like I was the only one in the world going through this and no one would understand. That’s not true because the more people I met, the more I realized there were so many similarities. Even though each person’s journey with depression or any mental illness is different, there are certain things that we do have in common, perhaps the best way to say it.
I wanted someone who was reading the book to know, “You’re not alone.” Even if you think you are, you’re absolutely not alone. Over time, you will get better. In 2015, I never thought I would be sitting here talking to you. There was no hope and light. There was nothing. After the book was released, I began going to talk to people. I started a YouTube video. I did a weekly blog post about different types of mental illness, especially as they pertain to children and teenagers. I talked about bullying. I went on radios, podcasts and TV. My platform initially was to talk about my book in depression but I moved in the direction of speaking out for children and teenagers after I was invited to go to a middle school and talk to them.
I ended up having 63 teenagers, ages 11 to 15 come and confide in me about what they were going through regarding bullying, suicide, mental illness and self-harm. I was heartbroken and overwhelmed. Those were the two words. Overwhelmed that there were so many of them. I thought this is a problem with the school. It was only after I did some research that I realized it’s a global problem. This is something that’s happening everywhere. It was at that point upon a doctor friends’ recommendation who said, “This is your purpose. This is what you should be doing. It’s educating, going out there, advocating and supporting kids that are going through it.” That’s basically what I’ve done. Now I have a podcast, Engage, Educate, Empower. That’s how we connected because you were my guest on the podcast. It’s trying to get people to understand. I’m a firm believer of the more you know, the more empowered you are and the better able you are, not only to take control of your life, but to help others and try and move in a more positive direction.
I would guess that as this blog went out to, what it provided people was permission to be able to say, “I’m feeling that too. I’m going through that.” You felt a release from it but I’m sure they did too of saying, “It’s not just me.”
What surprised me was the number of messages I received from people that said, “I swear, you were standing over me as you were writing that.” It’s those feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, exhaustion and berating yourself. Dr. Daniel Amen is a very famous psychiatrist. He talks about ANTs in the brain, Automatic Negative Thoughts. I wrote a chapter about them because, as human beings, we are our own worst enemies. We are so self-critical. When you have a mental illness especially when you have depression, you allow those negative thoughts to percolate and 1 becomes 10, 20, and 100, and you knock yourself down constantly. It’s very hard to pull yourself out of that. That was also part of the message of the book of strategies of what you can do to take that next step forward and to keep going.
I mentioned at the beginning. I found that gratitude helped me enormously and that was being more mindful and accepting now and not, “Will I be healed tomorrow, next week or next month?” As bad as everything that I felt was going on with me, there was still beauty and wonderful things in the world. It was a habit of taking that time to acknowledge that there are wonderful things present. Lots of it was imagery from nature. It was those things that gave me some joy and peace. It gives you that little bit of motivation that even in the midst of all the darkness, tears, no it’s not, and everything that’s going on, you can stop for a moment and see two puppies playing, laugh and smile. You know that it’s possible. There’s something that you feel. To me, that was like the little ember that was getting brighter that you can feel peace and joy, you just got to keep working at it.
It’s interesting that you say it that way because I oftentimes think of it as a dance between expectation and gratitude. You need to expect that things are going to work out but also be grateful for where you are for the things that you do have. That’s how I see it as you were able to balance those things that you don’t beat yourself up. If you didn’t get, “I want to get to this level, but if I’m not there, I’m at least going to be grateful for this part of the journey right now knowing that I still expect to get there.”
One of the things I write about is it’s okay not to be okay all time. Here we are and it’s been years since the rabbit hole. Whilst I am so much better, unfortunately, with depression and I have the genetic form of depression, I still have good days, bad days and very bad days. In fact, when we were initially supposed to connect for the show, when you said to me how you do and I said, “I’m not doing well.” It was one of those weeks where it was very overwhelming.
When they used to happen, I get very scared because I used to say to people, “I’m dangling my feet in the rabbit hole or I’m circling in the rabbit hole.” It was that fear of, “I can’t go back down there.” Finally, I started saying to myself, “You were there and you got out so give yourself a break.” It’s not fair. Now is not a good day. You’re feeling very overwhelmed and hopeless but you know that tomorrow could be better and keep going forward. Once I gave myself permission to say, “It’s not such a good day now.” It takes the pressure off.
I heard somebody say once around mindfulness and challenges, they said to shake hands with your challenge as a way that you take the power away from it when you embrace it for that reason.Shake hands with your challenges as a way to take power away from them. Click To Tweet
Certainly, right now things are not good globally. I know especially the United States is having multiple challenges that they’re dealing with more so than other countries. Lots of people are feeling this confusion, this sense of being overwhelmed and stuck. It’s the uncertainty. With uncertainty and confusion comes fear because we all like to be or think we’re holding control. There are certain things in your life that you can control, especially your thought process, actions, the way you respond, the way you talk to people and body language. There are other things that are totally out of our control. This is why we’re seeing so many people that are reacting in a less than positive way to what’s going on. They have allowed their ANTs, Automatic Negative Thoughts, in the brain to take over to such a degree that sometimes they’re not able to think as clearly as they would have before.
We’re both on social media and I am seeing so much hatred, negativity and fear from people that have surprised me. It’s because they have allowed themselves to get caught up in this. Definitely, it’s like they’re in some vortex and they’re not quite sure how they’re going to get out and what life is going to be like when they do. They’re standing up for what they feel is right, but they’re standing up for things that haven’t even happened yet. They’re caught up in many of the conspiracy theories. They’re caught up in the, “This is what’s going to happen. You will have to do this and this,” and human nature says, “That’s not going to happen. You’re not infringing on my rights.” It allowed them to become a little bit emotional and carried away. They’re already preparing for what will happen when we don’t know what will happen if that makes sense.
Tracey, along those lines, it brings up an important topic around kids dealing with this. I haven’t seen the latest numbers but we already knew that suicide rates were trending higher in that age group under 24. You may know better than I am in terms of where those numbers are now, but I haven’t seen the exact other than to know that they’re not getting better through this whole thing. How many kids are now isolated and struggling because of this, but also having parents that need help understanding how you help kids deal with this if I’m the parent and I’m not dealing with this myself?
One of one good thing that has come out of all of this is there have been many resources that have come onto the internet from reputable organizations like the American Mental Health, the Canadian Mental Health and the World Health Organization that are providing resources and tools that parents and even children can use to make some sense of what is going on. We’re at the time where most governments are trying to get people back to a sentence of normalcy because we know the school year is about to restart again. That’s creating more fear and angst than ever before because of the unknown trajectory of this COVID-19. As parents, guardians, foster parent or even adult, any adult that’s involved with a child or teenager.
The most important thing that we have to remember is kids pick up so easily what you were thinking and feeling. If you’re anxious, panic-stricken and angry, they’re going to pick that up and that will then shape their behavior. That isn’t what we’re wanting to do. As parents, it’s now more than ever, is the time to try and remain very calm and positive. It’s time to get back to the basics of what is important, not only in an adult’s life but what is important in kids’ lives. That is the very small infrastructure that community network, who are the important people in that. It’s all working together as a team to reinforce support, love and confidence that we will be there with you. We don’t quite understand what’s going on just yet but don’t worry, we’re going to help you.
We will have a conference together or talk about, “If you go to school, you’re wearing a mask and your friend won’t, how is that going to make you feel? What will you do?” Try and get them to understand and get them to talk about their feelings. The most important thing, especially with kids, because by the age of fourteen, 50% of all mental illnesses will start showing signs and symptoms. By 24, it’s 75%. Kids are vulnerable. Teenagers are vulnerable period. Now, we bring into this equation COVID-19 or we add into this equation, Black Lives Matter, the racism, protests and everything that’s going on. We have kids that are very fearful, so as parents, we need to get informed.
We need to educate ourselves, first and foremost, to be there as a support to guide our kids. I know it’s very unfortunate because not everyone has that family network or connection. As parents, more than ever, you need to have this opportunity to start making personal connections with your child or your teenager to know what’s going on in their lives, what their fears are, what are their hopes once life gets back to normal, what would they like to do? What are they missing doing right now? How can you help them try and make the next best option? There is no easy answer but it’s okay. We don’t have the ideal solution in front of us but let’s brainstorm together. What could make it better? Kids and teenagers can come back with some very outside of the box thinking that helps inform adults way more than they would ever like to admit.
Through that, it would seem to me that if I want my kids to be more open and willing to have these kinds of discussions, it’s about vulnerability which I need to demonstrate that myself first. To be able to tell our kids, “I don’t have all the answers. I’m scared right now. I don’t know what’s going to be next.” There’s a balance there because it provides an opportunity for them to say, “It is okay to talk about this stuff. I don’t have to walk around like I’m okay. Put on a front when that’s what’s going on.” I watched my parents. They put on a front all the time. I know they’re stressed out but they act like it’s nobody’s business.
This is what we’re seeing. What this situation has done is people have shown us their vulnerability. Sometimes, for the best outcome, you have to embrace your vulnerability and give yourself permission to be vulnerable because you can move forward. Some people are ashamed or embarrassed by it that they then try to conceal it with anger, blame or negativity. In an ideal world, it is beyond honest. We are all hoping that you can go back to school. Are you good with that? Are you looking forward to going back to school? No. What scares you?
It opened those doors one after the other and it is saying, “I must be honest. I’m a little worried about you going back to school too but let’s work together.” Especially teenagers, as much as they don’t want to have the adults in their life telling them what to do, they would much prefer to work together and allow them to make decisions that you would agree with because they’re more likely to follow that plan instead of you imposing a plan on them that they have no say. It’s back and forth. The bottom line always is that you have got to keep reassuring them how much you love them, support them and you’re going to be there for them. Together as a family unit, you will get through this. More than anything, this is what adults need to hear. It is, “We’re in this together. We’re not alone. We’re going to do this. If this way doesn’t work, then we’ll look at that out of the way. We’ll figure it out.”
That was all kids want to know, “We’re going to figure this out,” but when you turn around, I’m going to be right there with you. It’s just reinforcing that over and over again and having those discussions. When I say discussions, I don’t mean you should be talking about it every hour, every minute of every day because it’s too much. It scares you, it overwhelms you, and you want to shut out the world. When you do talk about it, talk about it. If there’s a negative, counteract with a positive, “Mom, did you see the news? A hundred thousand people were diagnosed.” “I know. Isn’t that sad? Did you know that no one is dying right now? The medical treatment is improving. Look at all these people that have survived. That’s good.”We have to remember that kids pick up so easily what you are thinking and feeling, which will then shape their behavior. Click To Tweet
It’s always trying to find the positives that come out a bit and reinforcing, “We’re doing our part. We’re social distancing, washing hands and helping to be part of this solution.” That gives them that more confidence and a little bit of peace that we’re okay. It’s moving forward and trying to connect. There was a news reporter. The research has said that when COVID is over, they anticipate that mental illness amongst children, teenagers and adults around the world is going to be the highest numbers they have ever seen.
They anticipate at least a ten-year acute mental illness response because even when all of this is over, we don’t suddenly walk up the door and life was back to normal. Many people have dealt with many issues. We know that child abuse has significantly increased since lockdown. Not so much lockdown but social isolation of not going to school, online bullying, sexual predators and human trafficking. I couldn’t believe the numbers are three times higher than they were because having kids at home has provided a portal for them to weave their way into the kids’ lives and start taking them. It’s scary even though you’re in your home as parents, as adults, role models in that child’s life, you should not be given them free rein to go on any site to occupy their time. More than ever, you need to be talking about cybersecurity and working together., what sites are appropriate and what is not. Reinforcing all those danger signals with them because it has increased.
That’s where I think that as a parent, we play a significant role in how our kids are going to be able to address these things by how we show up. Unfortunately, that’s not available to all kids in all homes, but to me as a parent, that’s a huge responsibility to monitor how I respond because it’s being observed.
I always say, “Be responsive, not reactive.” As a parent, sometimes you have to literally bite your tongue and take that time out of mentally counting ten in your head before you will open your mouth to say something because we know whatever comes out of the mouth, your child is going to grab and hold of that. They are going to hear that. Even if you come back later and say, “I didn’t mean that.” They know at the moment you did especially if your eyes are open and right in the body language. I know that there are so many children and teenagers out there that do not have that stable family unit. That’s why it’s always important that as adults, as people in the neighborhood, in the community, you should always be looking out for the kids in that community to be their guiding force, their role model, a person that they can turn to if they’re struggling or something is not right.
You need to be aware of what’s going on. If you know that there’s a particular family that is not doing well, it’s not a case of mind your own business. It’s a case of, I’ll text, phone or stop by, maintain social distance and say, “I’m going to the store. Do you need anything? How’s everything going? Is everything okay? I picked up a few video games. Do you want to borrow them?” It’s keeping eyes on in a situation because we know what goes on behind closed doors for many kids and women in domestic abuse relationships. With children, they are still being abused. They are witnessing that.
We need to move past the intrusive nosy neighbor and be the concerned adult that’s looking out for the best interests of a family during this time, “I’m just checking if you’re okay. Do you want me to pick up something? Do you need a ride to an appointment? Is this something I can do?” If they say, “No, everything’s fine.” You’ve made that initial step, that’s why when you’re talking to your children as well, you may have a good family unit but ask about their friends because their friends don’t. It’s that link them to, “How are your friends?” More than ever, if we’re going to come through this, we’ve got to start standing together. We can stand together against political unrest and when we want to go on bash the police. Why aren’t we standing together as communities to support one another because that’s how the community grows?
I would circle around to a couple of very solid strategies that you had in the beginning that helped to do that. One is journaling but also looking at it from a standpoint of, “What am I grateful for?” There’s a contagion to that that we create. If we focus on the gratitude piece, there are a lot of things that are wrong right now but I believe that there are many opportunities that come from this. Also, there are more good things than bad things. If we practice that, as you said around gratitude, it puts us in that place that we become more problem solvers too, as opposed to getting sucked into, “This sucks.”
The challenge is as adults, we have to make it become a positive habit because it will reflect on the children and the teens. They will pick up on that and they believe that negativity is normal. When your teenagers say, “It’s not fair. Life sucks. I can’t see my friends. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.” You can miss them but you understand, “I hear what you’re saying but why don’t you try this or what was nice about now? What was good about now?” The more you retrain them into thinking that, you better able them to manage anxiety and stress when it happens and not beat themselves up. I’ll share a very quick funny story. When I was at that school and I’d been given 30-minute talks to the teenagers, at the end of the day, there was this thirteen-year-old boy and he hadn’t been engaged at all.
I knew there was something wrong with him. He was all in a black hoodie, very withdrawn. He came and he’s very embarrassed, he asked me, “Could I talk to you?” I said, “Yes, of course, you could.” He fell into my arms, sobbing his heart out. He said to me, “I’ve been in the rabbit hole for seven years. When will I escape?” He had depression since he was six. I sat with him in a private area and started talking to him. Everything was very dark and black. I said, “Mom.” He goes, “Mom is good.” I said, “That is something to be grateful for. That’s your gratitude is that you have a mother who loves you and will do anything for you.”
He said yes. Twenty minutes in I said, “Tell me, I know life sucks right now but what is it that you’re grateful for?” He is like, “Nothing.” I said, “When you go home, are you going to have an ice cream or something? That can be gratitude because that’s something that you love and you enjoy.” He’s like, “I got nothing. It’s just dark. It’s black.” I thought, “How am I going to get a thirteen-year-old boy to understand gratitude?” I’m giving him examples and he’s like, “I know I get it.” I said, “I can tell you one thing right now that you could write down that you’re grateful for.” He goes, “You can.” I said, “You’re sitting here with this hot woman who’s got her arms around you, telling you that you’re awesome. That’s gratitude.” He laughed and I said, “See, gratitude is little things. It’s going home, watching your favorite show on TV, playing a video game, and get to the biggest school. It’s going outside and feeling the sun on your face.” He looked at me and he said, “I get it.” He was very calm. I said, “Are you okay now?” He goes, “I’m okay.”Sometimes for the best outcome, you have to embrace your vulnerability. Click To Tweet
He wandered off. About an hour later as I was packing up to leave, he passes by the library, I saw him, I smiled and he was jumping up and down, waving his hands going, “I get it.” If the kids can figure out the tool, if you can give them guidance to what may help them, they will run with it and they will adapt it for themselves but it gives them that sense of control back in their life and that little bit of purpose. It’s always a good exercise to do every day with kids, even when they’re very young. What made you happy, what makes you smile or what was good about now? You get them starting to feel about positives in their life. That will always work when the not so nice things happen.
That was the last piece of it. It’s about routine at that point is what you’ve created.
Routine is safe but you can bring things into your life, into your daily routine that are mindful. It’s appreciating the moment, the little things. More so now than ever with the way our life has had to restructure with COVID, we have to get back to mindfulness and stop looking at, “Will it be gone in December? What is Christmas going to look like? What does my birthday next March going to look like?” “No, let’s do now.” Let’s try and make now the best it can be given the circumstances. If it wasn’t, then let’s give it a go again tomorrow. If you start showing up and doing that as a family, it will filter down to the kids and they will start doing it automatically.
Tracey, if people wanted to get a hold of you, read your book, listen to your podcast, what’s the best way to reach out to you?
The easiest way is to go to my website, www.TraceyMaxfield.com. Everything is on there, my blog, appearances, podcasts, resources and the book. It’s one-stop shopping.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you. It’s been wonderful.
I think the things that you’ve mentioned here about gratitude, journaling and making it a routine are such a strong recommendation for people to help them to deal with us. I hope people will take hold of that. Wishing you all the best.
Same to you and your family.
About Tracey Maxfield
Tracey Maxfield is a retired nurse with over 36 years’ experience in gerontology, mental health, and dementia care. She is a regular guest on well-known author and radio host Peter Rosenberger’s show Hope For the Caregiver on Sirius radio. Tracey has written multiple articles on dementia care, medical research and mental illness/bullying in teenagers. She is the Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador for the Okanagan. B.C. and NAASCA Ambassador for B.C., Canada
Tracey experienced her first episode of clinical depression in her twenties and lived with chronic depression ever since. However, nothing prepared her for the acute depressive episode she experienced in 2015. After enduring years of intense workplace stress, harassment and bullying, she plummeted into an abyss of darkness, hopelessness and despair the likes of which she had never experienced before.
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The line that distinguishes depression and burnout from each other is somewhat unclear. But what is certain is that to mitigate these, a significant change in the working environment is needed. This is what Dr. Lisa Rotenstein sought to answer in her study with Dr. Constance Guille, with the aim to create a healthier working environment for healthcare professionals. She joins Patrick Veroneau to dissect her research findings, explaining how understanding the overlapping factors of depression and burnout can help leaders analyze and improve their workplace culture. Dr. Rotenstein also emphasizes how this can transcend into other industries and professions, especially today when most companies are in remote setup and team building is challenged.
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Addressing Depression And Burnout Within The Medical Field With Dr. Lisa Rotenstein
I spent a great deal of my time working with both teams and individuals in the healthcare field. My guest certainly provides a great deal of value, not only for the healthcare field as that’s her background, but I think overall, in terms of there are pieces here that other professions individuals will be able to benefit from as well. My guest is Dr. Lisa Rotenstein. She’s the Assistant Medical Director of Population Health and Faculty Development and Wellbeing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She has her undergraduate degree and MBA from Harvard University, and her medical degree from Harvard Medical School. She’s also a faculty member at Harvard Medical School.
Our conversation is going to focus on burnout and depression in the healthcare field, and the work that she’s been involved in. Specifically, we’re going to talk about a research paper that she co-authored with Dr. Constance Guille from the Medical University of South Carolina. Although we’re going to talk about burnout and its relation to depression in healthcare, I do believe this transcends into other professions and areas, the link between the two. In the environment that we’re in where many people are under pressure and stress, that this is a timely article that will provide some resources and some understanding on how you can address this if it’s yourself or if you know somebody else that’s going through this. Let’s get into it.
Dr. Rotenstein, I want to thank you again for taking the time to be on the show. Speaking specifically about a study that you had published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and title of it was Substantial Overlap Between Factors Predicting Symptoms of Depression and Burnout Among Medical Interns. Although I’m sure it deals with medical interns, I’m sure you would see this in many other places in the environment that we’re in. I was hoping you could talk about the study and what prompted you to design this study in the first place.
Thank you for having me on the show. I have been studying burnout and depression for some time. I became interested in the topic from a business background. I was in MBA training at that time, coming from a medical background. In the medical world, I saw my colleagues, trainees and physicians struggling with burnout with symptoms of depression. At the same time, in my business training, I was learning about how you affect the employee experience of care, how you tailor the workplace to their needs and their motivations. It was a very different lens than we often apply in medicine. I have been studying this over time, including studies in JAMA, showing wide variation in how burnout has been defined. A study showing that more than a quarter of medical students have depressive symptoms. This then led to the study. We were asking ourselves how much of an overlap is there between burnout and depression.We are much more reliant on technology at this point to help us get our work done. Click To Tweet
When we talk about these issues casually, we often talk about depression, having to do with personal factors, things going on in a person’s personal life, as well as their innate skills. We talk about burnout is having to do more with workplace factors. Yet, it’s not very clear from the literature that these are distinct entities. We wanted to answer this question to understand how much overlap there could be between the causes and the solutions. That’s how we landed on the question and I’m happy to go onto the results as well.
It was interesting because one of the pieces that I had read, in terms of the definition of burnout, that there were over 142 different definitions for burnout.
This was the 2018 JAMA study in which we looked across the literature. Our original question was, “What is the prevalence of burnout among physicians?” We found that we could not answer that question because there was so much variation in how burnout was defined. Even amongst studies, you use the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is the most common instrument for measuring burnout, there were 47 distinct definitions of burnout so it’s hard to compare apples-to-apples. Similarly, it’s hard to then do studies suggesting that you’ve had an impact or that an intervention that works in one place can work in another place because you don’t understand whether you measure the same thing. That was a key takeaway in terms of our limitations.
The other important point is having to do with limitations and studying burnout is that we don’t have the same limitations for studying depressive symptoms. There are standardized instruments for studying depressive symptoms, and these have been validated against clinical interviews which are the gold standard for diagnosing depression. When you think about comparing these two concepts of depression and burnout, there are a lot of differences, even though there might be similarities in how you assess them.
When you talk about the results of this study, what did you find?
We found substantial overlap in the factors that predicted depressive symptoms and symptoms of burnout. We looked among medical interns. What was nice is that we were able to look at them over time. We were also able to ask them questions about personal factors for example, a history of depression, their early family environment, marital status, whether they had children. We also ask them about their workplace experience, including their overall workload satisfaction and their learning environment satisfaction. We found a substantial overlap between the factors associated with depressive symptoms and the factors associated with two of the sub-scales of burnout, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.
These factors explained a similar percentage of the variation in both depression and burnout symptoms. It told us that these concepts are probably not so different and importantly, some of their contributors or their predictors are similar. What is the takeaway of that? It’s a helpful takeaway in that people are looking to alter work environments to facilitate wellbeing. You don’t have to think about the intervention separately. If you can improve the working environment, if the people you’re catering towards their trainees, if you improve the learning environment, that tells you that you can impact both on depressive symptoms and burnout.
When you talk about the two different components, one is emotional exhaustion, which seems straightforward. When you talk about depersonalization, what exactly does that mean?
Depersonalization has to do with the way you approach your work. The particular subscale of burnout that we used has been created specifically for those people who work with other people. It’s a scale called The Human Services Subscale. The way it applies to medicine and many other jobs that have to do with service, it has to do with how you approach your work and how you feel about your work. Do you have cynicism when you think about the service you provide or the population you’re interacting with? Have you removed yourself from that work emotionally? Do you have decreased empathy towards the people you work with and those you serve?
It’s almost a disengagement.Stop assuming that everybody's reality is the same as yours. Ask people about their realities and try to understand them. Click To Tweet
When we think about this from the standpoint of measuring depression seems to be much cleaner. The research is much more solid in terms of how you do that. From the standpoint of how we can address this, what are some of the things that you would recommend?
I’ll comment on the first point you made and then get to some of the solutions. I agree, based on what we know from the literature and on validation studies that it is cleaner to measure depression or depressive symptoms, and yet that’s not trivial in our society. I think we should make that point upfront. Unfortunately, in many arenas, there is still a stigma. In medicine, there might be licensing ramifications. This is a point of ongoing discussion, even though we now know more about the overlap, and we know that it is more accurate to measure depressive symptoms. The jury is still out on exactly what we should be measuring just because it’s much more than a data question. It’s a question about how society reacts to the results.
In terms of how we address this, I can speak about medicine but I think that the implications carry across to other fields as well. We have learned through studies in the medical field that interventions that impact the workplace are much more likely to affect symptoms of burnout and those that target the individual. What I mean by that is when you think about individual-focused interventions, those might include meditation or resilience training. When you think about interventions that affect the workplace, you might instead think about giving people their time back.
If people provided some service like teaching within medicine, giving them their time back to that and recognizing it. Thinking about schedule modifications that might facilitate better work-life balance, easing people’s interactions with the electronic medical record, and providing them extra support in the workplace. For example, leveraging other members of the team to help provide care. We know that those types of interventions are more effective, and those are what we should be targeting.
I have a lot of work that I do on the healthcare side, working more with nursing groups and smaller groups but things that you talk about are relevant to what they do as well in terms of scheduling a lack of resources that they might have and how that plays into this level of burnout and anxiety that they experience.
These are interventions that are not as simple and they’re harder to enact but they’re incredibly important. The other piece of it is that there has been work showing that if you are going to introduce people to wellness curricula or experiences that you think might decrease their stress or increase their resiliency, you should try not to make those use their outside time. If you’re going to provide yoga sessions, it might not be the best solution for those at 6:00 PM to be tapped onto the end of the workday. It should be integrated in a way that further facilitates work-life balance.
Rather than throw one more thing on top of a day that’s already completely cramped. I’m guessing with the situation that we’re in with the pandemic, this is somewhat timely for you in terms of this article or for those that are experiencing this.
The pandemic has brought up many additional issues and also highlighted issues that were present before but made us more aware of them. The big question now around is, what does work-life balance mean in an era where many people are working from home? How do you define the boundaries there? We are much more reliant on technology at this point to help us get our work done. How do you achieve balance with technology when people are spending many hours a day on Zoom?
Some of the issues that have been highlighted that were certainly present before are the differential impact or prevalence of burnout amongst female physicians and minority physicians. This applies across other fields as well. We know from previous work that female physicians have higher rates of burnout than their male counterparts. We know from previous work that minority health profession students have a lower quality of life and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment. These are important things to bear in mind, especially in light of the pandemic and a new way of working to think about how we ensure that the workplace caters to all people and helps all people thrive.
From the work that I’m involved in, there certainly seems to be a much stronger drive for change.
The curiosity has to be on a few fronts. It has to be asking, not assuming that everybody’s reality is the same as yours, and asking people what their realities are and trying to understand that. Many people have newfound responsibilities of educating within the home and how that affects your workplace. How does that affect your interactions with your peers and then the boundaries you have on your time? Many people have newfound family responsibilities or newfound family stresses. Having a curiosity to figure out what is going on within your workplace and then being creative about supporting that. To your point, we have made strides over time in trying to find solutions to burnout, particularly in the medical world, but some of these we have to rethink.
We know that scribes can be used to help physicians with their documentation burden. What does it mean to use scribes in an era of remote work? We’ll have to figure that out. We know interventions that promote team-based care. The doctors are working as part of close teams with nurses and social workers, and can alleviate burnout and results in better patient care. What does that mean when teams are remote, distributed, and how do we re remake systems to work effectively in this time of change?
There’s such an important piece to understanding our unconscious biases in these situations that we make judgments on people in situations and their experience without understanding what it’s like to be them and to have gone through these things. From a leadership perspective, I see it in healthcare and other industries that I work in. Those in roles where people are reporting to them if they don’t truly take the time to appreciate all of the additional things that have gone on in people’s lives because of this, they will miss an opportunity to engage people. It will increase this lack of trust within organizations and individuals because people are dealing with a lot of different things. Grief has been underappreciated.Successful leaders are those who adapt to the times in a way that is sustainable for the people they lead. Click To Tweet
We’re not done with the change as the key part of it. Change will continue to happen in the ways we work. It will continue to change in the next few months. Gaining that trust through what you’re saying by asking people about their realities are through flexibility and find solutions for new work will be key for helping people buy into the continued changes that will happen over the next months and years.
You wonder on some levels if some of the things that we’ve gone through. These almost seem like dress rehearsals for real change to happen. How do people deal with this?
In healthcare, we have seen changes that would have otherwise taken 5 to 10 years to happen. Telemedicine has exploded, sprouted, and many of the hesitations we had about it, we had to figure them out. It’s a real-time opportunity. The leaders that will be successful are those who adapt to the times in a way that is sustainable for the people they lead as well.
Outside of healthcare, where I see it as well as remote work, people working virtually where many organizations were very resistant to that of, “We can’t do this.” That has been debunked that people can’t work remotely. It’s going to be very difficult for people to try and put that genie back in the bottle.
Speaking of burnout in teams though, how do you keep a pulse on your team in a remote working environment? That has to do with getting things done but also keeping up morale, understanding what people are worried about and how they are viewing the workplace. That is the next frontier. There was a sense early on in this that we’ll do this for a few months and we’ll go back to the old way of working. Many of us realize that it won’t be quite so simple. That will be the next frontier is how do you recreate the great things about previous workplaces in a new way of working when all of us are remote.
That’s something that I hear quite often, especially around this idea of culture, “How do you maintain culture?” I’ve experienced many organizations that will be happy to see the culture that they had to go away if it can because it wasn’t a healthy culture to begin with. I do think there’s an opportunity to rebuild here. From the standpoint of behaviors, especially from what you’re talking about from interventions, it needs to be supported at the very top for this to take hold and individually, “How do I inspire and empower a team?” It will require much more individual touchpoints with people.
What have you heard about building and sustaining culture in this remote work environment?
Everybody is trying to grapple with that. In my humble opinion, culture for one is about behaviors. It doesn’t matter what you say your culture is. It’s how people behave that will determine what that is. From a leadership perspective, if I’m leading a group, it’s going to require much more effort for me shorter doses of having individual connections with people, contact on a more regular basis, and knowing my team that some people need more attention than others remotely. We are doing an assessment. It’s a remote work assessment that allows individuals to answer questions on how they work remotely, a team from a distance dealing with deadlines remotely working under stress. What it allows individuals to look at is, “What are my strengths if I’ve got to work virtually and what are some of the challenges that I’m going to run into?” This can be shared as a team with a manager. It allows people in this new environment to say, “How do we understand what our strengths and weaknesses are going to be here, and how can we play to those?” That’s going to be valuable.
The challenge will be that managers will have to take the time to figure that out. Coming back to where we started, that overlap between burnout and depression in large organizations. For example, within training programs, it’s often hard to get the pulse of such a large group of people. Leaders will have to find ways to do that effectively. If people are going to recognize the changes, they’re making the working environment, learning environment, and keep workers healthy over the long haul, but the long haul of this pandemic, which we’re seeing and continues to rear its head in different ways.It doesn't matter what you say your culture is. How people behave will determine what that is. Click To Tweet
There’s so much data out there at least in regards to belongingness. We are pack animals, and that we need connection. For those leaders who may not have understood this before, the distance creates more of a drive for people needing to feel connected. There’s a sense of purpose to what I’m doing and to the organization that I’m with. Those that are able to identify this and navigate it will be the ones that will be successful in creating a different-looking team.
One of the things we know about medicine that is true in medicine and is true likely in other industries that both drive burnout and then contribute to disparities is that feeling of appreciation and access to networks of power. We know that female physicians are promoted more slowly and less often than their male peers. We know that there are barriers to minority physicians gaining positions of leadership or positions associated with higher prestigious pay. We knew in the previous way of working what some of the barriers were, even though we have not surmounted them. I do think this new way of working presents even more challenges to closing that gap. How do you create the structures that allow you to thoughtfully connect with a variety of members of your team and create connections that allow you to sponsor them and promote them in a way that is equitable? There are perhaps opportunities there now that many of our interactions are over Zoom, which is a more equitable platform. There are a lot to think about there as well in terms of who is reaching out to who and what do some of those more informal connections look like in a time of remote work?
Two behaviors come to mind when I hear that, and it’s work that we’re involved in. One is around congruence, this alignment of what our values are, and do we practice those? The other is around clear expectations. Oftentimes, what we’ve seen within organizations is that there is a disconnect between understanding what is clearly expected either to get to the next level. They’re not clearly defined. If they are clearly defined, they’re not held accountable. Those two things can be a real challenge within organizations.
There’s also a piece of who gets opportunities and who learns about opportunities through what it means. That will be redefined in our time of remote working potentially in good ways but also in unfortunate ways. We all have to be thoughtful about that as another facet of this pandemic and how it affects the careers of a diverse workforce.
I would agree completely with that. I had this conversation around organizational values. Oftentimes, when people hear that, they roll their eyes thinking, “The values.” Why? It’s because people don’t feel as they’ve had any sense of creation of those values is part of this process. If we want to start having real equity, it’s time to pull out those values and hold people accountable to those. “Here’s what we say as an organization that we stand.” That’s the organization’s compass to be able to make decisions to say, “Is this behavior now in line with what we state as our values?”
What actions do you have to take in a time of remote working to make sure that you ultimately act in congruence with your values? That takes a little bit more planning than it would have in a time of in-person work.
Values are something that needs to resurface as something that is real and not just something that was nice to put together on our website or in our employee handbook, but they mean something.
There’s great opportunity for that in the setting of the pandemic. We have changed the ways we work, and we have had to think long and hard about what we care about and the implications on our society. It’s a real opportunity to re-examine values for organizations from healthcare to every organization imaginable.
Without question, I do think that this is a period of time where people have been pushed in ways that they said something needs to change here like, “I’m not going to do this.” The biggest concern that I would say is that you will have more people quit and stay, than quit and leave their organizations if things don’t change. As we finish up here, based on your research, if the reader might be in the healthcare field and they are dealing with this, what would you recommend to them?
The biggest takeaway is to think about your work environment. There are undoubtedly many personal factors that play into both burnout and depressive symptoms. We know that the work environment affects burnout. We know that changes in the work environment can improve burnout and the work environment has changed. To have a healthy workforce, we have to be willing to re-examine. We have to examine what are people’s new ways of working. What does the new workplace look like? To make changes in a time of constant change, that’s hard but it’s necessary. We know that the costs of burnout are real. In healthcare alone, we know that burnout is associated with worse patient outcomes with decreased quality of care with increased turnover of employees. This is an issue with real economic and health consequences. It’s one to take extremely seriously.Distance creates more of a drive for people needing to feel connected. Click To Tweet
There are many different levels of implication here that I think are important to look at, whether it’s the hospital’s financial health and the patient’s health, there are impacts all along the way here. I appreciate you taking the time to speak about the research that you have done. It’s important for us to understand how we address this. Thank you for that.
Thank you for taking the time. I would be happy to talk to the readers about these issues. The best way would be by email, Lisa.Rotenstein@Gmail.com.
Thank you for your time. Good luck with all that you’re doing. Thank you for putting this together to be able to help those that need this.
About Dr. Lisa Rotenstein
Asst Medical Director, Population Health and Faculty Wellbeing, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
The secret to building resilience is already within you; you just need to know how to activate it! In this conversation between Patrick Veroneau and Dr. Sherry Hamby, you will learn that developing the resilience to weather adversity doesn’t cost much if you are just willing to commit and do a few simple things consistently. A research professor of Psychology at the University of the South, Director of Life Paths Research Center, and the Founder of ResilienceCon, Dr. Sherry built her stellar academic career around her interest in developing strengths-based approaches to coping with adversity. In this episode, she talks about the three domains of the resilience portfolio and the simple things you can do to stimulate them. This conversation is packed with interesting and useful information grounded on solid research backing. You wouldn’t want to miss it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Building Resilience With Your Strengths With Dr. Sherry Hamby – Episode 114
Thank you for joining me on another episode. If you have any interest in learning how to develop resilience, improve your resilience, or maybe help somebody else that you feel like could use some help in regard to developing resilience, then this is the episode for you. My guest is Dr. Sherry Hamby. She is a Research Professor of Psychology at the University of the South. She’s the Director of Life Paths Research Center. She’s the Founder of the ResilienceCon. On top of that, she’s also the Founding Editor of the American Psychological Association journal, Psychology of Violence. She’s a licensed Clinical Psychologist. She spent many years on the problem of violence, including frontline crisis intervention for domestic, as well as other violence. Her work focuses on resilience and strengths-based approaches to coping with adversity.
She won numerous awards, including one in 2017, the Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Science of Trauma from the Trauma Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. She’s also appeared in the New York Times, CBS News, Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, as well as hundreds of other media outlets. She also has a book that is titled, Battered Women’s Protective Strategies: Stronger Than You Know. In this episode, Dr. Hamby is going to talk about some of the most current research in regard to developing resilience, what she’s been involved in, as well as giving a number of different recommendations in terms of how we can develop our own resilience. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s small and simple things that we can do, but we need to do them consistently. I know you’re going to enjoy this episode. Let’s get into it.
Dr. Hamby, I had the good fortune of reading one of your articles as I was doing some work around resilience and volunteering. I read some of your work and I thought you’d be a great person to talk about such an important topic around helping people to build resilience. Thank you for taking the opportunity to be on the show. I was hoping we could go from there and start talking about how do we help people?
That sounds great. Thank you for having me.
What are your thoughts on that? I’m sure you must be hearing more about this too. As I see it from a leadership perspective, there’s a misalignment or a challenge in regard to managers or leaders aligning their expectations and behaviors with what are the new realities. Many people that they are hoping will follow them. Those new realities have created a great deal of stress for individuals. What is your experience has been in that?
I was talking with some of my colleagues at the University of the South about this. It has been a hugely stressful time for everybody. It has also created opportunities to reprioritize and to rethink what’s important or essential about your business, your work, or whatever it is that you do. Looking at these things, taking that post-traumatic growth perspective is what they often call it in the literature is the key to taking incredibly stressful times like this pandemic. We’re trying to come out on the positive side of that.
We were talking about it before we went live around one in particular purpose and the importance on that can have on helping us develop resilience. Could you go a little deeper into that?
One of the key questions I’ve been trying to answer is, “What helps people the most when they are trying to overcome some adversity or trauma?” There’s a huge literature or dozens and dozens of things that help from emotion regulation or social support. In my own research program, we’ve looked at more than 35 different strengths. They’re all good things to have. It’s good to be emotionally regulated. It’s good to have social support. It is important to have what I call a large resilience portfolio so that you have a toolbox full of different types of strengths you can draw on when times are tough. What we have found even to a surprising extent is that a sense of purpose is by far the most important of the 35 that we’ve looked at so far. I didn’t expect that because there are people who are big or huge boosters for social support. Those things are all good too, but it does seem that having a sense of purpose is the most important strength that you can have. Connecting to something larger than yourself. This is what you could get out of bed in the morning.
In one of the articles that I had read, you talked about you being a parent. What’s your thing at that point that you realized that there’s a purpose there?
Parenting is one of the classic ways that people can develop a sense of purpose. You realize that you will do anything to make sure that those people are okay and thriving. I have a son and a daughter. One’s in high school and one’s in college. So much in my life is oriented around them and that helps give me a sense of purpose. There are lots of other ways that people can get a sense of purpose too. For many people, religion or faith and connecting to a higher power of some kind. A church community is a great way to connect to something larger than yourself. If you have a mission, for me as an example, I’m trying to reduce the burden of trauma on the world. That’s what all my work is oriented around. That is also a big motivating factor for me.
Along with that, would you categorize that with things like volunteering in terms of the mission end of it?
That’s another terrific example. There’s a psychological word called generativity. It’s an old word. It dates back to the work of Eric Erickson from the mid-20th century. His idea was that you keep on developing even after you are physically grown. Psychological development didn’t stop at the end of adolescence when you’re cultured and busy learning all these basic life skills. When you’re a child and an adolescent, this is basic relationship skills. He thought that one of the key things that adults did is to learn how to develop a sense of generativity.
Parenting would be one example for him, but also in terms of volunteering, teaching, coaching, if you’re a girl scout leader or the head of a youth group. That would be a way of helping to bring the next generation along. All of those activities are also terrific ways not only to help all of the young people that you’re trying to help but to do yourself an enormous favor too, in terms of boosting your wellbeing. There’s some emerging research that is fascinating, which shows that it can have physiological benefits, like reducing your inflammation, boosting your immune system, and important impacts like that.
Which would seem to make sense? The feeling that most people get when they do something for other people is you generally feel better. Is it a distraction from your own challenges when you’re helping somebody else through a situation? To me, it seems like it would be beneficial on a number of levels.
It can be a distraction. I know a lot of it probably comes down to trying to make it seem all worthwhile. Another important part of what has been coming out of this research on resilience is that people are more and more starting to realize how universally the experience of trauma and adversity is. We used to take this siloed approach. We would look at child abuse, bullying, or community violence. We realize that if you take a more holistic view, everybody gets exposed to some trauma sooner or later, if not for themselves then for a loved one. Going back to the experience of being a parent, it would be more difficult for me to know that my child had been exposed to some kind of victimization than it would for me to get exposed to it.
The paradoxical unexpected piece of that is if that’s all common than we realize, then resilience has to be so much more common than we realize too. I wouldn’t use the word distraction because what it helps to do is that it lets you take what you learned from coping with your own struggles and make it seem like it has some value that you went through all of that. You came out and you survived. You came out on the other side. You can help somebody else cope a little better or get through it a little bit more easily. That’s the meaning-making that helps people. That’s why volunteering, tutoring, and all those kinds of things can be such a powerful way to overcome your own adversity.
Something else that I’ve thought about is your thoughts around grief and people experiencing grief. From a number of different perspectives. I’ve thought about the number of people that may not even realize that they are grieving certain losses of everything from somebody that enjoyed going to Broadway shows that doesn’t have an outlet for them anymore, sporting events that were their thing or summer, or picnics that they used to do. Those things have gone away and they don’t recognize them as grieving in terms of like, “I lost a loved one.” Internally, does that weigh on people in terms of loss?
For me, it was travel. We used to travel quite a bit for work and pleasure. Sometimes I would get tired of it, but I realize how much I relied on that to break things up and give me something to look forward to. A Broadway show is a terrific example of that. It adds some variety, creates some anticipation, and we’ve all lost that. For most of us, our days are a lot more routine than they used to be. A lot more limited as we all try to practice social distancing. For sure, that is a form of loss. Making more space to grieve is going to be an important part of healing from this pandemic in the long run. A lot of people aren’t in a space where they have the ability to take the time to do that grieving. Hopefully, as we start to come out of it with the vaccine or better treatments and some of the advances that are coming down the line that will also free people up to process this event. We’re all still caught up in the middle of all the trauma that it’s hard to process.Just as trauma is a universal experience, resilience has to be much more common than we realize. Click To Tweet
We talked about purpose, about volunteering. Based on your research, what are other things that you think would be very beneficial for individuals to somehow put into practice?
One of the new constructs that we come up with from our qualitative work of talking with people is something we’re calling a recovering positive aspect. My work is based in rural Appalachia. One of the things that we were trying to do is often a community that gets treated in very stereotyped ways and often seeing through a very deficit-based lens. When you go out there and talk to them, they do such an amazing job of overcoming trauma and such a terrific sense of humor that they bring to it. One of the things we kept hearing about over and over again was how they would cheer themselves up. I realized that something that’s not bending the resilience literature is the role of humor and being able to get back into a positive mood like if you have a flat tire on your way to work then back when we were able to drive to work.
It’s going to ruin your morning, day and week. It’s how long does it take you to let that go and not end your bad mood, but to be able to get back in a positive mood? Most of the emotion regulation literature has focused more on getting rid of negative emotions. Getting rid of anger, sadness or distress. We realized that there was this missing piece about not being able to get back to neutral, but recover a positive mood, a good mood. That has turned out to be one of the powerful measures of strengths in our work that we’ve done. That’s an important one. That is something that we’ve neglected.
Recovery positive effect. That reminds me of a story about an individual that was diagnosed with cancer. Immediately after the diagnosis, they went to the video store when we used to have video stores and all they did was consume comedies and they were cured of cancer. This isn’t a clinical trial. They put a lot of the benefit of those movies and maintaining a sense of humor and positivity as they were going through this as critical to their process.
That’s another one that can have physiological effects too. Moving to the topic of like, “How do you get toward a resilient place where you’re achieving and thriving again after adversity?” Mindfulness also adds that emotion regulation component. That’s been around for thousands of years. It wasn’t taken seriously by mainstream Western medicine for a long time, but it finally has started to. We’re finding that mindfulness can work as well as a lot of other therapies or medications can in terms of helping people get rid of depression and anxiety after some traumatic event.
I’ve seen some of that research as well, where they talk about it even in cancer research. The impact that it can have in terms of a state change. I do believe in the whole piece of mindfulness. In 5 or 10 years, we’re going to look back and the research is going to be strong on this. It will be one of those. You just, “How could you not apply this? The benefits of it.”
The great thing about it is that it is so accessible to everybody. You can live in rural Appalachia and you could still do mindfulness meditation. You don’t have to have access to a specialist or be able to afford therapy. It’s practically a wonder cure.
Anything else that hits your radar in terms of the work that you’re doing?
We have our resilience portfolio breaks strengths down into three different domains. We’ve talked about two of them. The first is the meaning-making domain, where having some of the purposes turns out to be the biggest piece of that, although also mattering to other people is an important element of that as well. We’ve talked a little bit about the regulatory domains. Learning different kinds of self-regulation, where being able to cheer yourself up and recover that positive aspect or positive emotion after trauma is the key thing. The third domain is the interpersonal one. This is the whole social ecology. The help that you get from family, friends, broader community, or even your social and cultural values, that can sustain us during tough times.
Social support is the one that we have found is the most helpful. That domain turns out to be a little bit trickier than the other two. For example, in one of our studies, we found that the adolescent boys who were reporting the highest levels of social support were also reporting the highest levels of delinquency. You have to be careful about what they’re getting socially supported to do. Having a safe person for someone to talk to and someone who will offer tangible help if you need a ride to the doctor or someone to look after your kids. We’ve found that what we’ve had to do is get a lot more specific about what kinds of social support we’re talking about. We’re not talking about encouragement to go shoplift or something like that. That’s probably one that’s important there. We are still trying to figure out what other pieces of that one might be helpful. That one has turned out to be the trickiest and there’s often this double-edged sword about it like, “What example is giving you social support?”
Another one is that investment in family, which was turned out to be trickier than I expected because this important to me. I put a lot of energy, like a lot of people do, into celebrating holidays and family traditions. On the one hand, you can see the benefits of that. That gives people a lot of joy and even stability in their lives. In our work, you can see that there’s a little bit of a burden to that too. Many people have talked about it can get quite stressful around the holidays, trying to live up to your own expectations or other expectations. Having those interpersonal relationships is important, but it’s a little bit trickier there to strike the right balance about me in. It doesn’t end up being more of stress or a burden than it is something that you’re also deriving sustenance from.
You mentioned the interpersonal domain to have researched around belongingness and how important that is for us. In the work that I do with organizations, we’re certainly building teams. It seems that we’re pack animals by design that we need each other. There’s a sense of power that we gain from the inclusiveness of being inside a group or that supported by a group as long as it’s positive.
We are social animals by nature. The flip side of that is also true that there’s research on loneliness that shows that is one of the best predictors of mortality among older adults. It’s like a better predictor of whether they’re going to die in the next 5 or 10 years. Things like hypertension, diabetes and all these other things that you would think sound much more serious. We can’t truly thrive without having that sense of belongingness to some groups somewhere.
If you’re isolated or you identified yourself as being lonely, your life expectancy is short. Is that correct?
That’s right. There’s quite a large literature on that.
That isn’t interesting because it does speak to that thousands of years ago. We were voted outside of the tribe. That was a death sentence. We couldn’t survive on our own. I would argue that it’s the same thing today. It looks different, but it is the same.
Back at one point in time, that was the worst punishment you can impose on somebody. In some ways that still is true and we haven’t fully appreciated what some of the psychological ramifications are. There have been huge demographic factors with that. It changed a little bit because of the pandemic. I was reading an article in The Atlantic by the social psychologist, Jean Twenge. She said that it’s been hard on adults that adolescents are doing well as they were before, or maybe even a little better during the pandemic. She thinks it’s because they’re all reporting, spending a lot more time with family, and things like that.
It has changed. My kids are around a lot more because they can’t cope anywhere. I’ve seen more of them in the previous months. They’ve got old enough to go run around on their own and jump. That’s very important. Demographically, we’ve had such huge changes with that. The most common household in the United States is one person living by themselves, which has never been true in all of recorded history. We’re beginning to understand the impacts that are going to be on people in terms of psychology.We are social animals by nature. Isolation is one of the worst punishments you can impose on somebody. Click To Tweet
One that we haven’t touched on is your thoughts on this, two parts, practicing gratitude and journaling and where those might fit.
Practicing gratitude can fit into that work about volunteering and teaching. Anything that you do that strengthens your relationships, it gets you to have more positive or pro-social relationships with other people is a good thing. It depends on whether or not you’re expressing gratitude to somebody else or if you’re doing some of those things where you write down three things a day that you’re grateful for. There are some benefits to that too. None of this stuff is bad for you, but in terms of what’s better, you’ll get a lot more boost out of writing that teacher that made a difference in your life and saying, “I never told you how much it mattered to me, that you encouraged me in my interest in medicine or whatever it was.”
For journaling, that is right up there with mindfulness. One of my favorite interventions. It goes under a lot of different names. It goes under a narrative or expressive writing. A lot of people more in the violence, trauma fields, or in psychotherapy have missed that. There’s been a huge amount of work going on, on these different types of narrative, social psychology, developmental psychology, and positive psychology. It turns out that light mindfulness is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. You don’t have to. When you say journaling, a lot of times people come up with this idea that you have to write down what’s going on in your life every day for the rest of your lives.
I’ve tried to start a journal several times and I never get more than a few weeks into it. The good news about that is that it turns out from all this research that you don’t have to do that. Sometimes people will use instructions to write down the most traumatic or upsetting thing that’s happening to you. That’s the centerpiece of a lot of emerging narrative forms of therapy like trauma-focused, CBT, or narrative exposure therapy. In positive psychology, they ask you to write about things that are meaningful to you like somebody who meant a lot to you as a child, what you think your values are, or to write about a turning point in your life when you realized what you wanted to do or who you wanted to marry.
You can write those. There are tons of research about writing for an hour that shows that it has long-lasting psychological impacts and also physiological ones. That’s another great intervention that will boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, and other physiological benefits like that. Laura King, the Positive Psychologist, did one study where she only had students write for two minutes a day for three consecutive days. After a six-minute intervention, they still weeks later were scoring better on psychological measures than the control group who was down a list of things they had to do. If you write about anything that’s psychologically meaningful to you, it helps you process it and helps you gain perspective on it. It helps you appreciate what you might have learned or what your real priorities in life are. It’s an amazing intervention. It’s accessible to anybody who has paper and a pencil.
You bring up such a great point that it doesn’t have to be exhaustive. This was for two minutes. Who can’t find two minutes to write down something? I know for me trying to end the day where I will write down 2 to 3 sentences of what went well for the day. Oftentimes I find myself, “What do I still have to do tomorrow? What didn’t I get done today?” Whereas if I put myself in that place of forcing myself to think about, “What didn’t go well?” There are things that went well as difficult as it might be. If I can go in that route, it’s not to be a Pollyanna, but it’s trying to get myself into a place of not focusing on what didn’t go well.
Anything that you’re writing about as long as it’s meaningful to you. That has been the great thing about this narrative research. People do many different variations of it and the control group in most of these studies is writing down a to-do list, or if they’re college students like writing down your study plans for this semester. They’re still writing to create better comparable control, but they’re not writing about something meaningful, or personal to them like what you need from the grocery store. That seems to be the key to it. If that’s meaningful to you if that helps you to focus on acknowledging that you did do some constructive things during the day, and that gives you a sense of closure and accomplishment. That would be a great strategy.
The last thing I’ll ask you is around exercise as a tool. What are your thoughts research-wise on that?
The exercise we’re learning more and more about these mind-body lengths. It goes along with the research on mindfulness in that way. This impressive evidence-based showing that you don’t need to become an Olympian that even any regular moderate exercise can do. I’m not a big sports person myself, but I have dogs. I make sure that I get out and walk my dogs. Take a brisk walk with my dogs for 30 or 40 minutes every day. Even something like that is enough to have a strong impact on depression symptoms or anxiety symptoms. They’ll reduce them if you already have them. They’ll protect you from developing them.
A bunch of research has shown that this is about as effective as psychotherapy or antidepressant medication. Some people are talking about that being practically a miracle cure. In the United Kingdom, they’re prescribing exercise as the first line of treatment for depression before they give them anything else. They give them maps to all the walking paths that are all over England and Scotland. Some of the other benefits that go along with that are also being in the outdoor spaces. There’s some emerging research that shows that you’ll get better psychological benefits if you walk in a park or the woods than you will on city blocks, although they both help. Getting sunshine and adequate amounts of vitamin D. These are all folding in there but exercise too. Another one that is free and accessible or nearly free, if you decide to go for something that requires a little bit of equipment. A wonderful way to sustain wellbeing and throwing across the lifespan.
It’s not something that takes a lot of time to do it. It doesn’t need to. If you want to work out for 60 minutes, you can. I’ve seen research that as little as ten minutes of walking can activate a lot of those neurochemicals. That was a self-serving setup in regard to that question around exercise because it’s something that I promote so often in terms of something easy for us to do. There’s research that you can site that exercise compared to pharmacotherapy in terms of the benefit that it does better than some of the treatments. That’s not to say, “You stop taking medication and work out for 30 minutes.” It speaks to the power that exercise provides in helping us out.
Exercise has a bunch of other side effects, but it will also lower your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. It will have all these other benefits instead of being something that can have potentially risky side effects. There are some risks too, especially if you’re going to take up skiing or things like that, be careful not to injure yourself. In terms of thinking about the pieces of what good life are, the three that have the biggest evidence-based behind them are mindfulness, expressive writing, and exercise.
What a great way to end this. I can’t thank you enough, Dr. Hamby, for your input on this and for helping other people. There are so many different options for people and different perspectives. Different people can do different things, but they don’t take a lot of time. Try things out and see what works for you.
That’s the basic idea behind the portfolio model. The same combination is not going to work for everybody, but anybody can put together a combination that will help them thrive and achieve well-being. Thank you for inviting me to talk with you. I enjoyed it.
Thank you. I’m wishing you all the best.
The same with you.
- Life Paths Research Center
- Psychology of Violence
- Battered Women’s Protective Strategies: Stronger Than You Know
About Dr. Sherry Hamby
She is also founding editor of the American Psychological Association journal Psychology of Violence.
A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Hamby has worked for more than 20 years on the problem of violence, including front-line crisis intervention for domestic and other violence, involvement in grassroots domestic violence organizations, therapy with trauma survivors, and research on many forms of violence. Her current work focuses on resilience and strengths-based approaches to coping with adversity.
Her awards include the 2017 Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Science of Trauma Psychology from the Trauma Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Hamby has appeared in the New York Times, CBS News, Washington Post, Huffington Post, USA Today, and hundreds of other media outlets.
Her most recent book is Battered Women’s Protective Strategies: Stronger Than You Know (Oxford University Press, 2014). She lives in Tennessee with her husband and two children.
In this time of pandemic, we don’t just need to cope; we need to build resilience. From a health perspective, this resilience starts at the cellular level. Built within each cell is a tremendous capacity to weather environmental stressors such as pathogens and toxins, but it can only do so much on its own. What do we need to do to unleash our cells’ full protective potential and become proactive about our health? Joining Patrick Veroneau for a chat, pathologist and wellness advocate Dr. Sveta Silverman helps us get to the root of unhealth by taking a deep dive into the basics of cellular health. These are stressful times, and that stress can cause your immune system to go haywire. Tap into this conversation for some incredibly easy tips that, when done consistently, can help you take control of your own health journey during these challenging times.
Listen to the podcast here:
Building Health And Resilience At The Cellular Level With Dr. Sveta Silverman – Episode 113
On this episode we’re going to talk about health and our immune system. We’re going to get down to the cell level. My guest is Dr. Sveta Silverman. She’s a conventional doctor with a passion for education of disease prevention and health promotion. She’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at the University of Alberta. She is a surgical pathologist and her expertise is in breast pathology. What I love about one of the bios that I had read is it stated that she’s on a mission to help others improve their health. That’s how we were connected. While she is a surgical pathologist by degree, she is a teacher by calling. I would agree with that 100%. I loved her enthusiasm and her passion for this topic. Let’s get into it.
Svet, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. We had the opportunity to speak and our conversation specifically went around resilience, health of individuals, and how that plays into resilience. I thought it’s such an important time for us to talk about that. One of the things that I’ve been experiencing is the difference between coping and resilience. I’ve seen it and this is the best I can come up with when I think about that transition. When I think of coping, if I’m on a boat that’s leaking, I can bail it out and that’s coping. Eventually, either I’m overcome by water or I’m too tired to bail anymore and the boat sinks.
To me, resilience is the opportunity to fix the outside of the boat so that the water is all around me, but it doesn’t get inside. A lot of people have been able to cope up until now but have lacked the ability to build resilience where now it needs to take over, “I can’t bail the boat anymore. This is too much.” I’d love your perspective on things especially as it relates to health and the cellular level of individuals because that’s a piece that we’re missing.
First of all, Patrick, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to teach health. I’m blessed to get to know you. We’re connecting on many levels in terms of health, energy and positivity. It’s interesting, I am perceived as the doctor of cells. By degree, I diagnose cancers. I look in the microscope and diagnose cells. By the virtue of my mission, I teach health. Everything is connected to coping and resilience. Let’s talk a little bit from the perspective of cells.
As you said, you can patch the boat and it’s coping and because that’s what we do, we patch ourselves, “I have a headache, I will take a pill,” or “I have heartburn, I will take a pill.” That’s coping. At a certain degree, you get, “I cannot take care of this headache anymore.” However, resilience is how do I get to the root cause of this? How do I fix it? To begin with, our cells are incredibly resilient and forgiving because there is an ingenious mechanism of cellular defense or cellular cleanliness.
There are cellular vacuum cleaners in every cell, however, they are coping. Initially, they’re very resilient because those vacuum cleaners, the cellular cleansers are cleaning the cell from all the garbage that we’re getting from the environment, electromagnetic fields, this charge that we’re putting on us, everything that is around us, the food that we eat, and not paying attention to what we eat. Those vacuum cleaners are initially so strong, they are Dysons, and then they started to cope.
It’s a little patch and then the cell gives up. I cannot clean myself anymore. I’m done coping. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. The cellular machinery switches, goes haywire, and starts making atypical or malignant cells. In this day and age and this situation, we’re coping and then I’m done. The thing is how do I get strong? How do I get healthy? With this said, how do I get resilient? That is the resilience of positivity because healthy equals happy equals positive. How do I address cellular resiliency? Switching back, who are we as a body, as a human being? We are a lump of cells. Some say 30 trillion, 35 trillion, or 52 trillion. Let’s say the average is 35 to 37 trillion cells. I have to be resilient with resiliency of every cell. I need to build every cell as my fortress of health and that is my responsibility.Healthy equals happy equals positive. Click To Tweet
This is my resiliency to the outside world and my resiliency to stand up and say, “I am making the best of me. My responsibility to stay resilient is not the responsibility of my doctor, my pastor or my rabbi.” They are my leaders, spiritual leaders, consultants, guiding apparatus, support, emotional, physical body. My resiliency is entirely upon my responsibility to be the best I am. It’s my responsibility to make 35 or 37 trillion cells the best they are. How do I do this? There are lots of simple things. They do not require any money but require the resiliency of commitment. I am committing to myself. I am committing to my health.
That is one of the challenges for a lot of people. How do you create the habits? You build these habits where we have become a society at times where if it doesn’t work the first time, we move on. We don’t stick with things. I totally hear you. You’re talking about developing on many different levels, whether it’s physically what do we put in ourselves? Intellectually, what do we put in ourselves in terms of our thoughts? Emotionally and spiritually as well. I would agree with you in terms of, what do we consume that helps build those 35 trillion or however many cells it is?
When do we start commitments? The 1st of January, we have the New Year’s resolutions. The 1st of January is a holiday. Let’s say, 2nd or 3rd of January, you hit the gym if the gyms are going to be open. The gyms are full of people because everybody makes a resolution. How many of them make it as a commitment? You can count them.
I’ve heard it’s 15% or something like that.
The commitment relies on consistency. Consistency is going to turn into habit because when you do every day the similar thing, one day you wake up and say, “I’m going to skip it. It doesn’t feel right.” When it doesn’t feel right, it’s your habit. When you start committing to the good foods, inadvertently you become consistent and habitual. What happens is your body is going to clock or moderate, not modify, your consistency.
My example, I am committed to drink healthy water. I don’t drink tap water and I do it day-after-day, then the trouble happens. I go somewhere like a restaurant or something and they serve me tea. I can drink that tea because my body tells me, “What kind of garbage are you putting in? It is yucky.” My commitment and my consistency to pour healthy water and make my own beverage leads to the habit. When I break that habit, my body tells me, “No.” The same habit you build with good foods.
Let’s say Joe Doe. Joe Doe is on SAD diet, and the SAD stands for Standard American Diet. Is it sad? It’s sad but that’s the acronym. Joe Doe is eating SAD diet meaning that there are plenty of processed carbohydrates and that is Joe’s habit. Joe is harming his cells and breaking the cellular health by putting refined processed carbohydrates, which fastly convert into sugar. That triggers the reactions. When we have sugar in our bloodstream, it stimulates the hormone insulin. Insulin grows abnormal cells, but what insulin does is it shoves the glucose into the cells or something.
The problem is when there’s too much of glucose, it doesn’t go into the cells because the cells are saturated, but insulin keeps coming and keeps sending the signals to the brain, “Give me more.” This is the habit of people who eat refined foods more often. They’re not making it up because they feel hungry. They’re extremely saturated. There’s a time when their cells are screaming of over abuse of carbohydrates but their brain is also screaming, “Give me more because I’m starved.” This is your habit. Living in Maine by the ocean, awesome stuff, eat pizza.
It’s like telling you, “I can’t stop.”
You can’t, that’s the thing. This is your resilience to you. What you do is you create a pattern. It’s like, “Pizza. I do know. What do I substitute with pizza?” You can make a commitment. You can eat healthy pizza and I will teach you how to make healthy pizzas, but you can let me try. This is my resilience. This is my pizza. This is my salad. Whatever on top of pizza, let’s say basil, arugula, even some cheese, I put it in a salad bowl minus crust. That’s what I’m eating. I’m eating deconstructed minus crust pizza. I’m committing myself to seven days of deconstructed minus crust pizza. In seven days, all of a sudden, your cells are like, “I’m happy. What happened?”
I’m feeling vibrant. I’ve got more energy. My wife noticed me, I’m like a young chick again. My kids are asking me, “Dad, what happened to you? Why you were active?” I’m like, “I feel great. I feel young. I feel positive in a week.” Why do I go back to something that is going to make me feel low other than satisfying my brain for three minutes? That’s how you start creating and building the pattern. You go seven days and start analyzing, is it working? This is just one way. It’s the same thing with exercise. You start walking every day, 5 minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, but you keep doing it regularly. You’re creating a pattern. One day, you catch yourself, “I haven’t done my walking. Something is not right in my routine.” It’s your consistency, your routine and your habit.
I did a workshop on this in regards to some work that was done by Anders Ericsson around 10,000 hours and deliberate practice. I’m all for what you’re talking about. I exercise it myself, no pun intended. I work out in the morning and I know that when I don’t work out, I don’t feel as good.
The same applies to foods, meditation, prayer in some instances, and whatever you do because our health doesn’t necessarily reside on good food only, supplements only or exercise only. Number one, what’s the problem with the society now? We are angry, stressed and confused. We’re not happy and not emotionally stable. That is number one of unhealth because cell is a computer. It’s a programming device but you program it positively or negatively. When you program it positively, even if you start initially faking it and you start working on it, your computer doesn’t know. If it’s a positive input, it’s going to be positive output. When you do it consistently and stuff like that, the positivity of mind creates a positivity of health and healthy cells. Mental, emotional and spiritual comes number one.
You mentioned such an important part too in how our mental state impacts our immune system. We had a conversation around Bruce Lipton. I told you I had read The Biology Of Belief with him. One of the things that stood out to me, and I’d love your thoughts on this, is you said when we’re stressed, it’s fight, flight or freeze for our system. We take away from our immune system because the body thousands of years ago, if it was a saber-tooth tiger coming toward me, it said, “We’re going to take all the blood and put it in your extremities and areas that you can get out of this situation. If you survive this, then we’ll come back and we’ll continue working on the bacterial infection you have, but we’re not going to do it until then.” It’s all stress.Commitment relies on consistency, and consistency turns to habit. Click To Tweet
You’re entirely correct. A friend of mine who is a psychologist brought a concept and I lit up. She’s learning, teaching, studying and presenting the psychology of immune system. Have you heard of the psychology of immune system? As you said, it’s all stress. Thousands or hundreds of years ago, saber-tooth tiger runs after you. What do you do? It’s a fight, flight or freeze response. Your cortisol or stress hormone goes extremely high and the blood rushes to the extremities and you’re fine.
The problem is it was a solitary event. What happens right now is we have saber-tooth tigers running after us. We allow them to run after us imaginative 24/7 because we’re not sleeping. It’s almost like 24/7. What does it do? For example, we were talking about the blood recirculation, what happens is we exhaust our stress hormones which are connected to every other hormone and every system including immune system. If your stress hormones like cortisol is not in the right state which is entirely affected by stress. You are inadvertently depressing and down-regulating your immune system. There are no ways around it.
When we think about it especially in this era of the pandemic and this virus, people getting worked up and stressed out about it, their stress and their worry is counterproductive.
In this day and age of pandemic, this is our wake-up call to get healthy. It is about social distancing, that’s fine, but it doesn’t matter whether you social distance or not if you’re not healthy, you’re at risk. Who are at the utmost risks? Elderly, obese, and people with chronicity like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The thing is when you have diabetes, every system of your body is affected. It’s your gut, your microbiome, and your immune system. I take pandemic with a stride. I love washing hands, not obsessively.
I don’t have obsessive-compulsive thing on washing hands. I’ve got it on other things, but I love washing hands with soap because it gives me a hand massage. When I finally stop for twenty seconds, I’m connecting with myself. The thing to me about the pandemic is how do I optimize my lifestyle now to health? How do I optimize my diet to health? How do I optimize my hydration, my supplementation, my cellular up-regulation? Everything in that pattern leads to cellular health. Immune system is immune cells. Everything is extremely simple, but everything resides on my resilience and commitment to health.
It starts with us. It’s less worry, more work on ourselves on getting better.
Do I want to get up at 5:15 to have yogurt at 6:00? Not exactly. Do I push myself out of bed? Absolutely because being a Type-A personality, spending an hour of hot yoga in the morning gives me an hour of me. Whether I like it or not, I am in the closed room for an hour. I’m doing walking or moving meditation. I love hot because of what it does. In a burden apparatus of cleansing. Sweating means detoxification whether I like it or not and I love it.
What I find interesting and I always felt guilty that I hate running. I run regularly. There’s not a time that I have left to go out for a run that I’m like, “This is awesome. I love this.” Within an hour of getting back, there is not a time that I finished a run that I’m like, “I’m glad I did it. I feel better.”
Thank you for saying that because I do not like to work out. However, I’m in yoga. I’m learning because it is needed for my health. I’m not immune to stress in life. My stress level is high so how do I deal with this? For me, it’s yoga. For you, it’s an exercise, it’s your running because after running, you find so much accomplishment and positivity. Your endorphin level is high. From running, what did you do? You boost your immune system, whether you like it or not, because you upregulated some cellular pathways that are going to boost your immune system. You reduced your free radical damage. You reduce your oxidative stress, which is the culprit of cellular unhealth.
I do think that there are a lot of people out there thinking, “I can’t do it. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like it. Therefore, I’m not made to do this.” It’s encouraging to hear other people that say, “I don’t like either doing it but the payback on the other end is incredible.”
That’s the whole thing. For example, exercise is versatile. You don’t want to run, walk. You don’t want to walk and you love swimming, swim. You don’t like swimming, go to the gym, pump some iron. You don’t want to pump some iron, go to the yoga studio. You don’t want yoga studio, do Qigong. The physical exercise routine is endless and no excuses. It’s interesting how we start exercising sometimes. When we commit, we commit out of necessity. It’s like I watch smokers. Sometimes, you bang on their head. It’s like, “You’ve got to quit. It’s not going to end all right,” then heart attack.
The next day, smoke-free, done, cold turkey. Something hits you. This is like, “I can die doing this.” Why don’t you think prospectively? Why do you act on your health? The best cure of the disease is the prevention of the disease. Why don’t you be proactive? We’re getting older. Whether you like it or not, this is the mechanism. If we’re getting older, it’s in our cellular apparatus to get more stale, to work slower and stuff. I need to look at it proactively and prospectively. What do I do? If every cell starts working slow and the functions are decreased, it’s not going to skip the immune system, if we’re thinking immune system.
What do I do to boost my immune system? How? I’m thinking, what is my gut doing? How is my GI system functioning? Why? Because my GI system is the home of my microgut and my probiotics. My probiotics are some say 80%-plus or 70%-plus of my immune system. My immune system lives in my gut. What do I do with my microgut? How do I boost myself? I don’t live in Hawaii. I don’t have the sun the whole year. Do I need vitamin D? Yes. What about fish oils? Yes. What about good food? There’s something that sometimes you don’t like doing but you need to do it because, am I going to be around in twenty years? That’s why I’m doing it. Do I have children? Yes. Do I want to dance on their weddings? Yes. Do I want to take my grandkids to school? Yes. Do I want to be in a wheelchair? No. Do I want to suffer from Alzheimer’s? No. There you go. There should be some commitments.
As we’re coming to the end of this, if we’re talking about an employee or a leader that says, “I’m stressed out. I’m having a difficult time coping. I don’t have the energy level. I’m not feeling great about myself.” Without overwhelming somebody to say, “You need to change all of these things,” what are some simple things that somebody can realistically start to implement? They start to get those quick wins. You start getting those and all of a sudden you’re like, “If I can do that, then I can jump up to this,” but people just need a window.This time of pandemic is a wake-up call for us to get healthy. Click To Tweet
Let’s commit to eight hours of sleep minus cell phones. No cell phones in the room. Turn it off. You turn off the lights, you sleep. Let’s try and do this, number one. Number two, breathing. When you are stressed and overwhelmed at work, stop and take a huge deep inhale, and huge deep exhale. When you do that, don’t think of the bad things that happened. When you breathe, you only concentrate on breath and you can count it. You do four times. You count to four while inhaling then hold it for four, then exhale for four. Do it 5, 6, 10 times, and then you immediately find yourself that you are less stressed.
These are two simple solutions. Number three, you take water to work. You have a bottle, preferably not plastic with clean water at home and you drink. You stay hydrated. Sometimes, when you want your pizza and stuff, you take a few sips of water and it will take away your drink. This is simple. We’re not spending money. We’re not going to see a specialist or a therapist. That’s simple. That’s solution number one. Hopefully, when we reconvene and have another talk and stuff, we’ll elaborate on more solutions and get into foods and simple solutions. What are we going to bring? What are we going to eliminate in foods?
Those three that you mentioned are huge, sleep and our breath.
If you’re stressed, stop and breathe.
It’s hard at times in terms of your breath. I remember a few times that I was taking yoga and the instructor would come up and say, “You need to breathe.”
That’s where you concentrate. There’s one thing that is of the utmost importance to me in yoga. There’s nothing more important. It’s called prana, breathing. That’s a whole thing. People say, “I can’t afford it,” but you don’t have to afford it. You need to be committed to yourself. You don’t need to afford it.
This has been great. I love the conversation that we’ve had. The focus that you have is important. It’s one that many of us have missed for a long time. It took me a while to catch on to this and how important this stuff is. It is in our control. We have control over this. I do look forward to this because I do think the food is a whole additional piece that you could bring much to this.
We need to break it up. Money is a big deal. We need to break it down and help people realize that it’s not that bad. There are a few changes we’re going to make in cupboards, the fridge and on the stove, it’s going to work.
We’ll segue that in episode number two that you and I do together. Thank you.
Patrick, I’m grateful. Thank you.
I am as well. Wishing you all the best. Peace.
Peace and love. Thank you.
About Dr. Sveta Silverman
I began my medical career as a pediatric surgeon in the former Soviet Union. After I made Canada my home in 1991, I broadened my studies and work into the field of pathology. As a pathologist, I’m really good at finding the root causes of medical problems. I’m also good at finding ways to heal medical conditions. I have a passion for eating well, living a healthy lifestyle and preventing disease.
I am a lifelong learner and as such, I am widely published and I am a Fellow in the Royal College of Physicians in Canada. As a Royal College Fellow, I am always enhancing my learning and skills through my commitment to continuing professional development through the Royal College’s Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Program.
As well, I have enjoyed teaching over the years and I have been honoured with multiple awards for outstanding teaching. The connection I make between the material and the student is satisfying and motivating to me.
At this point in life, I desire to integrate my knowledge, experience and passion as I make myself available to answer people’s medical questions. I am developing askdrsilverman.com so that I can make a difference in individuals’ quality of life. I have worked very hard to become an expert in detecting the root causes of illnesses. I have also made strides in finding ways to help people heal their bodies. I am looking forward to helping thousands of people through askdrsilverman.com.
On a personal note, I really enjoy music, animals, tennis and kind people. Most of all, I love and appreciate my wonderful husband, Harry. The first 25 years have been marvelous and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!
In our world today, emotional intelligence has become more and more important in how we perceive, understand, and manage our emotions. Joining Patrick Veroneau on today’s show is Dr. Ben Palmer, the Chief Executive Officer of Genos International, a business that specializes in the assessment and development of emotional intelligence, employee engagement, and motivation. Dr. Palmer talks about the impact of EI, particularly in the workplace, and the powerful leadership approaches they have identified and developed, which are vital for leading in today’s challenging times.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Impact Of EI With Dr. Ben Palmer – Episode 109
On our episode, I’m going to interview Dr. Ben Palmer, who is the CEO of Genos International. He is the Developer and Creator of a Genos model of Emotional Intelligence. It’s a model that I’ve used for over a decade now. In terms of some of the companies that have utilized this model, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Walmart, Genentech, Pfizer, Qantas, Commonwealth Bank, and many more. I was reading a feed of an organization that put out projections as to emotional intelligence being utilized in the workplace. They suggested that there will be a huge increase in its utilization between now and 2026. I’m not sure why 2026 was the date, but I would agree with the headline of that. Emotional intelligence becomes more and more important in our world around perceiving, understanding and managing emotions, either mine or someone else’s. You’ll hear many pearls that you can draw off from the conversation that I have with Dr. Ben Palmer of how important developing this skill of emotional intelligence is and we all have the ability to do it. With that said, let’s get into it.
Ben, I want to thank you for being on the show. I have been looking forward to this as somebody that practices the Genos model of Emotional Intelligence to be able to get you on the show and talk about it especially in this time that we’re in. Could you give us a little background in terms of how your interesting emotional intelligence first started to form, why this model, and then go into how does this impact us now and going forward?
Firstly, thank you for having me on. It’s a real pleasure to be here. All your readers will enjoy this segment on emotional intelligence. My interest and work began with me as a PhD student not knowing what I wanted to do, and this was 1996. Dan Goleman’s book lands of my table, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which incidentally is the most widely read social science book in the world and I fell in love with the concept. I was also doing my PhD in a neuropsychology laboratory with Professor Con Stough, who had an assessment background.
He encouraged me to start looking at the different models and measures of emotional intelligence that were around at that time. The book had become popular and there had been a bit of an explosion of different models and measures. I became interested in doing analysis inside of the market. I’ve looked at all these different instruments and which one I think is the best. That led to my own model. I was not impressed to say the least with what was available at that time both from an academic point of view in terms of the instruments not doing what they should have been doing at that time from a psychometric point of view, but also from a model point of view.
I always wanted to do applied work post my PhD. I was interested in helping people be more emotionally intelligent at work. A lot of the models at that time were in my opinion to be 15, 16 different variables in them. Imagine an emotional intelligence model that has self-awareness, self-actualization, optimism, happiness and the list goes on. If you’re looking to the history of psychology, models that are sticky, accessible, and practically useful. They’re usually four quadrant, small number of things and that’s what gives people the language of what it is you’re trying to help them improve. That was the past of the Genos model.
In regards to doing the assessment, it’s a quick assessment, relatively speaking to do that you don’t get fatigued when you do it. I remember that always being one of the things that interest me or that I enjoyed in the feedback that I was getting from people that have taken it. It’s not this exhaustive process.
If you look into the history of Organizational Psychology and instruments that organizations pick up and use, they’re often short, not long because people don’t have the time to fill out a 150-item survey. It’s a questionnaire. Ours is 42. As you point, it’s relatively quick to do, but quick doesn’t mean poor quality. Quick means some ways mean better quality because people can see. Particularly when they’re doing it online, they can see the length of the instrument. They can see how they’re progressing through it. That helps people slow down and consider their instance.
In looking at your history, you mentioned something as you looked at emotional intelligence and found it interesting. I did the same thing when I was going through my training as a coach through iPEC back in 2008. That’s when I was first introduced to the Genos model. I hadn’t heard of emotional intelligence. I didn’t know about Dan Goleman at that point. My background was in the biotech industry in sales and training. As I read this brochure around the Genos model, I thought, “This is a sales model. This is perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions or reading people and myself.”
This seems like common sense. That’s what drew me to it. What was interesting about that is after I had gone off on my own, I had been in the industry, I went to a large biotech company that I had worked for. I went to the sales director to go back in and do some training for them. The first thing he said to me at that point was, “You can come in here and do trainings on all the things that you want except for that emotional intelligence BS.” It’s what he said. That point was the resistance that I was running into with emotional intelligence that seemed weak, fluffy, and there wasn’t a lot to it but those that understood it realize that it’s the opposite and the strongest.Our feelings are so fundamental to who we are. Click To Tweet
It’s bringing strength and compassion together and using the pathway. The New Zealand Prime Minister does this exceptionally well. She’s an exceptional role model at doing it. Her popularity is through the roof. She has banished Coronavirus from her country. Emotional intelligence is about being angry but it’s about being angry in the right way, to the right degree, at the right time, in the right context, in a way that gets engagement not defensiveness.
Emotional intelligence is not just being angry, it’s being happy, optimistic, smart with feelings. If you think about feelings, they are fundamental to who we are. The first thing that happens biologically when something in our environment occurs is an emotion. That emotion starts to prevail and influence the way we think, behave, and perform. Being smart with feelings is an incredible skillset to have. It’s the difference between stimulus and reaction to stimulus-response, considered intelligent response. We need that in this environment that we’re in it at the moment.
I love those three things that you mentioned. The emotions are in the center of this but the behaviors, decisions, and performance. We can all think of, “If I’m angry, how do I perform? How do I behave? What choices will I make are not going to be generally the same as I’m in a place where I’m content, happy or satisfied?” Understanding that is important.
We’re not using emotional intelligence in the workplace to create some type of utopian environment where all everyone ever feels is happy, optimistic, satisfied, and valued. What we’re creating is a workplace that intelligently responds and uses emotion to make sure that the decisions, the behavior and the performance of the organization is optimized.
Ben, as we think about that now, we’re in this world where there’s much more of a remote setting in terms of the work that’s being done. How does developing this skillset play into that where you have more people working remotely? It impacts it.
We have more loneliness, anxiety, fear, and concern about job loss. As Josh Bronson said, quoting the CEO of Disney, “Leaders need to be the Chief Wellbeing Officers of organizations.” Now more than ever, we need emotionally-intelligent leadership because we’re having to firstly lead through a medium like you and I are discovering and talking with each other. Secondly, we’ve not only got to do that. We’ve got to lead through this medium of remote working where there is heightened anxiety, fear, concern, job insecurity, and that feeds into people’s decisions. Think about the way you think when you feel overly-stressed or concerned versus how you tend to think when you feel relaxed, content, and engaged for work. It’s a no-brainer.
In this environment, there’s an enormous need for leaders to be self-aware, empathetic, aware of others, and not only purposefully invest in their own wellbeing so that they show up, being able to project calm and confidence by way of example. Also, be able to see that a staff member is stressed or is concerned and help to best up whatever maybe the right intelligent choices around that stress and concern. It’s not about making them go from concerned to happy, although that might be one of the things that comes as an outcome, it’s about helping them make the right intelligent responses for that concern.
It takes much more effort if it’s through Zoom or over the phone where I’m not in-person with that person to try and do that.
One of the research studies that struck me in 2019 was on the extent to which emotional intelligence may be heritable or indeed developed with the environment. This research study looked at gene analysis and so on and came up with a conclusion. There were 46,000 people that they had in this study. It’s a massive sample. Ninety percent of our emotional intelligence is developed and about 10% of it is heritable. I am saying this to you and your audience in the context of think about that in terms of the opportunity it presents for you to develop your own emotional intelligence. It’s huge. Think about what it might mean even to be 2% or 3% more emotionally-intelligent. What would it mean to you to have a 2% or 3% uplift in your mood? What would it mean to you to get up out of bed in the morning and feel 2% or 3% better at jumping into work?
What would it mean to a basketball team, to an NRL team, to a football team to be 2% or 3% better at managing their anxiety in a close match? It’s the difference between finishing somewhere in the middle of the latitude, winning the grand final or finishing on top. The fact that it’s malleable and influenceable that we can develop that within our self. Research suggests on average at the moment in good emotional intelligence programs and improving it by 17% points, not 2% or 3% which I’m talking about. I wanted to put that figure into perspective. That’s what that could mean for people. It’s an incredible life journey.
There’s one study that I’ve used often. I had an affinity to it because it was from the pharmaceutical industry. It was done with Sanofi-Aventis that you were part of with Sue Jennings. I remember that study was around teaching these behaviors and these skills to managers who then had to teach it to those people that reported to them. The impact that they saw in regards to increase in sales was about 12%.
It was at that time when Sanofi had acquired Aventis. They were integrating. Sales were on the downward slope a little bit because of that integration. We focused on developing the sales manager’s emotional intelligence and got them also focused on developing their own people’s emotional intelligence. It improved revenue by 13%. I want to pick up on something you said that when you were showing or looking at the model, you thought it was a sales model. It is in some ways and it’s not in others.
When Sanofi were looking for a provider, they went through a procurement process and we were one of many people who applied to work with them. I’ll never forget sitting across from Sue Jennings and saying, “What we have to bring to your RFQ is not a sales program. It’s a personal development program based on emotional intelligence. My hypothesis is if we make people more personally effective, more self-aware, more empathetic, better at managing their emotions that their sales will improve as a result.”
She took a leap of faith and saw the sense in that. We improved revenue by 13%. Not only did we do it though, we improved it in comparison to a control group to make sure that it wasn’t the market or it wasn’t the fact that the integration was going better. In fact, if you asked her at the time of the integration, it was making things worse. The control group not only stayed flat but rebounded and Abbott came up. That was a groundbreaking study. That’s the thing about emotional intelligence. It’s role level and function diagnostic. What I mean by that is it’s relevant to any particular job that has an interpersonal component to it.
Having been in that industry for so long with many challenges that industry faces in regards to access with offices and healthcare providers. If I look back to my success in being able to navigate all those changes, it was because of this skillset of being able to navigate that environment. Being able to perceive what was going on around me. It’s not just in myself, but being able to see what was going on, and pick up on the cues around me. That is huge especially in this environment.
You were talking about this person that you were showing the model to. You can come in and do any training but not this emotional intelligence set. We don’t come up against that as much but we still do every now and then, although the world’s understanding of it has dramatically shifted. The World Economic Forum lists it as number 6 out of their top 10 job skills for 2020 and beyond. The big consulting firm, Capgemini, did a scan of the market, and 1,500 leaders at Fortune 500 companies asked them, “How relevant do you see emotional intelligence for the next few years?” They came to the conclusion through that research study that they did. They see demand for emotional intelligence increasing six-fold on average across industries. In some industries, eight-fold over the next eight years and this is what industry leaders are saying.
They’re seeing the world of artificial intelligence and automation are starting to take over a lot of the thinking component of jobs. What’s going to be left if is the human element, social persuasion, understanding how to engage in a motivated team. People are not going to be replaced. We’re always going to be there, but the people side of leadership is going to improve and increase so dramatically. They’re going to become the prize skills. What I do find in some organizations, not necessarily Sanofi per se, but there are a lot of organizations like Sanofi, BMW, Walmart, the list goes on, that did a lot of work with emotional intelligence in what I call its infancy in 2000s, by way of example. Let’s say from 2000 up until the global financial crisis of 2008.
The new pushback that I see is that BS, “We’ve done emotional intelligence. We did that in the 2000s.” I’m saying to organizations, “Have you replaced your car since the 2000s? If you haven’t, what would it be like to drive?” I use that as a metaphor to say, if you did emotional intelligence years ago, think about where it is now in comparison. The concept now has been around and it’s in its 3rd or 4th decade. Every 4 or 5 years, how we develop it, how we assess it, what we do with it is improving exponentially. Inside the organizations, if you’ve tried it a few years ago, come back and try it again because the efficacy of it, how is it sensed, developed, and brought into organizations now is much better than what it was back in those days.Being smart with feelings is an incredible skill set to have. Click To Tweet
That’s such a great point along those lines. When I do the workshops on it, not just on emotional intelligence, but most of the things I talk about is like reading about pushups and doing pushups. Intellectually, people say, “I get it. It makes perfect sense.” You’re not going to get any stronger intellectually knowing about this. It’s doing the work that you need to do this and practice this continually.
This is the essence of a good developmental program whether it be one-on-one coaching or a group workshop. There should be some content that should be about 10% of your program. There should be some discussion that should be about 20%. Seventy percent of what you’re doing should be the actual practicing of stuff. In my own coaching work, which I don’t get the chance to do as much as I’d like to anymore, but I do a lot of role plays. We’re going to talk to that person about such and such. I’m going to be that person now, let’s have the discussion. I’d encourage coaches to do a lot of roleplaying and reduce the coaching conversation down a bit and make it. Let’s have a conversation, let’s practice it out, let’s think about how you go out.
When you say that, I immediately think too of what’s coming with AI. That’s the perfect scenario of how to strengthen this muscle through AI. If we’re in scenarios roleplaying where we have to respond to a situation that has happened, that helps to build that muscle. It seems like a perfect environment for us when we talk about evolution of this. How do we get stronger at it?
AI is going to have an increasingly large role in helping to assess and develop our emotional intelligence. However, the thing about feelings is a lot of them are neurochemistry-based. That comes from interacting with other human beings or indeed other animals, like a lot of nursing homes have cats and dogs and things like that because they make people feel better. It’s a chemical interaction. While we might be able to go into a virtual world and interact, there may be some feelings that come with that. I don’t think it’s ever going to be the same as roleplaying with a real person, practicing with your colleagues. I don’t think that will ever be replaced. I see this lovely complementary world coming together in that sense.
There’s an enormous amount of money and research being poured into at the moment. Our understanding of discrete emotions, deep-diving down on specific feelings. Let’s take the feeling of concern by way of example. What does it sound like? What does it look like? What does it do in the body? How does it express itself? The reason for that is business wants to teach machines how to read feelings. Once machines can read feelings, there’s a whole range of different things they can do in terms of feedback, coaching, and so on.
At the moment already, there are listening devices in contact centers who are listening to a call between a customer service representative, let’s say at American Airlines, and a customer who’s rang up about an issue with their airline ticket or whatever. What that machine is doing is it’s listening to the emotional tone of the conversation. When that emotional tone starts to go the wrong way, it’s flashing up messages to the customer service rep to let them know the customer is getting frustrated.
Their frustration is elevated, we needed to change the script. It’s bringing up on-screen different options that the customer service rep can call on to change the tact of the conversation and de-escalate the situation. Some customer service reps don’t need that technology at all. They’re good at reading it and picking up on it but we’ve all been at the receiving end of one who hasn’t. Imagine the benefits that technology is bringing in terms of helping that particular person pick up on the emotional and change track a little bit. This is this lovely integration and what this world that we’re going to be going into is going to look like.
The extension of this is in the future and it’s already been written up and talked about. We say expanse of what technology in cars now that can read the emotional tone of the passengers. If you’re an Uber driver and you’re in a Mercedes Benz, it can tell you on your dashboard, “Your customer is not feeling comfortable with you driving. You need to pull it down a little bit and slow down or ask the customer if they’re okay.” This is an enormously wonderful world that’s coming in terms of this stuff. I don’t know about the ethics of it. I hope it catches up and we have the right policies around it. It’s an interesting world ahead of us.
I read a few different articles around the elevation of oxytocin around empathy. Do you have any thoughts in that in particular? The only time I had heard about oxytocin before was when my wife was pregnant. Her levels of oxytocin went up and it seemed interesting. This looked at how to artificially raise somebody’s level of empathy through a nasal spray of oxytocin.
There are things like that coming out. There’s a great Facebook post going around about all sorts of hacks that you can do more naturally to bring out the different neurochemicals of wellbeing, contentment, satisfaction, empathy and so on. There are two points that I would make here. Firstly, we’ve all got the biology for empathy. We’ve all got the mirror neurons and all the bits and pieces we need to be empathetic. What gets in the way of empathy a lot of the time is the context where in, time pressure, concern, being in a rush, overworked, and underpaid, the list goes on. All those things that are going around in our environment reduce our natural empathetic response.
If people want to be more empathetic, you can go grab the nasal spray or you can practice mindful listening. You can take six deep breaths before you meet with someone. If you sit there and take six deep breaths one minute before you meet with the person you’re about to meet with, you will be more empathetic, but there’s a real method to the breathing. You’ve got to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. It’s like yoga. Purse your lips, imagine yourself blowing through a straw, if you suck in for 2, you’ve got to blow out for 4 seconds and some version thereof. A minute of nice, big breathing like that engages your parasympathetic nervous system, biology for empathy, and sets you up to be empathetic.
Once you’re having a conversation with someone, if you remind yourself to steal your own thoughts and judgments, to be mindful, and to be focused on what’s being said. To be thinking about the next question, how you’re going to add to the conversation, or which parts of it you don’t like. Steal that a little bit and focusing on the listening. Your natural empathy will come out. One thing I would like people to do. Go into YouTube and put into Google four-minute eye experiment Amnesty International and watch that five-minute clip. Amnesty International did this wonderful experiment of bringing people together to sit opposite each other. They said, “We don’t want you to do anything other than sit opposite of each other.”
If you watch it, what you will see is what I’m talking about in action that when you bring a couple of people together who are complete strangers with different backgrounds. Ask them to sit opposite each other for four minutes, look at each other, and be there, their natural empathetic response immediately starts to come out. You will find it hard not to watch that without a dry eye. It will move you emotionally. It’s a great illustration of our natural biology for empathy and use it as a metaphor to think about how can you put yourself into the context for empathy because your empathy is already there, you just need to bring the right context in.
I will say the breathing is something that I’m familiar with, but not the 2:1 ratio.
Imagine blowing out through a straw. That helps with that 2:1 ratio.
Four-minute eye experiment?
Amnesty International, it goes for about five minutes. It’s an experiment that Amnesty did in Europe during the time when a lot of the conflict was happening in Syria and some of those countries. There was a flood of refugees across borders. They did it to help people connect with refugees and their situation. Not through talking but through empathy. Empathy is not something you say, empathy is something you feel and do naturally and unconsciously. That’s what that experiment shows.
Along those lines, Ben, is there a piece of research that excites you or helps to advance where this is going that you see?To develop emotional intelligence, you need to engage in activities that bring about emotions. Click To Tweet
The heritability is one. Secondly, now that AI can be developed, there are good analytical studies on that. The piece of research that’s struck me is not contemporary. It’s one of the first articles on emotional intelligence. In Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer’s seminal article on emotional intelligence, they did talk briefly about how you can develop it. One of the things that they talked about is you need to engage in activities that bring about emotions. They talked about how physical education in schools, arts, and dramas with these classes that gave that to people. You talked a little bit before when we were talking about artificial intelligence about your emotional muscle. I’d like you to think about if you want to develop your ability to perceive, understand, and regulate your emotions, then what they were saying is you need to engage in activities that make you emotional and engage your emotional system.
I am a bit of a fanatic of talent shows like America’s Got Talent because they move me emotionally. There’s something about young and old people getting up on stage and having to go. Sometimes, the authenticity of those stories is moving. In the 2020 AGT, Archie Williams, the person who was incarcerated for some 30 years incorrectly, a DNA analysis helped him get out of prison. If you haven’t, Archie Williams go and watch that particular performance. It was by no means technically the best performance of the season. It wasn’t a great technical performance from a singing point of view but from an emotional point of view and perspective in terms of how he connected with the crowd, not only on the night. It’s gone viral so it had 8 million or 9 million views on YouTube. Emotions serve to connect us.
That’s what you get in that particular example. Ask yourself the question, what moves you emotionally? I encourage people not only to engage in things that might move them in a positive direction like America’s Got Talent does for me, but that also moves you in a negative or an unpleasant direction as well. We’ve got to go through those range of things like I’m quite progressive in my politics but I don’t hide that to anyone. I love to listen to right-wing shock jocks and right-wing commentators. Steve Bannon comes to mind as a way of getting frustrated, moving my emotional muscle. That helps me. I like having that perspective, for one. It helps me appreciate the other side of the fence better. I don’t agree with it but I liked method, perspective, and having those emotional responses that are both good, the bad, and the ugly. All of those are important. That’s what moving that emotional muscle is all about.
That seems to be a mindful approach to two different viewpoints as you embrace it.
Perspective is one of the things that we’ve lost through our politics and we need it. Let’s take the news by way of example. Even if you watch a fairly reputable news channel, 80% of it is negative, anxiety-provoking, fear-creating, and stressful. To get a balance of perspective, I recommended people tune into the good news network. It’s a news channel totally devoted to good news. Why? To have that perspective as a reminder of all the wonderful things that are also going on in our world all the time. It’s a way of also going, “The world is not as bad as the news would have us believe.” There’s a lot of good going on as well. That helps to bring down that fear, anxiety and stress. It’s important to have balance, perspective, to be moving, and working your emotional muscles as a way of developing your emotional intelligence.
I’d love to get the citation on that heritability one because that helps us all to be able to suffocate that excuse that we can’t do it.
I like to be a realist. We all have limitations. I am never going to be the sooner I’ve learned so to speak with my emotional intelligence, that New Zealand prime minister I was talking about. I have developed my emotional intelligence out considerably but I also know my limits. I’m not going to be the next star performer from an AI perspective. The point is that as I was making it the outset almost of our conversation, that 2% or 3% off with, it’s life-changing for people and it can be game-changing for business. That’s the tagline of our business. A tagline is real. I love this work. I love it when I’m working with business leaders who I say, “How’s it going?” The morale of the team is better and the sales are up and good.
My relationship with my fifteen-year-old daughter or son, my wife and I are getting along better. That’s when I get people think. When you hear that life-changing for people part coming to life. For business, it’s such a holistic thing to do. You’re not only helping people be their best self at work, you’re helping them be more of their best self socially, romantically, and with their family more broadly. It’s a holistic thing to do. People who are better at home are better at work. People who are better on medically are better at work. It’s no doubt about that because you’re not bringing that baggage in with you as you come into work in the morning.
I love the way you say that because it is something that when I’m out there with organizations especially with the individuals in those organizations saying that this set of skills that you can develop is not something that benefits you while you’re here. This goes everywhere with you. It impacts every part of your life if you embrace it. That helps to get people to buy-in because what’s in it for me, I could say, I’m fine at work but my home life is horrible. If this is a way to improve that then I’m interested.
I like to get people to draw a circle or a pie that represents 100% of themselves and then get them to think about what percentage of that pie would you say is when you’re being your best self in life? Is that 50% of the time? Is it 100% of the time? Ask people to think about what do they like when they’re in their worst-self and to define that a bit. At what percentage of the pie would you say in a week you’ve turned up as your worst-self? For a lot of people, sometimes that ratio, their worst self is 50/50. Sometimes it’s 90/10 or 99/1. Even for those people who say 99/1, they’ll also say it’s the 1% of the time that brings you undone.
I was with the school principal and their school leader who was saying to me they had a perfect year. The school was going well. On one day of the year when they were a bit stressed and tired, they had a bit of an altercation with a parent. That one day, that one 10-minute interaction brought the whole year undone for them. That’s the point I like to make for this that there’s no end to finessing up your emotional intelligence. If it saves you from that one day, that one hour, that 110 minutes that you’re in your worst self is enormous in terms of its potential impact for you in that year.
I have appreciated this conversation. There are many different things here that are valued that readers can draw from. I can’t say enough of how honored and thankful I am that you were able to do this. With that said, what’s the best way for people to hear more about the Genos model and in the work that you’re doing?
We have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group. We have our own webpage and we have a YouTube channel. Google and search Genos International, look at our LinkedIn group, webpage and so on. That’s the best way for people to connect and know more.
Thank you for your time.
It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me. I’m humbled to be invited on your show. Thank you.
- Genos International
- Emotional Intelligence Model
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
- Four-minute eye experiment Amnesty International – YouTube
- Facebook – Genos International
- LinkedIn – Genos International
- YouTube – Genos International
About Dr. Ben Palmer
Dr. Ben Palmer, OD is a Optometrist in Nipomo, CA and has over 11 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from Pacific University College Of Optometry medical school in 2009.
He is accepting new patients. Be sure to call ahead with Dr. Palmer to book an appointment.
We are always told to learn to adapt to change, but what if the kind of change that happens is too overwhelming. How can we keep ourselves from being paralyzed and move together with it? In this episode, Patrick Veroneau invites someone who is perfectly qualified to give you the answer. He sits down with Mitch Russo, a successful entrepreneur who went from starting his first company in 1985, sold it, worked with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes, became the CEO for Business Breakthroughs International, and now, the CEO of Mindful Guidance LLC. Throughout his extensive experience of starting and growing businesses again and again, Mitch has the expert knowledge to help us navigate these uncertain remote times and find the opportunities that come with it. He shares with us some important steps that will allow us to rediscover the assets we have in this quarantine period to see things through better than we came into it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Navigating Changes And Finding Opportunities With Mitch Russo
My guest is Mitch Russo, a successful entrepreneur who started his first company back in 1985, a software business called Timeslips Corp, which he then sold at the age of 42 and became independently wealthy. From there, if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to partner in a business with both Tony Robbins and the late Chet Holmes who are both legends in both marketing, sales and personal development. He was the CEO for that company, Business Breakthroughs International, and also went on to set up a successful partnership with Kevin Harrington. On top of that, he also has two successful books out, one called Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business and the other called The Invisible Organization: How Ingenious CEOs Are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies. This episode is packed with so much value. Let’s get into it.
Mitch, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. A good friend of both of ours, Susan Ibitz, was the one that introduced us. I’m glad we had an opportunity to connect. Your background is inspiring in terms of what you’ve done in starting out your own company back in the ‘80s, the software company and then being able to retire from that independently and do a bunch of other things where your focus was on taking the abundance that you experienced, and then paying it forward to other people to help them out. In the environment that we’re in, I had an opportunity to do a workshop around helping people navigate job career changes. There are a lot of people out there that are thinking, “What do I want to do these days?” With all of the changes that have gone on and people being remote now, based on your background and the books that you’ve written, maybe that was an opportunity for you to help the readers. How do you navigate that?
I’m going to approach it from two different angles because I think there are people who are creators and those of us who have intellectual property that we’ve built and created over the years. Those of us who literally were doing great stuff in our lives, but never built the intellectual property that some others have. From each perspective, there’s a seismic shift that’s happened already, as we all know, but there’s opportunity now that never existed before. That’s why you should never waste a good catastrophe and here we have an excellent catastrophe not to waste.
The first idea is that if you are a business owner, a coach, a consultant, a trainer, a leader and you have intellectual property that you have deployed that has helped others and you have spent much of your business life on stage, talking to people about their mission and how that moment in time might affect them for the rest of their lives, this intellectual property that you’ve created is very valuable. Most people found that using it on stage is great, but beyond that, they aren’t quite sure how to, and that’s what I’ve helped many clients resolve and move into the digital world, move into the virtual world and more importantly, move into the world of building teams, cultures and tribes.
We don’t hear many people talking about the environment we’re in as an opportunity. That’s such an important thing that you said there. In this challenge that’s all around us, if we focus on the negatives, we miss real opportunities like you’re saying about what the opportunities are here.
I want to tell you my reaction. When I realized that we were about to be quarantined, that the economy was about to shut down, I got a little scared. I was like, “What does this mean? Am I going to get sick?” but then I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get into action because this is all going to be over before I know it and then I will have done nothing but watch Netflix. I’ll be so mad at myself.” That’s when I went into creativity mode and I started building, writing and recording stuff. It’s turned into a whirlwind of activity for me. To answer your question, let’s take a look at what most people have. The opportunities here are vast. Clearly, no one gets this opportunity in terms of time, space and getting a lot of good sleep. Let’s use all of those things. The good sleep to power us, the time to give us the space to create and the fear to motivate us.
I get motivated when I get nervous. If I get too comfortable, complacent and rest on my laurels, I don’t go into creative mode as easily, at least not in these topics, but I found that the environment was motivating to me. Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities. The first opportunity is what is it that you do? Let’s take an example. You speak from stage. You have this incredible program. You’ve written some books. You have some content. Why don’t we take that content and turn it into a learning management system? Why don’t we embed it into a course? Why don’t we sell that course? Why don’t we give away the first lesson of that course for free? Why don’t we go on Facebook Live and talk about that course and get people to take it for free and improve their lives, or at least part of it? Let’s use this opportunity to lead. Let’s be a leader. You don’t need a title. You don’t need to be anointed the king. You’ve got to go. Get in gear and lead. That’s my first thought.You should never waste a good catastrophe. Click To Tweet
I can hear people already saying, “Mitch, that’s great for you. You were successful early on. I can’t do that.”
Why can’t you do that? I have an idea of why, but tell me why?
What you hear is it is people’s false beliefs of what they can’t do. They look at, “It’s somebody else that’s going to be able to do it, but not me for whatever reason. I can’t get over that hurdle.” That’s a real struggle for people. If somebody else can do it, it’s doable. It’s helping people. How do you help people get over that where they might be saying, “I don’t know that I can do this, Mitch?”
In my own emotional makeup, when I hit barriers like that, I like to break things down into very small and simple steps. I remember looking at writing a book for the first time and I thought, “I’m not an author. I can’t write. How am I supposed to write a book? Here’s what I’m going to do. I probably won’t accomplish my goal. That’s fine. I’m going to make an outline. I’m going to name the 10 or 12 chapters of a book I might someday possibly feel like writing.” I wrote the outline and then I said, “I got the outline. Maybe what I’ll do is write 1 or 2 paragraphs about each chapter to see what would go in that chapter if I were to write this book.” I get a few paragraphs done and I noticed I get hooked in one thing and I keep writing. I said, “I move on and write a few more paragraphs.”
My process is all about breaking things down into small chunks and then accomplishing little things on a daily basis. My background, I’ve been educated as an electrical engineer and my systems thinking is a way of chunking down tasks into very small processes that I already know how to do. If I hit a part where I don’t know how to do it, then I ask around. I don’t necessarily hire a coach immediately. I might at some point, but what I do is I ask around. I said, “Is there somebody who’s done this before who’s in my network who I can maybe spend a half hour on the phone with, or on Zoom and ask a few questions?” I get over that hurdle and then I take the next one. For me, it’s eating the elephant one bite at a time. It’s how I’ve always looked at getting about anything done.
It can look so daunting on the frontend, but once you break this thing down, you’re right into doable pieces. You realize, “Maybe I can do this small piece.”
I remember the first time I had to stand up in front of an audience in a professional way. My parents used to force me to stand on the chair and sing at Passover, but at least I got a quarter for that, so it was okay. Other than that, in terms of public speaking, I remember that I turned down the first several opportunities to speak in public because I was too afraid. At that point, I was invited to a very small event and I said, “If I’m going to embarrass myself and only be in front of twelve people, so I’ll do it.” It was a lot of fun and all of the fear for me evaporated the minute I opened my mouth. I was terrified walking up to the microphone. I was terrified saying, “Thank you for inviting me.” I was terrified to the point where I looked around and saw the whole audience and then I opened my mouth and that was it. The fear was gone. I began talking. I never do have a script for when I talk, when I speak. I remember a story and I tell stories. To me, storytelling is my way of communicating because it’s natural for me.
That is how we learn best is by listening stories.
The process for most people is if I was to help somebody, my first question would be, “Where are you at right now? Let’s take stock of the assets that you have.” Not everybody thinks they do, but everybody has assets. If you were to do nothing more than make a list of all the things that you have as assets in your life, all the abilities, all the skills, all the creative things you’ve done, all the content that you’ve written, recorded, built, created, and put them on a single sheet of paper, you might surprise yourself. You probably have more than you think you do. The next question is, “Is there a pattern here? Is there something I can string together and turn into something valuable process, course, program that others would enjoy and get benefit from?”
If the answer there is, “Yes, but it’s missing some pieces,” make a list of the pieces that you’re missing. Write that down, take the outline approach and start creating those pieces. From there, see what else you’re missing until you have something that’s workable. Never ever go for perfection, that never works. Besides, the price of perfection is bankruptcy across the board anyway as we know. Instead, go for workability and then try it out. We have this universe called Facebook or LinkedIn where you can get on live for free. At least on Facebook, most people can. You could tell your story and you could let people react and you could ask questions, “What did you think of what I said? I’m going to take you through this process. Can you tell me if it works or not?”
Don’t be upset if you don’t get good feedback. Use that feedback to improve your process. When I first started Timeslips Corporation, what I did was I went on to CompuServe. It was before AOL. It was where I connected with a group of lawyers who happened to be a little bit more technology savvy than the rest of them. It was there that I started floating these ideas and sending out demo disks and beta versions of our software. It turned out to be the key in effect for me building the product that we ended up building that took our legal software world by storm many years ago. Every single thing I’ve described is simple, small, doable and generally accomplishable in a 1 or 2 days.
In the time that we’re in, you mentioned a great point that you thought about yourself like, “I’ve got to get busy in this time to make use of it.” There are many people like, “When are we ever going to have this time again like this to be able to sit down and take inventory, take a piece of paper and write down?”
This is going to go against what a lot of people are feeling. We’re in a huge seismic shift. The world is shifting in a very positive way. There’s a lot of pain, negativity, upheaval, illness and death, but I think that as they say, “This too shall pass.” Maybe this is my overly optimistic attitude, but we will reach a place where we can say, “This is now a better world.” It’s a world where we have transitioned to working in a different way. It’s a world where we have a better healthcare system. It’s a world where people are treated more fairly, no matter what their race, creed or color. It’s a world where we are more open to understanding one another and their plight than we were before. My viewpoint is that this is all coming. It doesn’t mean it’ll be here by Thursday, but it will. Mark my words on this show, I predict that this will be a better world.
To me, a lot of this seems to be a dress rehearsal.If we focus on just the negatives, we miss the real opportunities. Click To Tweet
What is the dress rehearsal for in your case?
For what can be if we take advantage of this. Also, how do we deal with challenges going forward that could be bigger than the things that we’re dealing with? How are we going to be most effective? It was interesting. I read an article and the writer of this article said, “If you look at the first quarter of 2020, we have experienced an impeachment process, a pandemic, a financial crisis, and racial unrest all in the same year.” 1968 was racial unrest, Nixon’s impeachment, the pandemic of 1918 and the financial crisis of 2008. We’ve taken all of these things and condense them into one quarter of the first year of 2020.
The article wasn’t about this, but I thought the opportunity to me is to say, “How do we want our politicians to behave? What do we want from them? How do we want our healthcare system and how do we treat our own health to change because of this? How do we want our behaviors and interactions with other people to change because of this? What do we need to do financially to create our own security so that when things like this happen, we’re not at the mercy of everybody else?”
We thought we were secure. We thought we were healthy. We thought our political situation was somewhat stable and all of these things turned out to not be true. Aren’t we lucky, we get to solve all these problems at once instead of having to drag them out over 10 or 20 years? To me, that’s the opportunity of a generation. I look at my daughter, she’s 26 years old. I think to myself on one level, it’s unfortunate that she has to inherit this world that we left her or that we’re leaving her, a world filled with dead, a world filled with strife. On the other hand, we were left with the same kind of world when we were 26 years old. That was the era when everyone was building a bomb shelters in their backyard because they were afraid we were going to get nuked by Russia.
All of this upheaval is generational and this is their generation’s upheaval. For us, our job is to remember who we are and not get caught up in the fear or in the stories of what people tell us. The stories are the most damaging and destructive element of our existence and it’s been proven over and over again. Why would you tune into a news channel whose only objective is to make more money by making sure that you pay attention to every word they say 24/7 so that they could sell you more canned goods? What is the point of this? How does this work for you and your life? I look at my mom who’s glued to CNN and I say to her, “No wonder you’re upset. No wonder you’re in a bad mood. No wonder you feel the way you do. Stop it. You’re not benefiting yourself. Those newscasts are not for you. They’re for them. Get focused on what’s for you.”
I practice that for the most part. I’ve been a professional options trader before and trading is in my blood. I trade almost every day. I looked at this whole financial crisis and thought to myself, instead of being afraid, which I was, I asked myself, “What opportunities do I have here? I could buy puts. When the market goes down, I could make money. I could hedge my portfolio.” I know how to do these things. It’s not that I did them a lot before, because I never was in this environment this way before. You have to take stock of who you are, what you have, what your assets are and ask yourself, “What can I do now other than sit around and feel sorry for myself?”
You have a quite a history too in terms of some of the work that you’ve done, creating virtual teams that you were successful on your own and then you went off and started a partnership with two other fairly heavy hitters, two that are favorites of mine. One unfortunately is no longer with us, Chet Holmes, but Tony Robbins as well. That speaks to your level of success that you’re in a partnership with these two. What was that like?
Some readers may not know who Chet Holmes was. He died in 2012. Chet and I were best friends for decades before we worked together. Working with my friend was an amazing experience, but what I never experienced was the type of mentorship that I got from Tony Robbins. That to me was an incredible gift, shock, surprise, delight. I learned so much from Tony. I would tell myself that every day is a gift that I get to spend working with Tony and Chet. I absorbed it all. I made notes and wrote things down. I went out of my way to make sure that they knew that I appreciated them and what we were doing together. In partnership, we had created something very powerful. We went from almost nothing to a close to a $30 million organization in less than five years. We were able to harness the energy and the talent and the creativity of the three of us put together and each of our respective abilities and build something amazing.
Which you have almost proven going forward in terms of these virtual teams and being able to build out a successful business on your own.
That was the first book, The Invisible Organization. That book turned out to be a blueprint book. It was how to transition from a brick and mortar company to a virtual organization. That book has some obsolete or no longer relevant info, which are the technology parts of the book, but the parts of the book that are not are the mindset of the CEO discussion, the leadership discussion, the management process, and some of the marketing superpowers that virtual organizations acquire when they move from atoms to electrons. Once they make that transition, worlds can change rapidly.
If you were to put a percentage on it from a standpoint of skillset versus attitude in this environment that we’re in, how would you mix that up?
It’s 90/10, 90% mindset and attitude, and 10% skills. Here’s why. Most skills can be learned for free. You can go on YouTube and learn. I can’t imagine what you can’t learn on YouTube these days. More importantly, you can also find people in your network to work one-on-one with you. Get an accountability partner. I built accountability partnership software for people to do that. Get an accountability partner in your life and together, hold each other up, hold each other accountable, make sure you’re reaching your goals. That’s all part of how we support a strong framework for a great attitude and making sure that we keep our mental space clear and wholesome.
Along those lines, taking a step back, you mentioned mentorship and Tony, and what you learned from him. I’ve had them myself, how important they’ve been in terms of with all the negativity that’s going around is latching onto those people that are likeminded or that support where you’re going, as opposed to tell you why you can’t get there.
Mentorship is as much about a transfer of skill as it is about a transfer of mindset. I’ve had mentors and coaches all throughout my life and when I work with the people I coach, I tell them to do one thing for me, “If we’re going to work together, when I ask you to do something, I want you to do it. I don’t want you to question it. I want you to execute the things I tell you to do. If you have questions about how, let’s talk. If you have questions about how you feel, let’s talk. If you’re not going to do what your mentor or coach tells you what to do, what’s the point? Don’t bother. Go back to watching Netflix. It’s frankly more fun.”The price of perfection is bankruptcy across the board. Click To Tweet
Those are difficult conversations at times, maybe not for you to tell somebody, but to hear somebody say, “You’ve got to do this. You need to step up.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. I was told those things when I was a young man. When I was going through this, I had people say to me, “If you’re not going to listen to me, there’s no point in us talking anymore.” I had to shut down my ego, open up and hear what they had to say. I had a guy who literally saved my company by talking to me that way many years ago when he was trying to impress upon me that my approach at building a particular piece of software was simply never going to work. A quick example, we were trying to convert a DaaS program to Windows, and we were told that’s the only pathway to go. He said, “Shut that down now. You’ve already wasted eighteen months. Let’s do it the right way.” I could have defended myself even further, but I had no reason to that because he had already done it five times. I listened, did it and he saved my company.
Along those lines, generationally, do you think there’s a difference in terms of receptivity?
People are people. Mindset issues have plagued us all from the beginning of time to now. I remember when Chet and I used to travel together. Chet used to take medication before going on stage because he had to control his nerves and yet he was one of the most dynamic stage presenters I’d ever known. Mindset stuff is part of all of us. It’s not even our fault. If you go back far enough, you could find out where a lot of this stuff originates. My preference is to ignore where it originates and simply overcome it because it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you had a bad childhood. It’s a shame. I’m sorry for you, but we’ve got work to do here. It’s a pandemic. We have an opportunity. Let’s use this time and you can get therapy later. Right now, we’ll go into the jungle and take ayahuasca. I heard that works. I’ve never tried it, but more importantly, we’ve got work to do. We have a career to build. We have an opportunity to take advantage of. We have people waiting to be led by us. Let’s lead them. Let’s snap into action here and take the bull by the horn and move forward. The issue is generational? I don’t think so. I’ve seen people at every level, at every age deal with almost the exact same issues when it comes to mindset and attitude.
What about the person that maybe is older as well? They’re in their 50s. That seems to be the number of, “I’m too late. It’s too late to do something different.” I’ve got to find a way to ride this out. Those are some of the things that I hear from people that I know that are still in the corporate world.
I call BS on that because anybody has the same opportunities as anybody else at any age. In fact, if you’re 50 or 60 or 66, you have experience where the others don’t. You also have the combined fears of failure that you’ve had all throughout your life to overcome, but get a coach and get over it because you could do it. It’s in your DNA. What’s built into us by our creator is the quest to survive. Survival is the most natural element of every single thing and every single living thing on the planet. Isn’t being successful an element of survival?
I sold my software company. I earned out a small fortune for myself and my partner. I accomplished 500% growth in two years and I decided to move back to Boston after working in Dallas with the new company. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do now? I’m going to go help a couple of VCs, maybe get some of their portfolio companies to level up so that they can get some value from them and help those entrepreneurs achieve their dreams too.” I wrote a letter to about a dozen VC firms and included my resume, which I thought was absolutely impeccable because I did what all of their portfolio companies are trying to do. I sent these letters out and I waited. I sent out another batch of letters. Now, I’m going outside the Boston area and I’m sending them to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. I’m not getting a response.
Finally, I call up, one of the VC firms in Boston that I had sent my resume to. I said, “Is there an associate I could talk with about an opportunity?” If you said, “I’m calling to follow up on my resume,” I already tried that, that didn’t work. “Can I speak to one of your associates about an opportunity? It might be a value.” I get this guy on the phone and I said to him, “I don’t know if you’ve seen what I sent you. It was a couple of weeks ago. My name is Mitch Russo.” He goes, “We saw your resume. We were thinking about it, but we decided it wasn’t going to be a fit for us.” I said, “Would you mind telling me why?” He had to get up and close the door to his office before he did. He comes back to the phone and he says, “Mitch, you did an amazing thing and we appreciate that. Frankly, you’re too old.” I said, “What do you mean? I’m 44 years old. How could I be too old?”
He goes, “When we’re raising money, VCs like to see 26 and 27-year-old leaders. That’s the problem. You’re too old.” I said, “I would be able to advise those 26- and 27-year-old leaders on where to go next and where to take what they’ve done, where to create that vision so that it becomes bigger and faster.” He says, “I know but it’s not a fit for us. Thanks, anyway.” I said, “I got it. I understand.” I re-strategized at that point. I realized that for that world in that moment, at that time, I was too old but I didn’t let it stop me. I pivoted. What I did instead was I started investing myself in individual companies. Eventually, I built a small portfolio of investments. I called it Assist Ventures because if you took my money, you had to take my advice at the same time. It was a tradeoff.
If you don’t want to work with me, then forget it. I’m not going to invest. If I’m going to invest, you’re going to get my advice too. I built a very nice strong portfolio of client companies. All of a sudden, it was interesting that now, VCs were calling me and asking if I would help them with their client companies. The lesson for me was I’m not waiting around for the approval of others. I’m going to do what I need to do. Any of us who wrote a book knows what rejection feels like. Send your book out to a publisher and ask for an advance, see how many cheques come in after you do that and let me know.
You reinforce a theme that I continue to hear over and over again in terms of there are resources and there is resourcefulness. In resources, there’s always going to be a gap, a lack of something, “My age. I don’t have enough education. I’m not tall enough. I’m too tall,” whatever it might be. We all have equal access to resourcefulness and that’s what you’ve demonstrated. It is your ability to say, “I’m going to re-evaluate what I need to do next to be able to overcome this.”
Even the resources in many cases is an illusion. It’s self-imposed. If someone says you’re too short, you’re not going to be able to quite fix that. If you’re going from modeling job and they need a tall person, they’re certainly not going to hire me. Not that I’d ever modeled. The bottom line is that there are certain things that are not necessarily caught up in our emotional state, our mental state, our attitudinal state. It’s physical limitations. If you’re trying to hire a woman for a part in a movie, there’s no point in you and I applying. We’d look terrible in high heels, so what’s the point?
There’s a woman named Byron Katie, and she has this very beautiful process where when people are feeling bad, she set of questions to ask themselves. One of the questions is, “Is that true?” No matter what the answer, the second question is, “Is that really true?” If someone says to you, “You’re are not smart enough,” you ask yourself the question, “Is that true?” You might even come back with, “Maybe I’m not.” The second question is, “Is that really true?” Most of the time, when you ask the second question, your universal intelligence answers for you.Mentorship is as much about a transfer of skill as it is about a transfer of mindset. Click To Tweet
One funny side story dealing with Chet Holmes in terms of how he used to scream for sales reps, that he would talk about somebody that says, “We need superstars,” and the person would start talking on the phone and say, “I’m not hearing superstar in you, Mitch,” and would wait to see what they did next. That wasn’t the person he was looking for. He wanted the person that was more resourceful or more able to say, “What exactly are you looking for? This is what I’ve done,” and not just taking that.
What you are referring to is that balance between ego strength and empathy. What we always looked for when we hire people was whether or not they had the proper balance for the position we were hiring. We hired a lot of one call closers. We didn’t care that they had a lot of empathy, but they needed to have some, but they sure needed the ego strength because they were unable. They’d never be able to stick with a client and close. Particularly, on an inbound phone call first time ever, we gave them a script. They had sixteen minutes to close a sale. If they didn’t close the sale in sixteen minutes, odds are, they’d never close it. We also knew that follow-up was important, but ultimately the majority of our sales were closed on that first call.
It was super important that we did two things well. We made sure that the individual we were hiring had both the balance of ego strength and empathy to take that call, sit in that seat and be rejected 9 out of 10 times and had the capacity to be trained and accept the training and integrate it. That was a big problem. A lot of people were either “too lazy or too smart” to follow the rules. Our best people were the ones who learn the script cold, learned the objections cold, read the script, followed the instructions and right down the line, closed.
It’s the same story, “This is what you do. If you do this, you’ll be successful.”
What I’m asking your readers to do is to do a quick self-assessment. Sit alone with a pad of paper, write down your assets, make sure that you’re not skipping anything, even things you don’t think are relevant. If you’re going to do this, get quiet for 5, 10 or 15 minutes first. I like to meditate before I do exercises like this because what I’m doing is I’m calling on my higher self to help me answer these questions. I’m asking you to do the same thing. Call your yourself, get some answers to these questions, do this little self-assessment and then string these pieces together and see what it looks like and what’s missing.
What’s the best way for people to get ahold of you if they wanted to reach out to you directly?
Simply go to MitchRusso.com. There is everything about me and ways to get ahold of me. I have 200 audio interviews on my podcast and another 150 written interviews, another 80 personally written blog posts. I have a lot of content on MitchRusso.com. A lot of interesting and relevant stories are there too. There are some from me, but the stories of my listeners, the stories of my guests and the people I’ve interviewed, they are so motivating to me. It’s why I podcast as much as I do. I love the experience.
I had the good fortune of being introduced to you. I will say already how inspired I become because of the things that you have done. It’s been an honor for me to get connected with you.
I love what you’ve done. I love what you’re doing. I look forward to your leadership in this world, which is desperately needed.
Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Take care.
- Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business
- The Invisible Organization: How Ingenious CEOs Are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies
About Mitch Russo
As a CEO Advisor to several companies at the same time, I participated in many different business types, solving many diverse types of problems in sales organizations, marketing, technology, systems and HR.
I later became interested in options trading and mentored with a floor trader at The Chicago Board of Options Exchange.
I made it through the 2008 stock market crash unscathed while helping Chet Holmes build his now-legendary coach and training business.
That lead to a 3-way partnership between myself, Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes.