Simon Sinek identifies two different kinds of games: finite and infinite. Finite games, such as football or chess, have known players, fixed rules, and an agreed-upon objective that often ends the game with a winner and a loser. Infinite games, on the other hand, can be played by known and unknown players, have no exact rules and an infinite length of play.
An unshakable optimist, Simon believes in a bright future and works toward improving our ability to build it together. For him, a big part of this relies on the adoption of what he refers to as the “infinite mindset”.
Having identified resilience as a core part of the infinite mindset, we then hear from Kate Snowise, founder of Thrive.How and Corporate Psychologist turned Executive Coach. She places resilience at the core of her coaching practice, and talks to us about the unshakeable power of knowing our “Why”.
Finally, we get to hear from Garry Ridge, CEO of the exemplary Infinite Mindset company WD-40. Gary and Damon discuss what putting culture – and humans – first looks like at WD-40, and how that has paid off over the years.
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Read The Infinite Game
As a gift to our podcast listeners, we are offering a free download of the first chapter of Simon Sinek’s bestseller, “The Infinite Game”. This highly-praised book highlights remarkable patterns about how the greatest leaders and organizations think, act and communicate.
DAMON KLOTZ: Hi everyone. It’s Damon Klotz, host of the Culture First podcast. For every episode of this show, we partnered with one of our guests to bring the ideas that you’re hearing to life in an actionable way, and we do this through offering available resource for free to our listeners. For this episode, we are gifting an expert from Simon Sinek’s latest bestseller, The Infinite Game, head to culturefirstpodcast.com/infinite to download your copy. All right, let’s get started.
SIMON SINEK: Of course, companies exist for more than just profit. There’s only one thing on the planet that grows for growth sake and that’s cancer.
DAMON KLOTZ: I’m Damon Klotz and this is culture first.
DAMON KLOTZ: Welcome to episode four of the Culture First podcast. In the first three episodes, we’ve learned how to build better relationships with our colleagues, what happens to the company culture through a period of growth and how we can incorporate more love and magic into our work. If I was to try sum up what you’re about to hear in this episode, I describe it as a master class in leadership and mindsets. I had the chance to sit down with one of the world’s leading thinkers and speakers on the subject of leadership.
DAMON KLOTZ: If you’re listening to this show and call yourself a People Geek, then you probably don’t need a long introduction to set the stage for this guest. When people who don’t really think about these topics all day ask me who I’ve interviewed so far, this is usually the guest when they stop and go, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him.” So without further ado, let’s get straight into my conversation with Simon Sinek.
DAMON KLOTZ: So today I’m having a conversation with Simon Sinek. Thanks for joining me.
SIMON SINEK: Nice to be here.
DAMON KLOTZ: You call yourself an optimist first, and I think someone with your kind of stature and you’re quite well known, people might label you with other things, but why is it important for you to always say, “I’m an optimist, first.”
SIMON SINEK: I don’t want to ever be labeled or label myself by what I do because what if I don’t do that anymore? Then I don’t want my identity tied to my work. My work is the thing that I do to advance something bigger than myself, but what have I change that or stop doing it? So I always insist that if anybody wants to refer to me as anything, refer to me first by who I think I am and how I identify myself, which is an optimist. And then you can tell people what I’ve done.
DAMON KLOTZ: I recently turned 30. Ever since-
SIMON SINEK: Congratulations.
DAMON KLOTZ: It’s a milestone, it’s a milestone. And I don’t know, my thinking shifted. I think for the first time in my career, I’m actually like planning at least 10 years out. And I think that I’m like, this week I feel like I’m maybe at like 1% of this next journey. So like, how do you help people actually see the world or even see their own lives with a much longer look, as opposed to like what you need right now?
SIMON SINEK: It’s really about context, right? Which is, it’s okay to have the short views, but to what end? And having an infant mindset is really understanding that there’s a context for all of the ends contained within our lives. Like, I want to get promoted. To what end? So I can advance in the world. To what end? So I can make more money. To what end? So I can buy more stuff. To what end, you know? And ultimately I hope at the end of that string of questions, there’s actually some higher sense of purpose or cause, which is I do these things to invent something bigger than myself.
SIMON SINEK: You know, the reason for me to operate with Scale, the reason I want to advance this company, I want to build a company, is because what we’re doing is using our company to invent something bigger than ourselves. And so that’s why we want to grow. It’s not growth for growth’s sake. And I think very often without that infinite mindset, without that infinite context, it does become growth for growth’s sake or money for money’s sake, which at some point becomes unbelievably unfulfilling, and at some point becomes an unbearable pressure with no particular meaning associated to it. So it’s the infinite mindset is really a context for all the stuff that we do in our life that is more finite.
DAMON KLOTZ: What is a culture first company and what are some of the behaviors you might see inside of one?
SIMON SINEK: I think culture first companies understand that people come before profit. We’re living in a world that our understanding of how business works largely comes from the eighties and nineties where it’s about maximizing shareholder value, where growth for growth’s sake, and that actually is a relatively new concept. The idea of using mass layouts on an annualized basis to balance the book. These are relatively new concepts. They haven’t always existed that way. It’s really the eighties and nineties that establish those as standard.
SIMON SINEK: And at the end of the day we can see the damage that has been caused. You know, from after the great depression until the mid 1980s we had zero, zero stock market crashes. Since the dismantling of Glass-Steagall in the name of corporate profit, we’ve had three. We had 2008, the .com boom, and we had a black Monday before that.
SIMON SINEK: So you can see that we’re actually creating imbalance in our system. And so what I’m trying to do, what you’re trying to do, when we talk about putting people before profit, that’s actually a better form of capitalism than we have now. You know, people accuse me of being anticapitalist. No, I love Adam Smith capitalism. I don’t like Milton Friedman capitalism.
DAMON KLOTZ: There’s a big difference.
SIMON SINEK: Milton Friedman was an economist in the 1970s who theorized that the purpose of business is to maximize profit within the bounds of the law. What about ethics? Right? Of course, companies exist for more than just profit. There’s only one thing on the planet that grows for growth’s sake and that’s cancer, right? Companies have to exist for something else and that’s why we want to work there. But Adam Smith, the capitalism he talked about, Thomas Jefferson owned all three volumes of The Wealth of Nations. The capitalism that Adam Smith envisioned, that’s the capitalism that made America what it is today.
SIMON SINEK: And it is about people first. And I’m not talking about 90/10. It’s not about the absence of money. Clearly you have to have money in order to stay alive. It’s about will and resources. But there’s a bias, there’s a bias towards will, because there will be decisions big and small sometimes on a daily basis where, do we choose the people or do we choose the money? And it’s not always possible to say both. So the companies that have the bias towards people, what you find is those companies have greater trust, greater cooperation. They’re way more innovative and in hard times their people rally together. The companies that have a bias for money before people, trust sometimes suffers, cooperation suffers, innovation suffers, and in hard times everybody’s like “Sayonara, I’m out of here.” There’s no loyalty. Right?
SIMON SINEK: What I love about culture first is it’s another way of saying “put people first” and you’ll be amazed at what happens. Organizations that put people first outperform the organizations that put money first over the course of time. Jack Welch, who was the CEO of GE in the heady days of the eighties and nineties and was seen as the poster child for how business should work. Well, GE needed a $300 billion bailout in 2008 and now we’re not even sure that it’s going to survive. So that didn’t work out so well. It wasn’t built to last, that’s the problem.
DAMON KLOTZ: What are some companies that inspire you that you think are actually in this mindset? Because I’m also thinking about the places that we used to work and you could actually work for a very terrible place and be okay with it. And then those places have now gone out of business, or they’ve caused so much harm to the world that no one would want to touch them anyway. So what are the companies that sort of inspire you, who you think have already made that shift?
SIMON SINEK: Well some companies are there, and some companies come in and out of it. Walmart used to be an infinite minded company, then it wasn’t under Mike Duke, and now it is again under Doug McMillan. Microsoft used to be infinite minded, then it wasn’t under Steve Ballmer, and now it is again under Satya Nadella. But a lot of the companies that we really admire, you know it’s The Container Stores. Airbnb has publicly said they want to be an infinite minded company and they’re building an infinite minded company. Patagonia, which we love. Sweet Green’s another one, they seem to have a cause bigger than themselves.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think a lot of people like the brands that they buy from having a much bigger impact on their life actually says a lot about a person if you work there or if you use their products. And I think one of the core concepts that you become so famous for is people buy “why”, right? And I think for me it’s also, it ties back to meaning inside the company. So like what advice do you have to someone who feels like there’s a big disconnect between maybe their why and their meaning, and maybe what they think the organization stands for?
SIMON SINEK: That’s a multilayered question. I mean, sometimes the organization has a clear why and I have a clear why, but they’re incompatible. That one’s an easy one. Go somewhere else. Right? More often than not, we’re not 100% sure what our why is. We haven’t put it into words and neither has the company. And companies talk a big game, they all have a purpose statement on their websites, but then we watch the way they make decisions and they don’t seem to actually follow that purpose.
SIMON SINEK: And so I think we don’t, although it’s better if a company could say it and actually do it, just spend a little time in seeing how they operate. And if it feels right, if I feel like I belong, it’s like making friends. It’s like, we’re not friends with everybody in the world and there are some good people with great values that we’re not friends with. I mean, we don’t have to like everybody. And how do you get to know somebody? Over time. We see how they act, we see how they respond under stress. We see how they respond when we’re under stress.
SIMON SINEK: Are they there? Are they helpful? You know, are we building rapport? Are we building trust? We have a common set of values? It’s the exact same thing inside a company. When we have a job and we see how the leaders operate, when we’re under stress, when they’re under stress, we’re all imperfect. Do they have a mindset of personal growth? Do they want to do they see their people as human beings? Do they reflect the values that we hold dear?
SIMON SINEK: And what we develop is a relationship with the company. And so that is a very, very good way of telling. Even though I may not be able to put the why into words, I can say, “It doesn’t feel right here. I don’t feel like I belong here.” And conversely we may not be able to put into words and say “I belong here, I really love the people here. I love coming to work.” That emotional question, that emotional answer to me is one of the great signs.
DAMON KLOTZ: Simon is getting to the heart of a really important concept that is becoming a higher priority for organizations. The idea of fostering a sense of belonging. This is a relatively new term to be used in the business context. In the 2019 Culture Amp Diversity and Intersectionality Report, we found that when it comes to measuring the diversity and inclusion of your workforce, a sense of belonging in your employee base is one of the highest drivers of not only an inclusive culture but also highly engaged one.
DAMON KLOTZ: We were speaking a little bit about learn it alls versus know it alls. But actually, to be a learn it all, you also need to create a space that’s safe to actually say “I don’t know something.” Do you have advice for teams or have you analyzed what actually creates a safer space for people to actually be the first person to say that?
SIMON SINEK: Well, leaders are the ones who create the environment. They set the space and the leader doesn’t have to be the most senior person there. It’s the person who takes responsibility for the environment, for the people, how people feel. We don’t teach leadership very often and very well inside our companies. If you get a job, we teach you how to do your job. If you want an accountant, we’re going to teach how to do accounting so you’ll be good at it. And if you’re really good at it, you’ll advance. And we’ll eventually, we’ll promote you into a position where you’re now responsible for the people who do the job you used to do. But we don’t teach you how to do that, right? And so it’s a skill. Leadership is a skill like any other. And so if we want people to be good leaders, able to create an environment which trust can flow, we have to teach the skills, like listening.
SIMON SINEK: Active listening is a skill, a teachable, learnable, practicable skill. How to give and receive feedback. Effective confrontation. There’s going to be compensation. How do we do it in a way that doesn’t inflame a situation or create something emotional where we can be adult about it, you know? These are skills. So I think one of the ways we create those environments is we teach these human skills. I hate the term soft skills, and it’s more than just a two day offsite and now you’re all leaders, it’s a regular curriculum. We also build it into the incentive packages.
SIMON SINEK: All we do is incentivize people, or we actually can’t incentivize performance, that’s impossible. You can only incentivize behavior. But we only try and reward people when they hit a number. And yet we don’t consider how they act at work. Well, if we built into people’s compensation packages your performance and your behavior, you’ll find people will behave better. You know, you get the behavior reward. So I think these all factor in, but ultimately it’s about recognizing that business is a human enterprise. It’s a group of people who come together every day and common purpose with common cause, and all the same things that go into any kind of human dynamic, whether it’s families or dating, it’s all the same. It’s relationships. And so all the things that make good relationships, listening, effective confrontation, go into making trusting environments at companies as well.
DAMON KLOTZ: One of the hardest parts of managing employees is really around how do we have a performance development process that is free of bias and that actually recognizes employees who the contributions that they’re making, to the organization, to the team and to the others that they get the chance to work with.
DAMON KLOTZ: We spoke about rewarding brilliant jerks, the people who bring the team down, but you keep around because they still bring in their results. I wanted to use the Culture Amp overall benchmark, our largest benchmark, to see if this idea of rewarding brilliant jerks was consistent with our data. I was able to look at two particular questions that help me answer this. Firstly, only 56% of people in our benchmark thought the right people were being rewarded and recognized at the company. I then looked at one of the hardest parts of performance management. When it’s clear that someone is not delivering in their role, we take action. Only 46% of people answered favorably to that question. This continues to be an area that all leaders need to work on rewarding and recognizing the right people, and making sure that when someone’s not delivering in that role or you actually do something about it.
DAMON KLOTZ: Are you familiar with the Australian company Atlassian? So they recently got a quite a bit of promotion around this brand new human resource or people and culture policy that they’re going to stop rewarding brilliant jerks. So basically they’re looking to actually measure behaviors, and how people are acting in the same way or as one third of how you measure performance.
SIMON SINEK: Oh yeah. I mean yeah, the toxic genius is unfortunately someone that we keep rewarding and a lot of leaders don’t have the courage to deal with it. They very often know who they are and we say, “Why don’t you get rid of them? You know, they’re destroying the culture. They’re creating toxicity in your company.” And they would say, “Ah, but their performance is so good.” They rationalize it, but it brings the performance of everybody else down.
SIMON SINEK: Now I for one do not believe that people who have performance issues or personality issues should immediately be fired. I think they should be coached. If somebody is struggling with their performance, we coach them just like you coach your kids if they’re struggling at school. We get them a tutor. And if somebody has personality issues, maybe they’re a toxic genius, we coach them. The time to remove them as they proved to be un-coachable and if they think they don’t need this, or people just don’t get me. Then it’s time to, as Gary Ridge, the CEO of WD40 which is very much a culture first company, he says it’s time to help them go work for the competition.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right, so there was a lot of great takeaways that we just heard. Let’s do a quick rewind and recap to make sure that we got them all. Here’s the notes that I took down.
DAMON KLOTZ: What do you stand for that’s bigger than your role or your current title? Simon calls himself an optimist, but I know for me sometimes a lot of my identity can be tied up in my work, so how do you actually make sure that you actually had something that you stand for that’s actually above just the current work that you do? If that’s a question that you’re wrestling with, we’re going to be talking more about that soon. The second point that I took away is the idea of what actually is an infinite mindset? For me, I’m thinking about it in the way that it really gives us the broader context for all of the finite games that we have to play every day. My third takeaway was the idea of, we do a really great job of actually training employees for the first roles that they have inside of our organizations, but we have room for improvement when it comes to actually training them on the skills that they need for their future roles that we’re going to be asking them to be stepping into.
DAMON KLOTZ: Finally, when is it time to let someone go work for the competition? It’s actually not if they’re a poor performer. It’s the moment they become uncoachable. Now, that last phrase really stuck with me. Reframing the idea of letting someone go, and instead saying maybe it’s time to go work for the competition. That phrase was actually coined by WD-40 CEO, Garry Ridge. In case you’re wondering are you talking about that WD-40, the blue can of oil with the red top that stops squeaky doors? Then, you’d be right. Garry was mentioned by Simon as being a culture-first CEO. If you’ve been listening to our previous episodes, then you’d be well aware by now that we like to bring the stories from our main guests to life by hearing directly from some of the organizations that are doing the work to put culture first. I reached out to Garry to see if he’d be willing to speak to me.
DAMON KLOTZ: Now, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t actually know Garry. He’s the CEO of a multi-billion dollar organization, and I’m sure he has a lot of competing priorities for his time, so I was pleasantly surprised when he replied back to me saying that he would love to chat.
GARRY RIDGE: We have a promise to ourselves. We’re going to build an enduring company that we’re going to be proud to hand on to others. So, we’re playing the infinite game, but there is also finite games that you play within the infinite game. You don’t build culture in a day. It’s not like you get fairy dust and sprinkle it over business, and suddenly the culture changes. You might remember, when we were at school years ago, you’d go into a science lab, and you’d get a Petri dish, and you would put stuff in it, and you would grow culture. It took time, but also you had to be very careful what you put in that Petri dish, and you had to be very, very rigorous about taking out anything that was impacting the culture in a negative way.
GARRY RIDGE: We believe that culture being about people, we call ourselves a tribe, not a team, and the reason we call ourselves a tribe is that one of the key benefits of a strong culture is the desire people have to belong. One of the biggest desires we have as human beings is to belong. If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy to Self-Actualization, the first two rungs are safety and security. Am I safe? Am I secure? Can I survive? The third one is love or belonging. Organizations don’t want to talk about that word love very much, but you can love where you are and you can love the people that go to work. As a tribe, the number one responsibility we have as leaders is to be learners and teachers because we want to teach people and have them learn those values.
GARRY RIDGE: Accountability is what do I expect from you, and what do you expect from me, and are we going to be brave enough and in a trust position to be able to share that? Then responsibility is I’m going to take responsibility for my actions. Again, it’s not rocket science.
DAMON KLOTZ: You’ve got this incredibly large workforce and you’ve got these great values and behaviors that you’re trying to consistently make sure that they how up across WD-40. What role do the managers play at WD-40 in bringing ancora imparo to life?
GARRY RIDGE: Well, firstly, bringing learning, I always am, to life is about what is the role of our leaders? We don’t call people managers here. We call them coaches. You don’t report to a manager. You report to a coach. A coach’s role, if you think about it, being an Aussie, you’ve never seen the Aussie rugby coach on the podium picking up the prize. The job of a coach is in the locker room and on the sideline, and what is the coach’s job? To help win the game by making the players the best they possibly can be to help them shine. Our role at WD-40 as coaches is we are not here to mark people’s papers. We’re here to help them get A’s. Learning is so much part of that. Everybody here is a learner and a teacher. It’s core to our tribal culture.
DAMON KLOTZ: I couldn’t agree more. I think, actually, creating that learning culture where it’s sort of built into the work and the coaches have that chance to actually bring that to life, it was a nice tie in actually to, in episode two of the Culture First podcast, my main guest was a lady names Ambrosia Vertesi. She actually spoke about her time as a wrestler, and how her coach said, “I’m with you all the way up until the moment when you’re on the mat, but then when you’re on the mat, it’s up to you.”
GARRY RIDGE: Absolutely, and I’m not going to be there when you put on the winning belt because that is something that’s yours.
DAMON KLOTZ: If there was one thing that you could impart to the listeners of the Culture First podcast about company culture, what would you like to share?
GARRY RIDGE: I think one of the things, the most important things, about building company culture is understanding that leadership is not about you. When your ego eats your empathy instead of empathy eating your ego, you become Al, the soul-sucking leader, and with his behaviors or her behaviors, there is no opportunity for you to grow a culture where people go to work every day, they make a contribution to something bigger than themselves, they learn something new, and they feel safe and go home happy.
DAMON KLOTZ: Next, I asked Garry what do leaders who want to put culture first for their team need to be prioritizing?
GARRY RIDGE: Well, I think the thing that leaders have got to come to grips with is culture is something that you have to be patient in building. You will not get a result in a day. You have to be consistent about it, and you have to believe it’s all about the people, and you have to have… If you do have people going to work who are happy and enjoying their job, being curious, they will produce a result much better than anybody else. It’s simple, not easy, and time is not your friend, but it’s extremely rewarding, particularly when you see the smiling faces of the people around you.
GARRY RIDGE: One of the things that I really believe in, and I thought about behavior a lot. I put behavior in two buckets. I put it in the behavior of goals and objectives. Are the behaviors of the tribe member supporting the why of the company? The other behavior is servant leadership. Are we performing the how of the company? Are we being servant leaders?
GARRY RIDGE: I created this fictitious character called Al, the soul-sucking CEO, and I’ve written a couple of articles about Al and his behaviors. It’s very easy to identify the ego-driven behaviors that actually create toxic cultures. Al does that, so I think its values are very clear. Values are the written reminders of the only acceptable behaviors in an organization that set people free and keep them safe. The values need to be hierarchical and they need to be clearly defined. The behaviors are what do we need to do to support our goals and objectives? Then the behaviors of leadership are are we being a servant leader? If you put all that together consistently over time, our outcome has been our 93.3% employee engagement, which has grown from the ugly numbers that most companies are, which are around the 30%.
GARRY RIDGE: Incidentally, in doing that, we’ve taken the market cap of our company from $250 million to $2.6 billion, which is a compounded annual growth rate of total shareholder return of 15% a year, and it’s all about the people because at the end of the day, even though our why is about memories, we sell oil in a can.
DAMON KLOTZ: One of the core themes in this episode, as well as for this podcast as a whole, is the role of the manager and the role of the leader. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but when we look at our data, we hypothesize that there would be a difference of perception for managers and leaders at an organization. For this example, I want you to think about leaders as the top level of your organization, and then the managers as the people who are overseeing your team and tasks. We looked at the data of 144 companies, and split out the leadership factor questions and the management factor questions. A question for you: which do you think would have the higher scores?
DAMON KLOTZ: If you said leaders, then I’m sorry, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually managers. What are they scoring high on? Well, managers in this data set showed that they cared about employees’ wellbeing, they kept their teams informed about what is happening, they role-modeled expected behaviors, and they gave really useful feedback on employee performance. What you’ll hear throughout this episode is this idea of a team leader and a manager, or a leader and a coach. There’s a lot of different terms being used here, and sometimes they get used interchangeably, but as Simon said in this interview, we don’t want to come to work to be managed. We want to be led. Regardless of what you call them at your company, the big takeaway for me here is remember, we want to be led.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right, let’s take a little pause here. I’m sure your pen and paper or the note section of your phone is full of great stories and takeaways from both Garry and Simon. We’re going to be hearing more from Simon later in this episode.
DAMON KLOTZ: At the start of this episode though, I mentioned that this was an episode that was really a masterclass on leadership and in mindset. We’re asking our employees to think differently about their experience at work, to play an infinite game, and to be resilient in the myths of all the finite games that we play every day, as we all strive to put culture first. Changing your mindset isn’t easy though. It takes more than just a great podcast episode to change the behaviors that we formed over long period of time. For me, personally, when I’m wanting to become more resilient and shift my perspective, I don’t just look inside of me, I actually look to a coach to help me make sure that I have the skills that I need and the mindset that I need to actually change the behaviors that I’m looking to change.
DAMON KLOTZ: Now, often we talk about coaches, we talk about executive coaches, but at Culture Amp we actually have this really great initiative that democratizes access to coaching. As part of our learning and development strategy, we have a program called Coaching for Everyone. At certain milestones in your tenure, you get access to an allotment of coaching sessions that you can use.
DAMON KLOTZ: The next guest that you’re going to hear from, her name Kate Snowise. Kate is a corporate psychologist turned executive coach, and founder of Thrive.How. She’s also the host of a podcast called Here to Thrive, which has over 500,000 downloads, and she’s also my executive coach. You’ll hear Kate talk about how to build a resilient mindset, how to better understand our own why, and many more great tips. Here’s Kate.
DAMON KLOTZ: Do you believe there’s a connection between the infinite mindset and the resilient mindset?
KATE SNOWISE: For sure. When we’re talking about Simon Sinek and his description of the infinite mindset, he’s talking about playing the long-term game. He’s talking about not looking just at tomorrow, but that bigger picture view. Resilience requires the same thing of us. It requires us to be playing for the long-term, to not give up, to not want immediate gratification or gain, but to see a longer term perspective. I see them as very interrelated, I think, is a really good word, and complementary. They go together.
DAMON KLOTZ: When I say this statement, what comes up for you? When you have a why, you can deal with any how.
KATE SNOWISE: I love it. I also want to say you know it’s a Nietzsche quote, right?
DAMON KLOTZ: I did not know that.
KATE SNOWISE: Yeah, so the quote goes, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.”
DAMON KLOTZ: Oh, wow.
KATE SNOWISE: I agree with it wholeheartedly. Some of the most powerful stuff I’ve read on meaning and life, and resilience demonstrates that it’s the why that holds you strong, and that, to me, is very true. I think that when we have a why, it’s like a grounding, it’s like an anchor that keeps you steady in the wind. If you can stay grounded in your own personal why, then life doesn’t batter you around as much. Yeah, wholeheartedly agree with that statement in every way, shape, or form.
DAMON KLOTZ: I’d love to chat a little bit about the role of meaning and personal values, and why, exactly to that point, doing some of that deep work in terms of understanding our own meaning and what’s valuable to us actually helps us become more resilient. I know, for you, this is a lot of the work that you do with people, is helping them really understand what does meaning mean to them, and where do they find meaning, and what are their personal values. Why do you think that’s such an important place for individuals and managers to really start before they really start to train themselves on a more resilient mindset?
KATE SNOWISE: I think that, like we just said, it’s an anchor point. When we know our why, then we know what matters to us. You’re 100% right. I spend a lot of time with my executive coaching clients helping them get grounded in what is this driving force for them? That aligns very much with Simon Sinek’s work around staying connected to your why as an organization and as an individual because when we’re trying to motivate others, and when we’re talking about leading others, when we can connect to their personal why, that’s when we mobilize this extra effort, this discretionary effort that people have because we’re all excited if we’re living with purpose.
KATE SNOWISE: We’re all excited if what we feel like we’re doing matters, and we literally get extra energy that helps us become more resilient in the long-term. Whereas if we are just turning out for a paycheck, let’s say, if there’s not something that really plays to that emotional meaning piece for us, it’s very easy to let it go and it’s very easy to get burned out because it feels like effort. Whereas when we’re mobilized by a vision that ties to our own vision of what matters, that’s when we can… Yeah, it’s like a wellspring from inside that plays into this idea of we can do almost anything if we have a why.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. When I think about when I’ve had to use a resilience mindset and when that’s really helped me, I also look back at when did I need that mindset? Then when did I not need it because other things don’t seem to bother me as much? The things that were really stressing me out or the things that were really bothering me in my career, when I looked back at them, I’d say that the vast majority of them were stressing me out because they were connected back to my why and back to my purpose, which then meant that I’ve got more skin in the game, and that’s why these things stressed me out more. When other things that aren’t as valuable to me, or don’t have the same connection to the meaning that I see in the world, they might be quite stressful situations, but to me they just don’t seem to bother me as much.
DAMON KLOTZ: I know that you can’t work with every single employee around the world to help them understand some of these things, so if you could impart your knowledge onto a manager who’s inside a company right now, who actually feels like maybe that their resilience level isn’t as high within their team, or maybe that there’s a certain employee who they feel like is burnt out and is drawing from the bottom of the well. What are some of the questions that you would encourage a manager to ask of an employee?
KATE SNOWISE: Well, right there, I think you’re right on. I think my advice would be to managers is that you need to take kind of that coaching approach, which starts with questioning. You have to question and help your employee get to the bottom of how they can help themselves and possibly how you can help them. So one of the important ways to question, I think, is when we’re talking about mindset, it’s helping them reframe their interpretation of a situation and not in a way that minimizes their experience. But so often I know employees or team members will come to their manager and they’re feeling overwhelmed. And so through that lens of feeling overwhelmed, they’re only seeing the problems or the obstacles or the hurdles. And I think as a manager, we have the ability to help them look for solutions and open up their mindset, encourage them, and a lot of that’s through questioning.
KATE SNOWISE: So questions such as, okay, I understand the hurdles. Now, what could we possibly do to get around it? What could I do to support you? What do you see as other options? So broadening their mindset, opening up their lens so that they can see possibility and help them, finding that path forward I think is really important. The other bit is the encouragement, right? So part of the mindset issue with when we’re talking about stress or resilience is that often we feel overwhelmed if we feel like we can’t do it, or if we feel like the pressure is too big to bear. And if we can instead look at it as a challenge, then that really changes the way we react to the situation. So instead of looking at it as, I’m doomed for failure, as a leader, you can help your people and encourage them through building their confidence through telling them that you believe in them, that they have the capability, it can help them flip that to seeing it more as a challenge. Like, yeah, this is something I can win. Yeah, this is something I can overcome.
KATE SNOWISE: I have the goods, my manager believes in me. So I think that’s a really, really important part of it, is helping them with the mindset stuff. And that’s not saying to them, change your mindset. It’s helping them develop that mindset through questioning. I think the second way that a manager can really help with building resilience, is making sure that their team members are taking the opportunities to restore, to make sure they are building that energy back up. Because even the most driven of us and the most engaged of us, if we just keep taking from that that energy well and never put it back in, then we’re inevitably going to hit a point where we’ve reached our maximum. You don’t want a life with no pressure.
KATE SNOWISE: You don’t want a life with no stress, because you won’t reach your potential. And as organizations, we won’t reach our work goals if there isn’t that little bit of good pressure in there, that motivating, energizing amount that when you have that perception of this is a challenge I can overcome, that’s when stress is good and that’s the type of stress we want to encourage. That’s just the right amount that it feels energizing because that’s when you get that sense of achievement, all good things. I often get my clients to reflect back and say, tell me about your greatest achievements. Because when we look at those they were hard won. They feel like achievements because they were difficult and that’s the good type of stress that we want to foster. I think at a personal level, I think we all have the ability to be more self aware when it comes to the mindsets we’re choosing and I always, everyone talks about mindfulness and how important it is and I always was like, but where’s the link?
KATE SNOWISE: I need a more solid link. And what I have found is that having a mindfulness practice at an individual level, what it has helped me do is to become more self aware of my reactions and to become more self aware of my mindsets or the lens at which I am looking through the world. And it’s only through that self awareness, it’s only through catching yourself and the way that you’re perceiving something that you have the ability to change it. And mindsets aren’t set, you can change your mindset, but it takes self awareness. And so just for anyone listening out there, if I could encourage you to do one thing, it would be to start meditating while start a mindfulness practice, because it will help give you that space to better look at yourself. And that’s where your power lies, your power lies in being able to watch your own behavior and then challenge it. And that’s how ultimately we can all become more resilient when we choose the mindset that we want to approach the struggles or the challenges in our lives with.
DAMON KLOTZ: That was Kate Snowise. For more information on Kate, you can visit her website, thrive.how, or check out her podcast, Here to Thrive, wherever you listen to your podcast. 100% of your customers are people, 100% of your clients are people, 100% of your employees are people. If you don’t understand people, then you don’t understand business. As we go back into my conversation with Simon, I wanted to understand if he was the Chief People Officer of an organization, what would he expect from their managers? You spend a lot of your career focused on leadership and that being a huge lever inside companies, and managers touch people a lot more than the actual chief people officer, or the regional resource team. Let’s say that you join a company and you’re CPO. What does Simon Sinek’s kind of HR strategy look like to actually foster this type of leadership that you’ve spoken so much about?
SIMON SINEK: Well first of all, I don’t like the term manager. Nobody wants to come to work to be managed. You can manage a project, you can manage a process, you can manage the outcome of something else, you can… But, people want to be led. We want them to work, to be led. Nobody wants to come to work and be managed. So I think that’s a big part of it, which is we have to empower people to recognize that leadership doesn’t come with rank or position.
SIMON SINEK: Leadership comes when you act like a leader. When you demonstrate the characteristics of leadership, then you are a leader and it requires no rank or authority. What rank and authority provides you is the opportunity to lead a greater scale. So I think that’s a big part of it, to let people know that anyone can be a leader and everyone can choose to be the leader they wish they had.
DAMON KLOTZ: I remember a story that you shared once about being the first person to actually say, hang on, what does this mean? And then a lot of people were there sitting there smiling, nodding, and actually no one knew what was going on. So, being a-know-it-all versus a-learn-it-all. How would you actually try adopt that kind of idea at a company wide level?
SIMON SINEK: Well, what we’re talking about is humility. And my favorite definition of humility was given by Bob Gaylor, who was the fifth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. And he said, don’t confuse humility for meekness. Humility is being open to the ideas of others. I know some people with huge egos, but when you say I have an idea, they lean in, right? So it has nothing to do, it’s not this, oh shucks, that’s not humility, that’s meekness. That’s as Bob Gaylor defines it, which I love. So to your point, I think one thing that we can all do is simply ask people what they think before we tell them, before… We come into meetings and we say, so here’s the problem. Here’s what I think. What do you guys think? Too late. There’s this wonderful story of Nelson Mandela and Nelson Mandela is a very important example because universally, he’s seen as a great leader.
SIMON SINEK: Different people are seen differently depending on where you go. But Nelson Mandela, universally, and he was asked by a journalist once, how did you become a great leader? And he tells the story of when he was a boy, he was actually the son of a tribal chief and he tells the story of, he would go to tribal meetings, meetings of the elders with his father and he remembers two things. One, they always sat in a circle and two, his father was always the last to speak. If you think about the hierarchy that we accidentally create on long tables and how senior people too often dominate conversation in meetings, even really good people, we can’t help ourselves. And sometimes it’s done with the desire to help. But there’s something incredible about developing the skill of learning to speak last, where the meeting starts and a question is posed or problem is raised and you allow people to talk and you can ask questions but you can’t give away your opinion for or against that. There’s none of this.
SIMON SINEK: Then there’s no nodding, stone face. And what you start to find is people open up and they tell you what they think and you get the benefit of all the thinking, which is amazing. And even if you stick with your original opinion, people feel heard. They feel included, which they are. So I think at a practical level for organizations of any size to practice being the last to speak is just so fantastic.
DAMON KLOTZ: So is there a balance between kind of waiting back and being the last to speak versus knowing that you’ve got a good idea and sitting on it?
SIMON SINEK: Of course, of course. I mean the reason to share your patterns is giving. It’s only because you like collecting patterns, then it’s really about your enjoyment. And if you’re showing up with a giver’s heart, you’ll find that balance a little easier I think. But also there’s nothing, there’s no such thing as perfect. It also depends on the personalities in the room. It depends on the dynamics. It depends on the problem or challenge that you’re facing. Sometimes you might be leading the meeting and sometimes you’re not leading the meeting. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s inappropriate.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah.
SIMON SINEK: I think too much of anything is a bad thing. You know, sometimes we want to hear what you say and sometimes we’d like you to listen. The company Chanel does a thing that I absolutely love. I can’t remember if it’s 30 days or 90 days, but they have a policy that senior new hires, new senior hires are not allowed to speak in meetings for 30 days. We know you’re smart, we hired you, you don’t need to prove it to us.
DAMON KLOTZ: Absorb.
SIMON SINEK: Just shut up and listen.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah.
SIMON SINEK: And I think that’s… I have a suspicion that it might be 90 days, but it might be only 30 days. Which, but either way it’s brilliant. And if you think about it, people do want to prove that they’ve made the right decision by hiring me and speak up too much. And yet the fact that they make it a rule that we want you to be quiet, I think is just a spectacular thing.
DAMON KLOTZ: You speak a lot about the role that leaders play in actually making this change. So let’s say that you’ve got a team of 10 and you actually want them to think bigger and thinking bigger actually might mean beyond even this company, this team or the world that they know. How do you actually help people to start to think and see the world in that way?
SIMON SINEK: Well, the company should have a sense of purpose or cause. There should be a vision that is an idealized state of the world that is practically for all practical purposes unachievable. But we will devote our company and what we do to help advance that cause, sometimes in the product, but just sometimes in how we operate. There’s plenty of companies that make widgets that have nothing to do with the cause, but the manner in which they treat their people, the manner in which they conduct their business is the thing that they’re using to advance their higher sense of purpose or cause.
SIMON SINEK: I’ve talked about this company before, Barry-Wehmiller, it’s a manufacturing company with headquarters in the Midwest and they make big machine, that’s what they make. But if you asked the CEO, Bob Chapman, what does the company do? He said, “we build people to do extraordinary things”. You say, well how do you measure that? He says, “well, we measure our success by how we touch the lives of people”, and he means it. And you can hear it in the language of the company. They don’t have a head count, they have a heart count. It’s very hard to reduce a heart count at the end of the year. People reduce head counts all the time and so you can feel it in the way that they do business and they’re trying to, and Bob in particular, is trying to get more companies to see business this way. Now it has nothing to do with manufacturing.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah.
SIMON SINEK: It has to do with how they built their culture and that is entirely done by leaders.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, that wraps up episode four of the Culture First podcast. I hope you enjoyed this masterclass in leadership, mindsets, and playing an infinite game. Special thanks to Simon Sinek. Having a chance to sit down with Simon is truly a career highlight for me. I hope you enjoyed listening to this interview as much as I did speaking with him.
DAMON KLOTZ: If you want to learn more about playing the infinite game, you can get the first chapter of Simon’s book right now. Go to culturefirstpodcast.com/infinite to download your copy. Also, a special thanks to Gary Ridge and WD40. He’s simply doing amazing, boots on the ground work and is a really great example of the business results of actually putting culture first. So to learn more about Gary, you can visit his website, thelearningmoment.net. As a reminder, Culture Amp is the leading people and culture platform.
DAMON KLOTZ: If this episode has you thinking that there’s ways that you want to better support your leaders and teams, then you should definitely be checking out how Culture Amp can help your organization. Head to cultureamp.com to learn more. I just want to say I’m really grateful for everyone’s support so far. If you like this show, then please make sure that you’re subscribed and share it with others in your community. Reviews are actually really helpful as well, so if you could take a few moments to actually leave a review about how this episode’s helping you, that would mean the world to me and the team that works on this podcast. It ensures that more leaders around the world will have the chance to hear these stories, to inspire them to create a better world of work. All right, everybody, we’ll see you again in two weeks.