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What Is Resonant Leadership—And Why We Should Care (with Scott Taylor from Babson College)

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Tim Reitsma :

When I started my career, I thought I wanted to be a leader of a team at some point. However, it came a lot quicker than I expected. Soon into one of my jobs, I was asked to lead a global sales team and I said yes without fully realizing what I was in for. I quickly realized that the technical work wasn’t all that difficult, but actually leading in a way that was making an impact in my team’s work in life was. Maybe this is you, maybe you’re leading a team or you’re the founder of a company. You’re trying your best to juggle all the things that are pulling you in different directions, and if like me, in some cases you have ignored what it truly means to be a leader.

Now, my guest today has so much wisdom in this area and has a wealth of research back knowledge that I know you’ll want to stay tuned for. Our conversation talks about what differentiates outstanding leaders from those who simply occupy a leadership position, so stay tuned. 

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Tim Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast. We’re people managing people and we want to lead and manage better. We’re owners, founders, entrepreneurs, we’re middle managers, we’re team leaders, we’re managing people, and yes, we do human resources, but we’re not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. We’re on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively. So, if you want to lead and manage better if you want to become a better organizational leader and more effective people manager, then join us. Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people and organization more effectively. And while listening to this show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on to stay up to date with all that’s going on. 

Scott Taylor is an associate professor of organizational behavior at Babson College, a research fellow with the coaching research lab at Case Western Reserve University. A member of the consortium for advanced adult learning and development, convened by McKinsey and Company, and a core member of the consortium for research on emotional intelligence and organizations. The primary focus of his research is leader assessment and development. He studies the various approaches organizations use to assess and develop their leaders, evaluate the effectiveness of those approaches and develop new approaches to improve leader assessment and development. 

As a result, his research has focused on competency development especially around emotional and social competence. Leader self-awareness, 360-degree feedback assessment, executive coaching, sustainable individual change, and management education. Scott has won a number of awards in both his research and his teaching. He’s a sought after speaker, a Harvard business review contributor, an avid contributor to various research publications. As part of the Babson Executive and enterprise education faculty, Scott has taught in custom programs for among others, Dell EMC, FLIR Systems, Grant Thornton, the NFL, and Siemens. Scott has a BA in Spanish from Brigham Young University and has received an MBA with concentrations in organizational behavior and human resource policy and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University. 

Oh, thank you, Scott, for joining me today. I had an opportunity to meet you a few years ago while I was at FLIR Systems, and the course with you it really opened up my eyes to what it truly means to be a leader. So yeah, thank you for taking the time today. 

Scott Taylor:

You bet. I’m thrilled to be here. Look forward to the conversation. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. In the intro, I left the hook for our listeners about what it means to be an outstanding leader. So, we’re going to dive into that. But first off, I’d love for you to just tell us a little bit about what’s top of mind for you in 2020 and what you’re excited about, any new research you’re doing and what’s top of mind for you? 

Scott Taylor:

Sure. Couple of things. First of all, I think it’s probably one of the most exciting times to be studying leadership, and given what’s happening in various fields like psychology and neuroscience and how these fields are coming together in a unique way, it’s really rewriting some of the ways in which we’ve thought about leadership in the past. And it gives us, at least it gives me excitement about what’s ahead. So that’s one area that I’m intrigued with and exploring. 

Another one is, I continue to explore the aspects of how leaders change and develop. And maybe we can talk about this later on, but just the idea that we know adults struggle with changing in sustainable ways, whether it be treatment adherence to a doctor’s advice or whether it’d be losing weight or overcoming addiction or in this case for purposes of today, leaders growing and developing in ways that they want to change or develop, and their ability to do that sustainably. So that’s another piece that I find myself thinking about, writing about and talking to align organizations about. 

Tim Reitsma:

And then another, probably the third area is just the one that seems to be very applicable today as well is the antithesis of what I’ve looked at for years, which is leader self-awareness. And so more recently, I’ve been exploring the area of leader self-deception and the tendency to falsify reality through that self-deception and the complications that creates for those individuals, but also the individuals that surround them and the organizations they run. So those are the three topics I think that will consume my time and thinking in 2020. 

Wow. That’s not necessarily light areas of thought, that’s some deep thinking. But it’s really intriguing just how leaders change and develop. I’m reading an article you had written on resonant leadership, you talk a little bit about that, but I also really intrigued about this topic of leader self-deception and maybe we can get into that a little bit later. Yeah, I am naturally a curious person, so I’m sure I could go down many different rabbit holes with these topics, but I’m really curious. So you’ve been in front of numerous leaders, leaders of big companies, small companies, you’ve been in front of many students at Babson and so I’m really just curious, just I guess right down to the basics is what is the most common misconception about leadership? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think probably let me offer up two or three that are the most common that I see and hear. One, which probably isn’t a surprise to a lot of listeners, is that we still view leadership almost by default as being one who has a position of authority. And I just, I do not look at it that way. We have a lot of people who are in positions of authority who are disasters as leaders. And for me, leadership is really about a relationship. And so, I don’t have to be running a large company or division to have the impact that we would typically associate with leaders. For me, it’s about a relationship and a specific, the nature of that relationship by way of influence. 

And I’m not negating the fact that we have people in positions of authority who have influence and use control and have power, but that’s just not how I conceptualize leadership. And a lot of us today that do research in this space have moved away from that default assumption that things would be better here if we only had somebody at the top who was different or because they have authority what they say and do must be right. That’s really very much a leader who has a position of authority, individual who has a position of authority must be there for a leader. And almost to a certain degree an effective leader simply because they’re in that position of authority.

And then the other big one for me is, the continuing misperception that exists that genes and innate, if you will, characteristics have a huge impact on one’s ability to lead. So either you have it or you don’t, you were born with it or you weren’t. And, we’ve largely moved away from that, from an academic standpoint, and even from a practical standpoint, there’s very little in terms of innate characteristics that are predictive of outstanding leaders.

So for me, leadership can be learned, it can be developed. It’s a made rather than born primarily phenomenon, and therefore we ought to focus on what is possible rather than what we can’t control, but yet still out there, both in the academic literature but also in practice is this idea that maybe the born piece control so much. And I just don’t see that. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah, it’s really interesting you talk a little bit about that just the position of authority. I remember when I came through school, postsecondary school, we’d learned a lot of interesting skills and filled up our tool belt with interesting areas that we were told in school that will be well sought after, and we will then find ourselves in leadership positions because of this. What I found when I became a leader in an organization, I became a leader very early on in a company. I started off as by myself in a team, by myself, a small team, and within a year I was leading a global team, and I thought, oh, I’ve got the all the tools and how to do this, but I didn’t know how to do it. I actually had to learn. 

And so I found myself in this position of authority and thought, oh look at me, but very quickly as I put in my place. And so, is there still companies holding onto that mentality or is it just a big shift for organizations? 

Scott Taylor:

No, I think there are a lot of companies that still hold onto that mentality. And in one of the ways it manifests itself is when I go from that individual contributor role where getting things done through me, my knowledge, my capability, my experience is really how I’m rewarded and recognized and being promoted into a position where now I have a strong responsibility to get things done through others. I’ve moved from task-based work if you will to relationship-based work. The companies that don’t help you make that transition, that aren’t explicit about the fact that it is a transition and even better prepare you for that transition are ones that I find often underestimate or don’t take into account this idea of leadership being not so much related to a position of authority. Those organizations that see that transition as relevant and critical and we need to help you make that transition even before you’re in that position of authority are ones that I think have figured that out. But it’s surprising how many don’t. 

The other thing that makes it challenging is you have leaders, or excuse me, followers that still have this default mentality that if someone’s in this position of authority, therefore they’re a leader or they’re an effective leader and we can cite many examples of positions of authority that individuals hold, that those individuals just aren’t demonstrating effective leadership. So, that’s what I find out there. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. And it’s a great transition to, you had mentioned from task to relationship and I took a course with you or a number of courses with you a few years ago and recently rediscovered your article on how to become a resonant leader. And really it’s that relational leader versus task-based. Just look at our task list and plow through that, it’s about the relationship. So when we talk about resonant leadership or resonant leader, what is a resonant leader and who is a resonant leader? Can anybody become one? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And let me give credit to two colleagues of mine, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, they wrote a book in 2000 I think it was five called Resonant Leadership where they coined this term or at least popularized it by the book, but it’s based on their research. And then I’ve worked with Richard now for over 20 years and we define, he defined and we’ve continued to refine the studies on this, but a resonant leader is one that does two primary things. They create an overall positive tone in the organization or in the group or work to do that, whatever realm they play in. And two, they create a connection with the other. 

And it’s interesting what we’ve done to … We’ve obviously got the empirical work that continues to validate this, but we also do something that brings it out very quickly for large groups. And we’ve done it all over the world and many, many countries. In fact, all seven continents. I didn’t go to Antarctic, I think that was Richard that went down there. But, we ask individuals to think of someone, a specific person they consider an outstanding leader and to write down characteristics, words or phrases as specific ones as possible, as concrete as they can, as to why they think that individual was outstanding. And then we ask them to also think of a specific person that’s a disaster as a manager or a leader and write down words, characteristics or phrases that state why they feel that way.

When we look at that, and we’ve done this now for 17 years with thousands of people, what we find is that the answers are almost identical wherever we go. So I could be with a board of directors in Ohio or I could be with high school students in New Mexico, I could be in Brazil or Europe. I mean it doesn’t matter. So many factors of diversity and cultural differences, et cetera, don’t play out in how people answer this question. What we find universally is that they talk about people who made a connection with them in some way, and that overall, the relationship they had with this person and the environment they created was positive. And so that’s when we talk about resonant leadership, that’s what we’re talking about, leaders that do that.

And so your question was, can anyone be a resonant leader? Yes. How they go about doing that may differ depending on context and individuals, but everyone can do that, I believe. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. I think of our potential, people who are listening to this podcast who may be operating an organization without an hr team or maybe you’re in a big organization with hundreds or thousands of employees. And it really just boils down to having really two fundamental characteristics, right? And it creates a connection with others and create an overall positive tone. It doesn’t talk about having financial literacy or know how to do process improvement or run manufacturing systems, it’s really outstanding leaders have those two qualities. And so, that may be a big shift for people who are listening and I think like, okay, that doesn’t sound too hard, right? I just got to smile more and maybe say hi, that might create a positive tone and I just maybe need to ask someone, how their day was. So does that then make me a resonant leader or is it deeper than that? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great point. And it does start to do that, and there’s a little more to it. And I can mention that in a minute. The hard part if you will, the rigor is what may create a positive tone for you may not be the same for others. And what may create that connection, how you connect or prefer people connect with you may not be the same for others. And so there’s a lot of different ways we can go about doing that, and that’s where my work and Richard and others, our teams work on emotional intelligence is so important because it’s through those capabilities, those skills, those emotional and socially intelligent skillsets that we create resonance. 

So for example, empathy is pivotal in understanding other people’s perspectives. Why I need to have some degree of empathy to understand the perspective of others, to know those nuances about how do they get motivated, what’s important to them, what’s the best way to connect with them. So without those critical competencies, I may smile and try to build that positive tone or that connection, but I may be doing it simply based on what works for me, not necessarily what works for others. And emotional-social intelligence then gives us the skillset to become resonant. 

Tim Reitsma:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. I love that you went there, it’s more than just smiling and asking how someone’s weekend was. It’s really digging into the emotional intelligence, and you mentioned this also in the article, the emotional and social competence. So, let’s just go there for a few minutes and I think I’ve heard this term now for a number of years, emotional intelligence and it’s so important as a leader. I’ve worked with leaders who I’m pretty sure they were robots with no emotional intelligence at all to the very other ends of the spectrum who were super empathetic, caring, very self-aware and really focused on that.

And so, when I think of outstanding leader and I think of someone who I consider not an outstanding leader, I could really make that distinction. So, let’s just talk a little bit about emotional intelligence and what does it really have to do with being a leader? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, I think it does. In fact, what we’ve seen empirically, back in the early 90s, this was some thought going to be the new buzz word to replace prior buzz words about what’s important to [inaudible 00:19:08] if you’re willing to go away, but that just has not been the case. These two decades later, three decades later, it’s clear from the research that emotional-social intelligence is a predictor of outstanding performing leaders on a variety of outcome variables, and a variety of predictors of things that mattered to organizations.

We now know that job turnover, employee loyalty and a number of other factors are significantly related to the level of emotional-social intelligence the leader demonstrates, a conflict that exists, the ability to resolve conflict. So a lot of these factors, these human factors that matter so much to the outcomes that keep shareholders happy and us happy as employees in terms of pay and performance and opportunity can be now scientifically traced back to these key aspects of relationships. 

And don’t get me wrong, what often happens too is people think, well, we’re moving to the touchy feeling so the technical doesn’t matter as much anymore or the expertise in a particular area, that’s just not true either. Certainly, if you don’t have that technical expertise or cognitive capability, you don’t fare as well either. So if I’m an accountant, I better understand my trade or I’m not going to keep my job. The differentiation is really that’s like a threshold, I need to have that capability, that skillset, my expertise. But when we look at what differentiates average or poor leadership versus outstanding, those cognitive technical expertise criteria are not the differentiators, it’s the emotional-social intelligence, the relational piece that makes that difference. 

So you better be good at what you’re trained to do in your job and complete that, but in terms of leadership and outstanding leadership, those technical expertise areas, the cognitive capability overall just does not tend to be the primary differentiator. 

Tim Reitsma:

I’m really glad you went there. I’ve heard the approach of, okay, we just need to have more emotional intelligence and we’d have to be okay at our craft, but that’s really going to help. But I’ve also heard the other end of the spectrum where it’s, you’ll get really good at your craft and then figure out the rest later on. It’s a balance of both. I believe it’s a balance, right? We need to be experts or becoming experts at what we’re good at, like you mentioned being an accountant, you need to know how to be an accountant, but to be an outstanding leader is more than that, not just knowing your craft. It’s about how to build a relationship, how to connect with people. 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s exactly right. And this is one area where the neuroscience and what we’re learning there is helping us see that in a different lens. So, for example, Tony Jack at Case Western Reserve University has worked with us as well and Richard and they have talked about and shown, we now know for example that when we’re talking about pro-social behavior empathy, that the networks in our brain that fire that capability, if you will, that light that up are different than the ones we use when we’re analyzing data. 

So Tony talks about in terms of empathetic cognition versus pass positive or analytical cognition, and these are two different networks in the brain and they actually suppress each other. So when I’m heavily into the data analytics and grinding out numbers and trying to problem solve, I’m not activating the network in my brain that is pro-social, reaching out, connecting with others, demonstrating empathy, and we go back and forth between these networks. The question is, are we in an environment where we’re suppressing one because we don’t value or don’t promote or don’t encourage or don’t take the time to be empathetic, for example, to listen effectively to others, to connect with them because this is a place of business, it’s all about the data, it’s all about analyzing, solving problems. Or are we in an environment where we value both and allow that vacillation between these two networks of our brain to do what they’re naturally designed to do, which is both. 

Tim Reitsma:

That’s fascinating. It reminds me of a couple of years ago I had an opportunity to take emotional intelligence assessment, an EQ assessment. And so, I sat down, I took the assessment, I thought, oh, I’m the most self-aware person I know. It’s going with a lot of confidence, and I came out a little bit wrecked on the other side of it thinking, okay, well the assessment is showing that I need to work on this. 

So, I had built myself up as someone who, yeah, I’m empathetic. I can connect with people, I’m aware, all these different things. But I came out, assessment, and I believe in that assessment that I needed to do some work. So, now what? If a leader then takes, or someone in an organization takes an assessment, there’s Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, EQI, there are so many different assessments and maybe the results aren’t what you expected. How do you drive change? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And, quickly about the assessments themselves I am a big advocate, certainly Myers-Briggs, and StrengthFinders and FIRO-B are very helpful with our self-awareness in terms of giving us a self-assessment and some input back. But nowadays, I strongly encourage organizations to broaden those types of assessments they’re using to where we’re not just using self-assessments because to your point, what you’re getting back is what you put into it. And they can give us helpful information, I’m not discounting it, but it’s one aspect of self-awareness. Awareness of how I see myself, what I know about myself, what I feel about myself. 

And so I’m a big advocate for multi-rater assessments. So, for example, one that’s commonly used in organization is 360 or multi-rater assessments because I may think I’m aware of my levels of empathy and know myself, but there’s a difference between being aware and demonstrating that to the world out there and how people, what I am demonstrating is translated by others. And so when you use a multi-rater or a 360 assessment, you’re getting input from other people that say essentially this is how I see myself, but here’s how other people are reacting to how they see me. And that comparison is much more helpful in getting a broader view of how we’re seeing.

So one, to back to your question, how do you help people change, give them data that helps them see how they see themselves but also data in terms of how other people are experiencing them. And in that-

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah, that’s a-

Scott Taylor:

Go ahead.

Tim Reitsma:

No, go ahead. Yeah. 

Scott Taylor:

And so, that’s a great start because it broadens the conversation. The other challenge we get with just self-assessments is there’s some challenge there because, I walk around 24/7 knowing me and experiencing me, but I could have blind spots as to what that is. I could have areas of perception about myself that just aren’t accurate. There are also times when I may believe that I have a capability because I demonstrate it in one context, think of, for example, being assertive, but I choose to not demonstrate it in another, or I’m not conscious that I’m not demonstrating in another context where I feel perhaps that there are people with greater experience or authority. And so, when I get that other perspective and it comes back and says, well, no, you don’t really demonstrate this. We don’t see it. It creates that question of, okay, I demonstrate this in some places. Why am I not demonstrating it at work, for example? 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah, I think it’s fascinating in the paper that you wrote, there’s a stat in there that when I read it, I actually had to read it a couple of times. The amount of money that is spent in the US per year on leader development and it’s more than $16 billion, massive industry. So all this money is still being poured into developing leaders. And we know that just taking an assessment or taking an online quiz or online test just isn’t enough. I love the approach of let’s just hear from our peers. Let’s hear for people in our lives, maybe we’re showing up empathy in one area, in our personal life, but maybe not at work.

Now, I know these assessments don’t necessarily dig into all areas of your life, but it would have a massive benefit on an individual who may be up for a big leadership promotion or maybe you’re starting a company and you need to hire people. So, how does somebody go about taking an assessment like this or digging into this? Can they do it themselves? Do they need to hire a coach? What’s the best approach? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s great. There are a lot of opportunities. Certainly nowadays with the flow of information, we get online, there are tools that you can find online to do that. I’ve seen even leaders who are in startups that the amount of money they have to … Or students, for example, the amount of money they have to invest in some type of tool is limited. In fact, with my MBA students, I used for years to use a 360 tool which I wanted now to learn how to have more direct one on one conversations. And so I give them a set of questions and they add to those questions information they want to learn about themselves or I feel like they ought to learn about themselves. And they go and actually interview people and gathering feedback and they send the message. They make it very clear up front that this is for developmental purposes only if you tell me nice things about myself that doesn’t mean I’m going to get an A in the course. 

So on a very simple level, we can simply go out and ask people for feedback on some of our key strengths and the impact they have, and one or two areas that that individual thinks we can take our performance to a new level or could demonstrate something that would be helpful, and that is a simple, easy but important way to create this learning community, if you will, with others where we’re giving and receiving feedback. 

Then, there are other routes where we can get a validated instrument that we know to predict certain outcomes if we do well on certain competencies, like for example, with emotional intelligence, I work with the emotional and social competence inventory, the ESCI for short. And that’s a tool that’s validated frankly by Korn Ferry that we know it predicts important outcomes for leaders who demonstrate those competencies. And in that case, you get an accredited coach or consultant that’s able to administer that tool and they can do that for you. 

And then there are others that you can find online. One that I think is a good tool that’s available online is a Leadership Practices Inventory created by Kouzes and Posner, where you can administer that and get feedback online. It’s a good 360 tool on several leadership characteristics. 

Tim Reitsma:

Well, that’s great. 

Scott Taylor:

You mentioned this statistic earlier that I wanted to comment on. The 16 billion is probably an extremely conservative estimate. There are others who claim that the amount spent on leader development is upwards to $50 billion per year.

Tim Reitsma:


Scott Taylor:

So, it’s an enormous amount of money in the United States and globally, those numbers were really US-based. But globally we are spending on leaders and their development. 

Tim Reitsma:

It’s an important area. It’s an important area for up and coming leaders or even I consider you don’t necessarily need to be leading a massive team or leading a company to be a leader, right? You could be a member of a team and still be a leader. And so, there’s so much investment being poured into it. So, I understand the importance and see the importance, and there are some very simple exercises. I remember sitting in your class and we actually had the assignment to go get feedback from people. I remember sitting there and I know I was nervous and I know some of my classmates were nervous as well because, oh wait, we’re exercising a sense of vulnerability. And we’re putting a whole lot of trust in people saying, hey, I need some feedback. And so I think those two areas trust and vulnerability play hugely into leadership development. Would you agree or disagree? 

Scott Taylor

Absolutely agree. And those feelings are very normal. And so I often get the question, how do I move forward? And I get paralyzed by some of that. And I think there’s a couple of things we can do. First of all, start with people that you have a good relationship with that are interested in your development. Start with getting questions and feedback around your strengths. So I mean, we want to balance that strengths and weaknesses or a rafter, tell me what I’m weak at, well people are more hesitant to give you the negative feedback. No one wants to tell you that your baby looks ugly and we don’t frankly want to hear that. So we don’t like to receive the negative, and people are often uncomfortable in giving it, by and large, not always but by and large.

And so we need to develop fluency, if you will, in having these kinds of discussions. And so my recommendation is just start, start with people who know you well, care about your development and start by asking them, give me an example of a time when I made a difference. Give me an example of a time when you felt like I had an impact in terms of your thinking. Give me an example of a time when I was at my best. Hearing those stories, people will often think, well, what am I going to learn from that? Well, when you’ve got a group of people that are commenting on how you’re adding value, which they’re more likely to do without any filtering or biases, you start to get a sense of how people are experiencing what you do when you do it. And anything that surprises you, I tell folks, or anything that you find yourself deflecting is key information to what’s on your self-awareness radar. And so there’s great utility in simply starting with those types of discussions. 

Once you start to sense that fluency in having these developmental discussions, your confidence, and competence in going and asking other questions like give me an example of a time when I could have made a difference but didn’t take that opportunity. Give me an example of a time when I may have not been at my best. You’re going to be much more comfortable asking those questions because you’ve got that fluency of having these discussions and experiencing giving or receiving feedback.

And then the other thing is when I go for the more negative or corrective or weakness type feedback, start with asking people who are interested in your development that they want to be helpful, don’t go ask the direct report that hates you or the one that’s on written probation. That’s not where you start. And once you start building that capability, your sense of vulnerability decreases and the sense of trust increases. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. I think it’s so important to start with the positives, right? If we just jump into the negative right away, tell me where I can improve. I’ve sat in performance reviews early on in my career and all it was, was here’s how you can improve. Well, I didn’t really remember much of it aside from I left not feeling very well about myself. So, starting off with the positive, tell me a time I made a difference versus tell me a time where I failed, it almost trains your brain, but also builds that trust and builds that rapport and vulnerability with people. 

And maybe this is a bit of a segment into one of the areas of your focus for this year is even in your article, I found it fascinating you touched on, it says adults are poor at best in changing anything about themselves in sustainable ways. And so, you talked at the very beginning about how leaders change and develop. And so, by default, we’re just not good at it. We’re not good at necessarily changing or changing behaviors, changing habits. So let’s talk a little bit about that, where does that fit in leadership, and yeah, how do we change and how do we continue to develop if we’re not good at it? 

Scott Taylor:

No, that’s a great point. And, this is a big question that I have been involved in thinking about and researching about for almost 20 years. Richard Boyatzis, my mentor, colleague, co-author, has been asking this question his whole career now spanning I think 40 plus years. A team of us have really spent a lot of time looking at this question and it goes back to that dollar value. If it’s 16 billion or 50 billion, either way, it’s a lot of money. And I’ve actually asked organizations, what are you looking for? I’ve asked folks that have written the checks, what are you hoping to get by making this investment? And it really comes down to three answers. One is loyalty. By making this investment, our leaders, they’re more loyal to the company. They’re more committed. And that in and of itself for them is enough of a return on investment, so that’s how important it is.

Another common answer is performance. When we make this investment on leaders, we get higher performance. But by far the most common response is in a language used or shared in different ways, but it’s we want our leaders to grow, develop or change in some way. And so we make this investment to take them from point A to point B and that transition is going to benefit us, our shareholders, the individual in so many ways.

Now back to your point that I offered up in that article and we’ve seen is that the return on that investment in leader development is less than 10% and when you combine that with other changes that we more broadly as adults try to make, that’s not too far off. So I’ll give you a few examples. The American Psychological Association a few years ago published some data on certain changes that adults often try to make and a percentage of sustainable change they were able to achieve. So losing weight, for example, they reported that it’s about a 20% success rate to lose weight and to keep it off for a sustainable period of time. I like to reverse that number. That means the failure rate is about 80%, not very good.

Tim Reitsma:

Wow, not good at all.

Scott Taylor:

Yeah. Starting a regular exercise program, success rate, 15%, eating a healthier diet, 10%. So these are people that want to lose weight, they want to start a program. It’s not a situation where they are being told they have to. These were people who wanted to. My favorite though is reducing stress. The success rate of adults sustainably reducing their stress is 7%. So, that means the failure rate is 93%. So it’s a huge, huge, huge challenge for adults to do that. 

What we’ve really come to is that our approach to helping people change sustainably, it’s just wrong. And I’ll go back to my days prior to my academic days when I was a change management consultant and starting to do leader development. The way we approached that was largely go meet with Tim, interview him, give him a battery of self-assessments, do a 360 assessment, go interview other people. And, we would come back with just this, a large binder full of all the information we needed to know about Tim. And we’d say, here you are, Tim, this is you as you see yourself, as we assessed you using all these instruments and how others see you. And we essentially said, now go change. The approach is real, show you a mirror of what you look like and then you’ll change, and that is just not the way it works for most of us, it just is not sustainable change.

Yes. It gives us self awareness. Yes, for the motivated it gives us insight in a way that we may choose to do one or two things, but there’s a high factor of not really over time changing much of anything. In psychology, we use metaphors to describe different aspects of who we are and what we’re describing here is helping someone see what we call their real self, their current self, their strengths, their weaknesses, their identity, their values. This is all part of who I am today, my current self, if you will, my real self. What we’re learning that really is fundamental to sustainable change is that we can’t start there in most cases. We need to start with what we call in psychology, the ideal self, the aspirational self. Who I truly want to be or what I want to do. 

This self in psychology we’ve learned is directly tied to intrinsic motivation, so lighting a fire within if you will. It’s a very positive, very powerful self and it’s not a goal I want to be senior vice president of marketing. If a student says that to me, I say that’s a great goal, but it’s not your ideal self. Why do you want to be senior vice president of marketing? And as we start to dig into the why, we’re starting to tap into these core pieces or aspirations that the individual has. It’s driving hopefully the goals that they’re setting for themselves. And what we’re finding is when we work with individual leaders and help them think through what is it ideally they want to be or do, not in the next two or three years or become, but say, 10 years from now in a length of time that’s not predictable, and we let that be the driver for their development, then we start to see significant change in the efforts they’re trying to make to learn and grow and develop as leaders. 

Tim Reitsma:

Wow. I can speak firsthand of going through this process. I remember sitting in the lecture hall in Boston, I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. And so, traveling to the East coast and sitting in the lecture hall with you and being asked that question, the ideal self and we talked about what is it the ideal self. I remember people including myself were talking about, well, maybe I’ll become general manager of this business unit, or I will run my own business one day. It’s like, no, that’s great, but that’s not your ideal self. Why do you want to do that? And I think that’s a big fundamental question we need to continue to ask ourselves regardless of where you are, what position you are in an organization, is that why. What is that purpose? What’s your deeper purpose behind it? 

Because I love that you brought up even the stat of less than 10% return on investment. So here’s this big book of Tim or big book of Scott saying, here’s your current self, now go figure out how to change. Yeah, that approach doesn’t work, and then even in some of the consulting that I’ve had an opportunity to do over the last a little while, we sit down with organizations and really ask them, from an organizational perspective, what’s your purpose so you make widgets? What are you actually doing? Why do you do it? And, we dig into that from an organization perspective and then we dig into it on an individual perspective. And the results are amazing. We see people fired up to be at these organizations, but we’ve also seen people going, you know what? I shouldn’t be here. I should probably move on and find somewhere else to work because I can’t be my ideal self here.

And so, I think we as organizations need to move past that fear of, okay, well we’re investing all this money, maybe they’ll stick around, and hope they stick around to, okay, we’re going to invest in this and if they’re not necessarily the right fit for our organization, that’s okay. They’re doing better for us to not have somebody that’s ideal for our organization, and we’re doing other people a service by helping them uncover that. 

Scott Taylor:

No, I think you’re exactly right. And to tie some of the things we’ve talked about together, what I’m learning from, I spent a lot of my work time with millennials and younger MBA students, executive MBA students and the undergraduate students and they have very little tolerance to a dissonant leader. They want resonant leaders. One of the reasons they want a resonant leader is they want that connection and they want a leader that’s actually going to ask them, what do you want? What’s your purpose? What do you want in life? What kind of impact do you want to have? They want to have those kinds of discussions. It’s a new form of income, if you will, that they’re looking for. 

I’m sure they want to be still paid and they want to have promotions. They want growth. The old income, that’s still important, but there’s a new income that they’re really demanding and resonant leaders can deliver that. It’s interesting because I think what happened to my parents’ generation is it’s not that they didn’t think about this, but that wasn’t part of the work experience. They were almost socialized not to think about that in terms of work, and we do much more today. Organizations that can harness that as part of how they do what they do, are inviting the whole person to show up to work. You’re inviting people that are committed intrinsically, not just because you’re lighting a fire underneath them to get them to perform.

And the sense of the ideal, when it’s activated, we’ve learned through FMRI imaging that the network in the brain that fires up when we talk about the ideal self is that empathetic network people tend to be more pro-social. They tend to be more entrepreneurial in their thinking. They tend to be more innovative and creative. So, this ideal self has a very important value to the business rather than just being a nice philosophical discussion because it’s actually what enables people to achieve their potential in a very powerful way. 

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. And, helping individuals in your organization identify their ideal self will, in turn, help your organization. So, if you’re spending money and whether it’s 16 billion or 50 billion spent across the US or across North America, then that money actually turns into a higher return on investment. But focusing on not just here’s how to communicate better or here’s how to navigate conflict, that’s great. Those are great tools for your tool belt. It’s really, what gets you fired up? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is that ideal leader, an outstanding leader who is someone who is not an outstanding leader. Look at those qualities, where do you want to fit in that? And then it ties right back into resonant leadership. I mean it comes full circle, right? Being able to connect with others and an overall positive tone rooted in emotional intelligence. 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s right. And if we go back to the example of feedback, for example, when I have been administering a 360 tool with a leadership team, we’re going to have that ideal discussion and thinking and self-work done before we go to the 360, because the 360 is going to give you feedback on the real self. And if we don’t do that ideal self-work, what I found is the individuals get the 360 and they start to converge on, all right, what do I need to fix? And they make decisions based on what other people are expecting from them, and they don’t really have the emotional level of commitment. They also don’t leverage their strengths that are reported in those instruments nearly as much. 

On the other hand, if you’ve done that self-work first around the ideal self, what’s my purpose? What kind of impact do I want to have? I look at that 360 very differently because now I’m saying, okay, what in here is helping me get to where I want to go currently and what are areas that I need to work on that will get me to that ideal? So now I approach the feedback that’s critical or corrective or negative if you will, in a very different way because I’m looking at it in the light of this ideal, this magnet that’s pulling me towards it. And I’m saying, all right, I want to address this because I want to get to that ideal not because I’ve got a deficit. And the deficit focus is what slows us down or burns us out. It’s when you get that North star that’s pulling you that you say, hey, I need to change this and I want to. It’s a very different experience to the feedback. 

Tim Reitsma:

A very different. I recorded a podcast recently with a leadership coach and talking about the … It was the process of moving from the who to fault too, so what now? Moving in that mindset of if all we’re focusing on is the negative and then we expect people to change, yeah, it’s going to lead to burnout. It’s going to lead to a dissonant leadership. It’s going to lead to talent leaving organizations. And so, it’s a big area to focus on as a leader. And so, I think as we wrap up, and I think we could probably go on for a couple hours, but I hope you’ll agree to come back on as a guest again in the future. But-

Scott Taylor:

I’ll be happy to.

Tim Reitsma:

Yeah. If somebody is starting off their leadership journey, maybe they’ve been promoted in an organization, maybe they are a founder of a company, don’t have the support from a full hr team to organize leadership development. What would be your advice? What would be a piece of advice for that individual? 

Scott Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, we have decades of self-help books out there and some of them are very good. In relation to what we’ve been talking about, I think that that’s a place to start. But, start with ones that are based on research, for example, there’s a book written by Annie McKee and Richard Boyatzis called, Becoming a Resonant Leader. That is a workbook, and it’s got the content in there, but it’s going to allow the exercises that we’ve talked about, ones that we do in the best and executive programs that I think are great, that people can work through with themselves and then have dialogue with others or they can do it as a team. 

Another more recent book, Helping People Change, just came out written by three colleagues of mine. They’re really focused in on how do you go about helping people with sustainable change. And that book again has a number of exercises in it that are very helpful that we’ve used for many years, that we’ve designed and used for many years, and we know helps leaders grow and develop. So that’s one place to start. And again, these are based on solid research, not just us going out and working with people and saying, hey, this seems to work. We validate a lot of these things in terms of what the impact is that they have. 

Another one is I think finding, for some hiring a coach is not an option for a variety of reasons. It could be financial or whatever. But finding a learning development partner, building relationships with others that are also interested in learning and developing that you can give and receive feedback from each other that you can read articles together and discuss is a great way to start. 

And then the other is having been an executive coach for 17 plus years, the executive coaching world when you can find a coach that is successful and has a model for helping people change in sustainable ways can be very powerful. It’s a big field, there’s a lot of executive coaches out there, so you want to be careful in who you select, but when you find a really good coach that is focused on helping leaders change and grow and develop in sustainable ways and has a method or a model for doing that, that can be very powerful having that consume the area, if you will, to interact with work with, get feedback from. 

Tim Reitsma:

That’s great. I’ve taken a couple of notes here. Just a couple more books I need to not just add to my bookshelf but to actually take and work through and I love that. You hit the nail on the head for me is just backed up by research, not just, okay, this worked at one or two clients, so let’s take this approach, but it’s a research-backed approach. So becoming a resonant leader, helping people change. 

And then I also liked the idea of finding a learning and development partner. Someone who is also on this journey may not have to cost you more than a cup of coffee to somebody to hold you accountable and give you feedback. And then hiring a coach. I know for me, I hired an executive coach to help me work through a few things and that has led me on a pretty crazy and cool new journey and career, and really focusing on that ideal self. And it really helped me move away from getting stuck in a negative mindset to opening up what’s possible. So I really thank you for those pieces of advice.

I thank you again for taking the time today to talk about resonant leadership, and yeah, I look forward to continue our conversation on future podcasts.

Scott Taylor:

Thanks, Tim, my pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it. 

Tim Reitsma:

All right, and to those who are listening, thank you for tuning in. If you like what you heard, please head to our website and leave your comments, leave feedback. If you have any questions, let us know. We’ll also include some of the articles and the books and links that we talked about on the website. So again, thanks for tuning in and I hope you have a great day.

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