In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Gary Bolles, chair for the Future of Work for Singularity University, co-founder of eParachute.com, and author of The Next Rules of Work. Gary Bolles shares how his father’s career advice book What Color Is Your Parachute impacted his early life and how he has gone through continual reinvention while guiding leaders through ongoing disruption. Gary Bolles also shares insights from his book The Next Rules of Work.
- How Gary Bolles father’s book What Color Is Your Parachute impacted his life
- The ‘leader’s dilemma,’ how it manifests in times of disruptive change, and how to overcome it
- Gary Bolles on how to foster a growth mindset within an organization
- Embracing change and promoting diversity in organizations
- What flex skills are and their importance in the future of work
- Gary Bolles on the future of leadership and work
- A framework for leaders in leading their teams and organizations forward
-Richard Nelson Bolles, Gary Bolles’ father and author of What Color Is Your Parachute?
-Jeffrey S. Moore, university teacher, and researcher
-John Hagel, author
-Carol Dweck, psychologist and author
-Sidney Fine, professor, and author
-Vint Cerf, developer and internet pioneer
-Esther Wojcicki, author of Moonshots in Education
-The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
Connect with Gary Bolles:
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Gary Bolles. Gary is a chair for the Future of Work for Singularity University, which is a Silicon Valley think tank. He's also a partner at a consulting firm Charrette and co-founder of eParachute.com. We spend most of our time in this conversation, focusing on Gary's book, The Next Rules of Work. It is an outstanding book and a lot of great insights in the conversation about what we can do to lead ourselves, our teams and our organizations effectively as we transition to the future of work.
Now, I love hearing your thoughts and comments. Keep those coming, email@example.com. There's also a microphone icon on PartneringLeadership.com, you can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast on your platform of choice. That way you will be sure to be notified of new releases: Tuesdays with magnificent changemakers from the Greater Washington DC DMV region and Thursdays with brilliant global thoughtleaders like Gary Bolles. Now, here is my conversation with Gary.
Gary Bolles, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
Mahan, thanks for the invitation. I'm really looking forward to the conversation.
I've studied your work for years, Gary, you have been at the cutting edge. You're chair of Future of Work at Singularity University, which is neither about singularity nor university, but we will get to those in a minute and your brand new book, which is outstanding, The Next Rules of Work. But first Gary, whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing impact the kind of person you've become?
Well, first thing, I really appreciate the comments, Mahan. It's wonderful to have such a conversation with somebody who's thought so deeply about issues related to leadership. So, I grew up in San Francisco. My father was a recovering minister who had been laid off in a budget crunch and eventually found work, helping other ministers who are on college campuses, who themselves were getting laid off.
And so in the process of growing up in the city, I've found that I never really cracked the code all that much on school, did well early, and then not so well - and so I barely escaped high school. And it just so happened that my father ended up writing a book to help other ministers who were looking for jobs and then found that was actually interesting to people who weren't ministers and he wrote it for the average person and it became a book called What Color is Your Parachute? The world's enduring career manual.
So when I was 19, one of the range of odd jobs that I ended up doing when I didn't go to college, I don't have enough college and stuff into with [inaudible], was to work with the family business. And so I was trained as a career counselor at the age of 19. And what you find when you've counseled people in their forties and fifties who have been in dead-end jobs for decades, there's only one takeaway that you can have.
And I wish every 19 year old on the planet could have this insight, which is that you should do what you love. And so I found eventually that what I loved was technology. I picked up these computer things pretty quickly. And so I moved to Silicon Valley and ended up wearing a range of different hats that you can wear, from quality assurance, test engineer - self-taught, to executive working with startups, then doing my own startups.
And then eventually, morphing into journalism and tech magazines, and then that morphed into what we think of as strategic events. And so I actually, although I was my father's business advisor and always embedded in a lot of his thinking around the issues related to the presence of work. It wasn't until about seven years ago in my work with Singularity University, which at the beginning was a client and collaborator, that I started getting pulled deeper and deeper into issues related to the future of work, the future of learning, and the future of the organization.
And so that's been the arc that brought me back in, and my father and I started a company together a number of years ago, and then when he passed away four years ago, he left behind an enduring legacy. And so we continually try to help people stay aware of how many people he helped to make career pivots and then the ways that work is changing so that people can be better prepared for.
And Gary, what an outstanding role model because your father was a model of a growth mindset. Even with respect to how the book was approached in that What Color is Your Parachute was constantly rewritten to fit the environment of the day.
So his favorite joke, there are a number of jokes about Parachute, but his favorite one was that he'd actually written 42 different books, they just all had the same title. Parachute was an annual and one of the things that he did in his agreement with his publisher was to ensure that he could always keep the book relevant.
And so if you think of a lot of the issues in the early seventies that people were dealing with before this internet thing, and before these computers had really taken off, there's so many issues that have changed, but there's still a lot of consistent issues in terms of people understanding what their best-loved skills are, matching that up to the kinds of work they most want to do, the processes employers go through in determining how they're going to hire people.
All of those things are actually still not that different from the way they were 50 years ago. And so even though he was able to update the techniques on an ongoing basis, the underlying thread of the needs of humans to do impactful work and for employers to find the right people to match up to the problems they wanted solved, that has been evergreen.
And one of the things Gary, I love both about the way your father approached his thinking and you approach yours is that you really look at providing value to people and moving the conversation forward, you talk about the leadership industrial complex. There isn't a day where I get less than a dozen emails from different people that have written leadership books.
But in essence, they've written leadership books and content to serve their own purpose rather than to serve the conversation around leadership. That's something that your father was doing in terms of serving the people that were looking for opportunities and discovering themselves. And that's something I really like about the work that you have done, including your approach to Next Rules of Work.
No, I really appreciate that. So my oversimplified construct for the macro issues that we talked about are, I sort of see four domains: individuals, organizations, communities and countries. And my father was the gold standard on helping individuals to become empowered, to either find or create meaningful, well-paid work. And there's a lot of things you can do to help small groups of individuals, which we call teams to be able to work together, that he wasn't really focused on all that much. But in the organizational context is where I've felt there's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done.
And especially around this topic of leading and how people within organizations become empowered to lead. My father was trying to hack the system to help individuals to become more directed to have more agency, but you can make some of the greatest job hunters around, but if you don't change the system and the way that organizations think about how they're trying to help humans to apply their best-loved skills to the problems to be solved and the way that you're building the structure in which people can lead, then the system doesn't change.
You just keep on following these industrial-era processes that we've inherited from earlier times and you just keep repeating what are often the same mistakes. You can't maximize the ability of all those humans if you keep on approaching with the mindset that you're using these more industrial era constructs of structured work roles and structured hierarchies, and a leadership sort of black box at the top of the organization, those are actually taxes on innovation, not enablers.
And one of the challenges I find Gary, is that our language in leadership has evolved beyond some of our capabilities in that many of the leaders that at least I interact with know the right things to say and know the right concepts. They've heard it enough to be able to talk the talk.
However, the way the organizations operate is not reflective of that vision of a future organization. So from your perspective, as you interact with leaders, what are the challenges you see in transitioning from that industrial age set up that started from early 1900s Taylorism to make this next future of work possible?
So there's, first of all, I want to make sure, for your listeners, there's no one solution, there's no one right answer. I think we're all in agreement that this is a journey. However, the reason I use the framing for mindset, skillset, and toolset in the organization is that often what we've found, those who lead in organizations tend to over-optimize on the toolset, that if they understood techniques and technologies that they can use to run their organizations.
And what you were speaking to, I think brilliantly, Mahan is that we learn a language. We learn a way to be able to articulate what we want people to do, and that's a set of techniques. And unfortunately, we apply those techniques over and over again. Once we've learned what gets us, the kinds of achievements within organizations that we're striving for.
It gets us the positions, both the positional power and the personal power that we want in organizations, then we tend to over-index on those things. And because that's what got us there, Jeff Moore talks a lot about the 'innovator's dilemma', well, there's a leader's dilemma, which is once you've gotten to that point, you're stuck.
Like you keep on using those same techniques and then when a virus comes along, Or a disruptive technology changes your entire industry, you've got to learn a new mindset, skillset, and toolset. And unfortunately, we've created these ossified structures in these hierarchies and we've connoted a whole bunch of success if you crack that code and figure out how to move up that ladder.
But virtually, every construct I just mentioned has to be completely rethought in the next rules of work. We can't keep on having organizational hierarchies because organizations are going from these much more pyramid kind of approaches to what I call a 'work net'. It's a network of human beings, all trying to solve problems.
And if you can't optimize, so those human beings can pair together, dynamically, bind around problems, solve those problems and move on to the next ones, then you can't possibly be a nimble organization. If you can't refactor the role of someone who leads a team to someone who guides a team, then you have this continual process of relying on what you think of as a few experts or a few leaders to continually plot your course into an uncertain tomorrow. And I think if there's anything that has proven to us that that does not work, it's the impact of the pandemic era.
And that has shown us also the opportunities that come when people have the right mindset. You do spend a lot of time in your book, a lot of focus on mindset, which I appreciate. And you particularly emphasize the importance of growth mindset, whether it is for the individuals or even organizational culture. You say that organizational culture is a function of the organization's mindset. So, how can organizations have the right mindset for that next future of work?
So I always believe things start from the individual. I don't have a choice. That's what I was trained in. That was my father's framing. And he was exactly right. You start with the individual. And so the first question is those who lead in the organization, do they have a growth mindset? Do they believe that they can continually develop and change?
When you look at organizations that have made a deep commitment to learning throughout the organization like Novartis or Ericsson, you find that those who lead in the organization use the language of a growth mindset applied to themselves first. The courses that they're learning, the things that fascinate them, the ways they want to continually develop.
So they send all these signals to the rest of the organization. If we instead, traditional organizations approach this, that this is something that gets done to an employee. The worker has to have a career plan and has to have a learning plan and they've got to have all the mechanics in place where they must continue to do that so that they can increase their value as an asset to the organization.
But those who lead in the organization aren't doing it then it's just performative. It's just, you're trying to extract value. You are not trying to encourage growth. And now, there's plenty of industries where there are people that have a more fixed mindset and industries that have not yet been deeply disrupted, industries that have not gone through what our friend, John Hagel calls the big shift, but that's an increasingly smaller number of. Industries and organizations.
And so I never say any of these things are wrong. Having a fixed mindset and liking the way work was done yesterday and hoping it's going to be the same tomorrow, there's nothing wrong with that mindset so long as it continues to be able to achieve and deliver the value that you want. It's just that there are a decreasing number of opportunities to do that in a world of exponential change.
And it is hard at the same time for leaders, Gary, to embrace that growth mindset. The more success we have in life, the more we believe that we know what we are doing and in many organizations, the higher up I find leaders move into organization, the more bias the feedback they get becomes for a whole host of reasons, even if the leader is try to be open to it. So I would love to know what you have seen with respect to leaders that truly embrace that growth mindset themselves and create that culture of growth mindset beyond just talking about it.
So first off, you're exactly right. The more positional power you acquire in the traditional organization, the more you become a reality distortion field and you especially become a cultural distortion field. One of the reasons I tell those who lead in organizations, that they probably don't understand the culture of their organizations is because what they see reflected back to them is what they ask for.
And so the minute you leave the room, you leave the meeting and people fall into their more default way of dealing with each other, that's the true culture that you have. So you probably are wrong in what you think the culture is and you're probably wrong if you're an organization of any size and thinking that you have a consistent culture.
You probably have a range of cultures that are the Venn diagram of the personal experiences of people in that part of the organization, where they live, the cultures that they are continually interacting with, the culture of their managers or wherever else is guiding them and all of that adds up to a set of components.
That means you have a range of different cultural aspects throughout the organization. So the first thing is to recognize that that's true. And then to think of culture, to think of developing mindset as a team sport. And there's a couple of different ways to do that. So the first one is you see a lot of organizations that do this effectively, do a lot of cross-training.
That is that person who leads might be in one part of the organization, but is offered the opportunity to solve problems in another part of the organization. And what that does is it immediately breaks you out of the silo and teaches you that all of the ways you became successful in moving up a ladder of that silo are different in this other part of the organization.
Another is organizations that continually have a deep commitment to cross-fertilizing from other, not necessarily your competitors, but certainly for other industries, and encouraging people to come into their companies with completely different backgrounds and experiences and to build the greatest diversity you possibly can in, especially the teams of those who lead the organization.
So that you have what companies like Google, their research have found are absolutely required to be able to have people who can lead effectively going forward is diversity of mindset and the safety, the environmental safety that allows people to be able to be as creative as possible. And so that's the only way you can actually, as someone who leads in an organization, break out of that traditional structure is to continually put into situations that you don't necessarily have all the answers for, and that I think serves as some of the kind of meat tenderizer for those who lead, to help them to understand there's a lot of different ways to approach these problems.
And a lot of times I find also Gary, that while that's important for leaders to understand and embrace with respect to the organizations, a lot of my listeners from the greater Washington DC region work either for the government, quasi-government organizations, government contractors, and in many instances, the leaders say, that sounds good and well for nimble organizations in Silicon Valley or the Googles or Amazons of the world.
However, and then come up with an excuse afterwards, with respect to the constraining structures, board of directors, expectations that don't allow for that. What are your thoughts with respect to embracing that growth mindset for the leaders and doing some of that experimentation that you were talking about for organizations that resembled more legacy organizations that haven't yet been forced to change.
So first off, I don't buy any of that. I'm not contradicting you, I'm contradicting them because really what happens is we're just back to mindset again. I posted this on my LinkedIn feed just recently, I said the skill set is important but mindset eats skillset for lunch. If you walk into a room and you think, okay, I'm somebody who leads in a government agency and I have to protect the status quo. I'm here to protect our citizens' dollars.
I can't rock the boat because these other agencies that I collaborate with will see me as an outlier and they'll stop collaborating with me. If you come up with all the excuses as to why you have to keep doing things the way you always did, you're going to keep doing them in the way you always did. But then we have plenty of examples.
I mean, if you look at some people see it as indicative and others question whether or not it's actually transferable, look at the government of Estonia. Look at all that they did to completely transition everything that they do and the way they provide services to their citizens to make it digital. And now, it's small country, about a million people, but you can start a company in five minutes using an app. You can pay your taxes in one minute using an app.
If you think of all the value that has been created by completely rethinking how you're delivering all of this value to your constituents, then you can start small, you can start it in a particular place where you can help to influence the culture so that people can actually be empowered to continually solve problems.
And I've seen this happen over and over again in some of the most calcified organizations. What is critical is that those who lead in that organization or that agency are open to this kind of change and that's why, again, you start with them as individuals, you help them to go through their own career planning, their own career pathing, their own growth planning going forward so that they don't see these as attacks on their way of leading.
And so that they are actually embracing the kinds of innovations that can come from them. It's absolutely critical that you can model this kind of behavior yourself. You can do fail camps, you can do rapid design prototyping to solve problems that need to be solved and empower workers throughout the organization to do that themselves, simply by trying out some of these techniques on the next problem that comes up or the next project that you're starting.
And those are all great experiments that actually, Gary, some of my clients, and special forces have also gone to that level of leadership. A lot of times when people give an analogy of a command and control, they talk about the military. In many instances, the military and the special forces are way ahead of many of the command and control organizations that assume they're following the military setup.
But in reality, what you say, you also referenced Carol Dweck, it's a growth mindset. If people have, and the leaders have that growth mindset themselves, they can then embrace that growth mindset in their organizations. So you do spend a lot of time on mindset, which is really important and you say mindset eat skillset for breakfast, I love that. In skillset, you also go into knowing skills, flex skills, and self skills. Specifically, you spend a lot of time on flex skills that I found interesting. What are flex skills?
So first off, that construct actually I know that we in Silicon Valley, we always like to re-invent even perfectly good wheels, but we'd like to come up with completely new labels and constructs. Actually, what you just talked about, those three kinds of skills, that's research that the US Department of Labor did back in the 1950s to help a post-war America to try to build a new economy and an amazing guy by the name of Sidney Fine, who was a longtime friend of my father, he was an honorary uncle of mine. My father called him a minch, he was just a really sweetheart of a guy.
He, without the aid of many computers, was able to come up with this model of how we as humans apply our energies to different problems. And he just saw these patterns over and over again, that first off there's these kinds of skills, these no skills, which are bodies of knowledge. And they're typically anchored in a particular arena. Your knowledge of fixing a car engine is not going to help you to be able to do brain surgery or hopefully vice versa.
But then there's these more flexible skills which Sid called transferable skills or functional skills, but the basic premise is you can use these skills in a range of situations. If you were really good at persuading your parents to let you stay up late when you were five, you're probably going to be pretty good at persuading later on.
And you might be in sales or business development, or you might become a politician. Well, don't become a politician, but use it, use your powers for good, right? So, I mean, you saw this with Dale Carnegie, right? So, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you could influence your parents when you're pretty young, you could influence a lot of other people when you're older.
So those are flex skills. They often are gerunds ending in ING. They're usable in a range of different situations. You can think of them as recombinant, just like our genes. You can add a bunch of them together and you can solve a particular problem because you've got manual dexterity. You've got the ability to deconstruct problems.
Oh, that's what allows you to pull off a vacuum cleaner apart and put it back together again. You've got all these flex skills that allow you to be able to solve that problem in front of you. And then the third is what I call self skills, but it's basically our self-management skills. It's how we manage ourselves. It's the energy turned on ourselves, whether we're good at arriving on time or late, whether we're good at finishing projects or leave them always unfinished. Those are our self skills. And so those are the kind of the three legs of the stool for human skills.
And in a world of exponential change, we know the shelf life of information is impossibly short and getting even shorter, so there's no skills. Constantly, we're shifting to a new model of what I call just-in-time and just-in-context learning, but flex skills are durable. They're usable over and over again in the next problem that you need to solve, the next person you need to persuade. And so that's where we need to focus much, much more of our learning and training starting very, very early on in K-12 and beyond, but especially in a corporate setting.
And Gary, I think that relates also to your thinking with respect to the potential futures of work. There are people that have a very dystopian view that AI and robots are going to replace us, a future of Wall-E where we are just laying on chairs and useless human beings. There are some that are extremely optimistic.
They say we've been through many changes in the past and people have said machines will take away jobs, but actually, machines created more jobs for people, so on and so forth. And you present a third scenario with respect to the potential future of work, which is I believe where you end up yourself.
Absolutely. So first off, the rhetoric in the early say 2020 was that robots and software are going to take jobs, and then along came a virus. Oh, so what I've been saying for quite some time is it's actually the pace and the scale of change that are impacting our workforces so much and our work as individuals and within the organization, and then in countries at large.
Because if you think of it as- I overuse Venn diagrams, but if you think of it as a Venn diagram of all the human skills and then all the demand, the work demand, you look at the overlap between them, the rhetoric up until early 2020 was, oh, robots and software are going to shrink the demand circle and there's just going to be less work for humans.
Right now in the United States, and this will constantly change, but we actually have a historical number of job openings and still really high unemployment, far higher than pre-pandemic. How can that be? Well, it's a mismatch. That is what really is the impact of the pace and scale of change is technology comes along and disrupts.
We go from riding horses to having cars in a really blindingly short period of time. And then we got to train all these car mechanics and we leave behind all the buggy whip manufacturers. So we've had these transitions before, these big shifts. The challenge is that we don't have the commitment at the macro level to keep people employed.
And we don't have the commitment early on in education to teach people flex skills so they can be adaptive when a virus does come along. And so that is actually a set of decisions that we as humans can make differently. These are not laws of nature. It's not a perfectly nice planet that we broke. These are laws of humans and we can make different laws.
If you look at Germany's unemployment rate, when the virus hit in the US we went from, depending upon whose numbers you believe, from about 3.7% to 18.1% unemployment in three weeks, three weeks. Germany went from 5.1 to 5.7 because it's a different economy, it's a different structure. There's a difference in the commitments to how we keep people connected to work.
And so these decisions, we can be much more intentional about them. And if we had made some of these decisions 10 years ago, now we would have seen the kind of system that would have helped people to continually connect to the new problems to solve and you would have had not only these roles filled, but these people employed much, much more rapidly than we have now.
And instead, we say, oh, we can't find enough AI programmers. Oh, and by the way, we don't need all those people who were attending machinery on the production line because we've automated their jobs out of existence.
And the point you just made, Gary, is really important for my friends and listeners who are in policy-making roles. Actually, when I opened your book, the very first page in the praise, there is Vint Cerf has referenced page 229. And I didn't start reading your book, I went right to page 229.
I wanted to see what Vint Cerf had referenced and the quote in there, it was brilliant what you had written, "The rules of societies and economies are not laws of nature. They are decisions by humans and we can make different decisions."
And I start with because so many leaders are those who lead in organizations, I start with each of you as someone who leads. So when you think of the decisions, the ramifications of those decisions, and especially when you look at our societies and economies as a landscape, it can look like an ocean that is just too big to boil.
How or when do we start? What do we do differently? Well, it can start at the individual. Someone who leads a team is the next time you go to hire if you hire somebody that looks like you, that has your background, that went through your college, or that looks like Fred or Mary who had the job before them.
And because you loved Fred or Mary, you want to hire another Fred or Mary. And so you're going to go to the same college background and the same work background. If you instead say no no no, I'm going to put a stop to that. I'm going to hire somebody that comes from a non-traditional background.
Our friend, Byron Agouse, he calls them "stars" - skilled through alternative routes. I'm going to hire somebody that has a completely non-traditional background. You already have started the process. And if you can then as somebody who leads a broader part of the organization, you can encourage these much more inclusive hiring and development practices.
You can break down the silos of work roles in the organization so that people can continually go across your traditional divisions and silos and band together to solve new problems. If you can do all of that, you are actually impacting it at the societal level, because if every organization did that, we would have much more nimble humans and much more adaptive organizations.
Oh, I absolutely love that example, Gary, because a lot of times the frustration that listeners have is they say, well, I'm not the CEO or I am not on the board of directors. And what you're saying is each and every one of us, because you also mentioned leading needs to be a verb, not a noun. So every single one of us can play a role that then ends up having an impact on the broader team, broader organization, and broader society. That's what leadership is all about.
Now, you also mentioned with respect to leadership, you provide what you call a simple framework for leaders. We'd love to briefly touch on that framework. You mentioned empowering effectiveness, enabling growth, ensuring involvement, and encouraging alignment. Now those are all really hard things to do, Gary, but I would love to know your thoughts with respect to that framework for leaders in leading their teams and organizations forward.
So I apologize to your listeners. I don't have a great acronym. I know that the leadership industrial complex thrives on great acronyms. So EGIA doesn't roll off the tongue, but there's no way to do unnatural acts with the English language and try to contort them into usable acronyms. So I'm going to start actually with the involvement. So what I just described is a perfect example of a involvement mindset and skillset. And if you put the right technology in place so that you get diverse candidates, you'll have the toolset as well.
So the whole idea of involvement is, and we sometimes call this diversity, inclusion, and equity, but I use involvement as a wrapper for how we think differently about the way that humans and who those humans are can dynamically bind around problems. And if you buy the construct that it needs to be a diverse group of humans that have psychological diversity and psychological safety, then you're going to have completely different practices for how you determine how people get involved in solving a particular problem.
You walk into a meeting and you say, wait a minute, we're missing that wacky creative person who will push us to approach this in a completely different way. Let's reschedule the meeting because we don't have the kind of diverse thinking that we need. The Vardis they've got a practice called 'unbossing'. They begin a meeting by saying, how can we unboss this? How can we not have somebody have to be like the highest title in the room, be the decision-maker for how we will solve this problem?
So then we'll run through the other ones. You've already talked a lot about growth and there's a growth mindset, there's a growth skillset and there's a growth toolset. So how you encourage growth is to think of yourself, especially as somebody who leads a team, as to move from the traditional model of what my friend Esther Wojcicki, who wrote the Moonshots in Education, she says the same thing about a teacher.
A teacher has to go from the sage on the stage, the one with all the answers, to the guide on the side, the one with the best questions. And so that's why I don't even use the word manager in the book, I say team guide. And again, it's a little contorted with language. We don't have great English words for this, but the general idea is that you are not the one with all the answers.
You are all about the growth and development of the humans you are helping to solve problems, that you don't have these once in a year 360-degree reviews. That's the only time you would ever talk to them about how they're doing in their own personal development. Instead, you think of it as a team sport, everybody on the team is growing and developing and sharing what they're learning between themselves.
And you're just guiding that process and helping them to continually be as effective as possible. So that's the next one, is effectiveness. I discard the word performance. I know I'm sounding like the word police to all of your readers, but that's why we need to do this. We have to question these labels that we use because they inevitably lead to these calcified processes.
That's what the leadership industrial complex is geared towards, as they keep on using these code words. So performance is a code word for the mechanization of work and for meeting the needs of only one stakeholder, and that's the shareholder. Performance is a label we've carried over from the industrial era as if we could look at an individual like we would a machine.
And that's why I'm not trying to shame anybody who thinks performance is the right label. There are jobs that people actually prefer to be thought of as being judged on their performance. But I prefer instead to think of effectiveness. How is the role defined and how are you actually leveraging your human skills to solve the problems associated with that role?
Does the role need to be redefined if that actually isn't working correctly or appropriately for you and the person who is the team guide and for your team, or do you need to learn new skills to be able to be effective in that, oh, well actually it's often both. 'Cause, it needs to be this game of Marco Polo of continually redefining the role and redefining the skills that are needed in helping you to continually learn those.
So effectiveness in a role is critical. And then finally, the whole idea that you are trying to, maybe we haven't talked too much about this whole reshaped workplace in the pandemic era and distributed teams, which people are unfortunately calling remote work. But what ends up happening in a world of much less structured work teams in the same place, people doing work in the same workplace, but now they're in much more distributed contexts is alignment suffers.
When you can see everybody at the same place, in same work context, over and over again, that doesn't guarantee alignment to the organization strategy, but at least it means as a team you're going to continually be more aligned or more likely to be more aligned.
Alignment is a superpower in a world of exponential change because especially as we unbundle more and more of work. Helping people to be able to leverage that skill set of aligning, to bake that into the processes of the organization so that every individual is aligned with the strategic goals of their own work, of the team's work and of the organization make alignment a superpower.
Now you have a construct where all of those pieces work together, and that's why I show it as a Venn diagram because all of these overlap the effectiveness, growth, involvement, and alignment all overlap as a skill set of the organization.
They do and they're all essential. And I also believe alignment is a superpower of organizations, especially at leading in the hybrid environment. A lot of organizations are going to continue working in distributed teams. You spend a lot of time in your book talking about different examples, holacracy. So there's a lot more that in-depth that you go into.
I would love to also get some of your thoughts, Gary, knowing that again, many of my listeners are also in policy-making roles, whether it's with respect to school systems and or a county and or city governments, where what you have been addressing, there are policy issues that impact these, in that there is potential for a segment of society to be left behind if the policy is not thought about effectively either. So would love to get some of your thoughts with respect to that.
So back to our construct of individuals, organizations, communities, and countries. As a policymaker, you have a set of constituents. And maybe you have a deep connection to those constituents, you are in a community and you have regular contact with them so you hear directly from them what they care about, or maybe you have much more of a regional or national role, and therefore you can often be more insulated.
Or what ends up happening is it's always squeaky wheel against the grease kind of thing. You're going to hear from certain constituents who are just going to pound you on particular issues and those are the ones you're going to feel you have to prioritize. So, couple of things that I suggest to policymakers to be thinking about, the first is that all policy exists in a context of an ecosystem.
And ecosystems, use a lot of the analogies of ecosystems in our planet, whether it's a rainforest or an ocean or a savanna, and the basic premise is that the reason that you have to understand the various functions of ecosystems is to understand how they interplay together. And there's a lot of people, for instance, in the wake of the global pandemic focus a lot on resilience, they want resilient ecosystems.
What I look for are collaborative ecosystems. How is it that you as a policymaker are looking at the various aspects that your constituents, whoever you define those to be, and hopefully that's a pretty broad...you throw a big net, you don't have this narrow, tiny little group of constituents that are the loudest ones that you feel that you're meeting the needs of - you broaden that net.
So you're thinking about your range of constituents, especially those who are less vocal and less accessible to you. You think of that ecosystem and you understand the levers to pull in that ecosystem and you have collaborative processes where those stakeholders are always involved in understanding the problem domain, prioritizing the problems, and then collaborating on the solutions domain.
Now, that sounds over-simplistic. I think the many because these are very complex ecosystems. But the thing about these communities and countries is that it is always the same process in any time in history. You have to honor the past. If you live in a city, you don't get to ignore the existing roads and buildings, you're stuck with them.
Through the lens of the present, what are the priorities of the constituents today to be able to plan for a future that is better than today? That is the challenge always of policymakers in any community, in any country. And the challenge is to try to open the aperture so that they feel that they have a new mindset that they can approach where they are doing this kind of inclusive design process to be able to understand problems and come up with solutions.
They have a skillset, which is often, unfortunately, just like the power dynamic that we talked about with those who lead in organizations. Once you've figured out how to get elected, once you figured out how to rise in the hierarchy of an agency, you don't want to take risks. You don't want to, you know, so you need a new mindset and you need a new skillset. And then the toolset, I just pointed the digital Estonia. With the right will, with the right mindset, you can band together a whole bunch of humans and go create new infrastructure.
Go create new solutions to problems by saying, hey, wait a minute, let's go here over this edge, let's find this one part of our educational institutions, for instance, that we need to hack for good or one part of our existing delivery infrastructure, the way our roads work, or where we're going to build a new road, we can come up with a new process for doing that that models how to do this kind of exactly the same thing we're talking about those who lead in organizations: effectiveness, growth, involvement, and alignment.
And you provide a lot of frameworks. One of the things I really enjoyed about reading your book is that those frameworks can help you understand the individual and the individual's impact, then with respect to the organization, because individuals make up those organizations and organizations are part of the ecosystem of the community. So Gary, in addition to your own book, are there any books that you find recommending either consistently or more recently when leaders are thinking about the next rules of work and guiding their organizations forward?
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity. I'd always recommend Dr. Dweck's book Mindset because it's really important to understand that these are decisions. We often think of them as traits. We often think of them as these sort of aspects of ourselves that we develop over time. And then if you've ever used the phrase "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", you might have a fixed mindset.
But I've got two courses on ...in the ironies of the world, as I mentioned I don't have enough collegiate stuff into a thimble, but in the ironies of the world, I actually have nine courses on LinkedIn learning with over 850,000 learners. And two of the most popular are A Learning Mindset, Developing a Learning Mindset, and Learning Agility. And I'm not telling you that I'm trying to sell my courses. I actually donate back the profits to the organization, but I'm suggesting there's things to be learned that anybody can learn about how you as an individual can develop that growth mindset.
There are techniques to become a lifelong learner that are quite learnable. There's small steps you can take to actually doing these kinds of activities that are really critical. And then for those who lead, I know this is going to sound like an oldie, but a goodie, and I might be biased because it's by an old friend, but honestly I do suggest you go back and read The Five Temptations of a CEO. Pat Lencioni actually wrote the book. It's my fault that he was put on that road because I was running a startup at the time and Pat was a consultant at Sybase.
I brought him in to try to help my leadership team stop pick thinking on each other and we couldn't get a product shipped and Pat actually tested out a lot of his theory in this consulting gig and then I encouraged him strongly to go off and start the table group, but I think he's cracked the code. I think there's a lot of really, really great insights that can help you to just step back and look at your own style of how you lead. And so I would greatly suggest you just go and refresh your memory as to you, as somebody who leads, can actually have a different mindset.
Yeah, that's an outstanding recommendation in addition to your books, because it is a mindset that's important, but there are skill sets and things you can do in order to have the agility with respect to the learning.
And I'll add one more, just a family commercial, is I really do believe there's a part of Parachute, there's a part of the book What Color Is Your Parachute? where my father helps individuals to go through and understand the seven different aspects of you, it's called the flower, but it's understanding your own skills, understanding your own values, understanding the kinds of people you most like to work with and think of that as a refresher course for you, for understanding you, cracking the code of you, and you might think as somebody who leads in an organization, you don't need any of that.
But the mindset I offered to you is what if you were just to stop your job tomorrow and do it a pivot? What if you just, somebody gave you the permission to do that? What would that next thing be? And doing that self-inventory on a weekend, what it often does is helps people to reconnect to their best love skills, helps them to reshape their current work role and to discard the things they don't like as much anymore and just double down on the things that they do, handoff more things to other people, and then realize, wait a minute, what if every single person in the organization did what I just did? Then you're going to find you're going to get that nimble organization as part of the result.
I love that Gary because I think that's also very well aligned with the need for greater meaning and purpose that everyone is feeling right now. That's a way to think about it for the individuals themselves, as they can have an impact on their teams and organizations. Now, where best would the audience find out more about you, your book, the next rules of work, how best for them to connect with you?
Well, thanks. So I see just gbolles.com, G B O L L E S dot com. I've got a newsletter where I talk about these ideas. I've got links to the book, I've got articles and my courses, all that sort of stuff. It's sort of a one-stop-shop. And then LinkedIn, I post a lot on LinkedIn over my latest thoughts and I think of it as a community, I think of it as a way to interact with folks.
And I love it when people challenge a lot of these ideas. I always tell people it's like, I don't have all the answers. This is my framing. This is the way I think. We can actually learn new language and new mindset, skillset, and toolset, but I love to hear new alternatives and especially, new ways that people are applying these approaches in different organizations.
Well, I've absolutely loved your book, Gary, primarily because it does have a lot of frameworks and asks great questions, so it got me thinking quite a bit. And in addition to that, over the years with your contributions, you continue to challenge my thinking.
And as I'm sure you seek others to challenge your thinking, that's the way we can elevate each other, our organizations, and our community to have a positive potential that future of work. So as you mentioned, there is that dystopian view of what's going to happen, there is the overly optimistic view, but in either case, we can play a role to create the more positive scenario. And I think much of your writing, your thinking, your courses, lead us to creating that positive future.
No, absolutely. I really appreciate that, Mahan. You've really, I think helped to uncover a lot of the aspects that I think are very, very important. I really do believe that for all your listeners, one of the things I would encourage is you take the one aspect, one step that you can do and do it today, do it tomorrow. Do something where you are trying to reshape the way that you've approached solving problems, the way that you've worked with others, the way that you've used your amazing skills at leading and do things to try to help others, to empower others, to be able to solve problems.
What you find is that I think it's tremendously freeing for those who lead in organizations when they finally crack the code and realizing I don't have to have all the answers. I can walk into a room and know that others are going to solve the problem and I can walk out of the room without having said a word and simply say, okay, I'm onto the next one. It's a tremendously empowering approach and it doesn't mean that it solves all problems, it doesn't mean it works for all people, but it is a much more human-centered way to think about work.
What a beautiful way to put it. I really appreciate your work, Gary, and the contributions you've made through this book and sharing some of your thoughts with the Partnering Leadership community. Thank you so much for joining me, Gary Bolles
Oh, Mahan, thank you. It's been a wonderful conversation.