Dr. Rob McKenna is the founder of WiLD Leaders, Inc, the WiLD Foundation, and author of Composed: The Heart and Science of Leading Under Pressure. What you can learn in this episode:
- Why vulnerability is essential for great leadership
- How “Whole and Intentional Leader Development” can help you
- The reason paradoxical leadership tension exists
- Understanding why you are here and a sense of purpose is key to leadership success
Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services
The Leadership Hacker News
Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore the notion of human capital and whether you consider it to be an expense or an investment. So, what actually is human capital? Well, it’s the measure of economic value that an employee provides to through their knowledge, skills and capabilities. And on average human capital costs are almost 70% of most companies operating expenses. Most leaders would recognize that investing in their people is a core characteristic and attribute. However, from an organization’s perspective, there’s a real return on investment to be had here too. Spurned by a conversation with Buddy Hobart who’s our special guest on episode 35 and also a good friend. He got me thinking around how by improving the core capabilities and characteristics of our workforce, can we directly transfer that cost or investment to bottom-line outcomes? Well, let’s just take two businesses of equal sizes, have an equal stature in a similar sector. If one had a really deep pool of talent, a career path clearly mapped for those individuals to progress and grow as the organization grows in one organization while the other doesn’t, which is going to have the deeper value when it comes to either selling or acquisition. And of course, the answer is the former because human capital should not just be considered as a cost on the balance sheet, but actually a real investment into the core infrastructure of the people within the organization. In doing so it can help us reframe how we need to think about our investment into learning and development and our leadership and coaching capabilities. And therefore, as leaders of this business, not only are you helping individuals improve, become more effective, more efficient and help them unlock their own personal goals, but you’re directly transferring to the bottom-line value of an organization through investing in human capital.
And thanks Buddy, because this conversation helped me reframe how I think about investing or spending anything relating to development. Sure, I get it. I understand the real value in that personal development, but now a second lens applies for me around I’m adding to the value of my business by supporting people and developing their talent. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any information, insights that you’d like our listeners to hear, please get in touch.
Start of Podcast
Steve Rush: Dr. Rob McKenna is a guest on today’s show. He’s recognized among the top 30 most influential industrial and organizational psychologists. He’s the founder and CEO of Wild Leaders Inc, and The Wild Foundation. And he’s also the author of his latest book Composed: The Heart Of Leading Under Pressure. Rob, it’s super to have you on the show.
Rob Mckenna: Hey, Steve, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you.
Steve Rush: So, tell us a little bit about how you move through the world of IO psychology into leadership development. How did that come about?
Rob Mckenna: Oh man, Steve. So, I think. It goes pretty far back. The son of parents who were in a university president role from the time I was very young, but my dad was a university president. And one of the things I think that affected me about that, and that was for most of my childhood was watching them lead in a pretty complex system. I always say, if you can lead at a university, you can lead almost anywhere. But watching them and being influenced by their challenges, especially of being leaders through the seventies and eighties, when they didn’t have an incredible amount of support, my parents were wonderful leaders and have had a profound impact on me. But at the same time, I think it affected me because I used to sit around the dinner table as a child and my folks actually because there weren’t a lot of places where leaders could share a lot of the challenges they were facing. I think our dinner table was more like an advisory board session sometimes because there wasn’t a lot of space to share it. I had a leader actually just a few weeks ago, say, so Rob seems like you’ve spent most of your career trying to replicate that dinner table for other leaders, and I think there is some truth to that. I was also profoundly impacted by my brother who was a leader in the whole area of industrial-organizational psychology, he’s 17 years older than I am.
I had the privilege of being mentored by an older brother who had a pretty profound impact on the world of work in many ways. He was at Microsoft in the early days and doing leadership development there and introduced me to this whole field of industrial-organizational psychology.
And it had a, just a deep impact on me realizing that it was one of the most. I always describe it as one of the most powerful guilds in the world. because many of us have never heard of because the people in this field are responsible for sort of the bread and butter of our field is selection and performance management. So, it’s who gets in the door and then what gets rewarded once they’re there and sort of the foundation. And so that had a, certainly a profound impact, but I think over my career, both a university professor, so I spent 25 years, Steve, I think, you know, this. As the as a university professor and as a business leader consultant. And so, I’ve had my feet in both you know, I’m sort of part-man scientist and part entrepreneur.
And so, and it wasn’t until just recently, actually right before this amazing crazy season we’ve been in now that I actually resigned from my role as a faculty member to go full-time. And I’m in this space where I’m just kind of experiencing the big exhale of only having one job after all these years of focusing my attention on Wild Leaders and away from that. So, it’s been a, I think my whole career has been really direction around. All the research that I’ve done over the years with different corporate leaders and non-profit leaders in government and educational leaders. Has given me a pretty deep passion and conviction about what it means to develop whole leaders. So as a bit of a backstory, but it starts way back in the beginning.
Steve Rush: Yeah, and I guess having the experience of both being a psychologist, as well as a leadership development consultant, you have the lens of this is how leadership has changed over the last 30, 40 years, because the conversations I suspect you have around the dinner table, listening to your folks talk is very different from the kinds of experiences that we’ll be having today, but the psychology pretty much remains the same, right?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, yeah. I think it does. Some of the fundamentals don’t change that much. I think what’s also interesting is that some of the topics that become popular, you know, in a popular sort of books that come out and so on. Some based on really good psychology and good theory and research. And then others are something that just catches. And I think some of the fundamentals have stayed the same, but for me, one of the things that has not changed is the necessity for leaders to have a space, to have the more real conversations, if you will. I think there’s a sense in which, you know, in our world today, for example, we’re asking leaders to be increasingly vulnerable. And at the same time, I was thinking about vulnerability. The definition of vulnerability is the openness to being hurt. So, when we ask the leader to be more vulnerable and more transparent, they were actually asking them to open up the door to the possibility that someone will harm them with whatever they share. And so, I think that the more real conversation is how do you make decisions about how to be vulnerable? What humility looks like and the tensions that are there. But I think some of the fundamentals haven’t changed that much, so, yeah,
Steve Rush: That’s interesting in itself almost because our brains defence mechanism is to keep us safe. In your experience as a psychologist Rob, do you find that it’s less likely that we’re going to be receptive to being hurt because of that kind of psychology neuroscience is playing out?
Rob Mckenna: Oh, I think that is so interesting, especially today, because one of the things, when I talk about one of the things Steve, that shaped me from early on, is an emphasis on paradox. My dissertation, when I finished my PhD was around paradox. I’ve always been fascinated by these tensions that leaders face, as opposed to sort of more oversimplified kind of one-off solutions to their whole developmental journey and the experiences that they’re having. There’s a really important call for humble leaders right now in our world. But very little conversation also, and vulnerable leaders. Not as many conversations going around the tension that they actually experienced between humility and something, for example, like courage or conviction that we have to have leaders who both have a, you know, a willingness to humble themselves and a willingness to listen and a willingness to care, but at the same time, a willingness to step out and go first and some of the most difficult leadership spaces in our world. And that’s where I find the challenge so interesting because you need leaders who have the fortitude to stand in the middle of the storm and to take all the hits, but at the same time have enough of that connective tissue developing so that they can stay in touch with others. And so, I find that very interesting and also kind of more to the real story of what leaders are facing. So that’s why we’ve spent a lot of our time focusing on that.
Steve Rush: And that’s the crux behind Wild Leaders, which stands for whole an intentional leader development. Right?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah.
Steve Rush: So how different of a focus is that if I’m a leader when I think of myself as whole and intentional?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, the way I think about this, Steve, and this is going to sound like, I don’t mean to slam anyone else’s work, but this is my larger statement around what whole is about. We want books and approaches that are really simple. You know what I mean? Where we desire that kind of give me my five steps to leadership.
Steve Rush: Sure.
Rob Mckenna: Or my, you know, my three steps to being an effective leader. And one of the challenges that we see, and this is pretty apparent when you look at the last four decades of leader development research, like how and where leaders develop and grow. I’ve said before that sort of a one-off pithy cliche kind of solution to leader development is the equivalent of teaching. I hope this makes sense for those of us who may not be gamers, but teaching a Navy Seal or a Special Ops person to play call of duty or some other kind of video game.
Steve Rush: Right.
Rob Mckenna: And then dropping them into a hotspot in the world with an Xbox and an Airsoft Gun.
Steve Rush: It’s like simulation.
Rob Mckenna: Yes, and it’s almost worse than simulation. It’s the assumption that, for example, if I know what I’m good at, and that’s enough for me to actually stand in the midst of the storm.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Rob Mckenna: And so, a whole approach would mean to take that body of literature and to say, we know that every leader if we’re really interested in what we often call deep-seated leader development. That every leader is experiencing a complex set of variables, where there’s this interaction between things like my competence and also my blind spots and my past experiences and the experiences that are shaping me now and where I’m going and why. And even my intention and capacity to develop other leaders. That all of these variables are sort of in play in the mind of a leader. And that if we could create a way to scaffold that development in a way that actually was relevant in real-time to what a leader is experiencing, that we might, you know, do a better job, especially in the complex times of our world today.
Steve Rush: What is it specifically that you’re focusing on with your team at Wild at the moment in order to help leaders think differently and specifically around that kind of paradoxical view that you just talked about?
Rob Mckenna: When I set out on this journey and established this organization, some of the systems and tools that we have. I personally, wasn’t driven to just try to inspire people. As you know, I do a lot of speaking and writing, and that’s a part of my whole cadence as a professional in his field. But what I really wanted to do was to build what we describe as a repeatable and scalable system for leader development. I should say a whole leader development system, so the intention is actually provide that and what it’s been built on, this system, which is called the wild toolkit by the way, which is @wildtoolkit.com. The wild toolkit is, quite literally a system. So most people in organizations have a system for operations, or they have a system for human resources and they have a system for their accounting and finance, and they have a system for their marketing and their promotional strategies, but so many lack, an unintentional system for developing leader capacity.
And so, what we built was a system that could repeat in scale. That could create a way for organizations to have a common language around what it means to develop leader capacity. And so, what it is, this is quite literally a set of 10 different tools that leaders use throughout their year to have more richer, developmental conversations that are happening alongside their business strategy. And that’s been so powerful because one of the big messages behind the entire leader development research history has been, that leaders are developing on the job in what an old friend of mine named Bob Thomas describes as crucible experiences. So, to the extent that your organization is full of these high-pressure kinds of moments, then the leader laboratory is in place. And then all it takes is to put a system in place to walk alongside those leaders, as they’re developing to start to multiply a leader capacity, so that’s what we do. And our emphasis is on that system.
Steve Rush: That sounds neat. And I think not many people will think of leadership development as a system. We often think of it as a by-product to other systems, but I concur that in itself is a system in its own right. So, you’re wholeheartedly involved in Wild now, but in addition to that, you also have a Wild Foundation. Tell us a little bit about that?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, for the past several years. One of the things that has come up in our work with leaders across the world has been that there are so many leaders who need deep-seated leader preparation but may not have the resources to do that. I can’t tell you the number of times that in our work, on the Wild Leader side of my life, where someone will approach me and say, hey, I have had someone say this just about a year ago, said I have a hundred Syrian refugee women in Jordan who need, what you do, would you go? And my immediate response is of course I would go. But the challenge has been just resourcing all these kinds of efforts. And for the past eight years, we’ve been working with a University in India. That’s entire mission is to provide a higher education to, with Dalit and tribal populations. Are people who quite literally exist outside of the caste system. And so, I’ve been profoundly impacted by India in our time there. And I think over, over and over and over again, what has happened is these different kinds of organizations, for example, organizations fighting human trafficking. Another organization that we’re partnered with that is actually about reforestation in the world, a huge issue. Have come to us and said, we have this group of leaders. And it’s so interesting, Steve also, because these kinds of mission-based organizations that are on these just incredible missions in our world. The leaders will say that when they started off, they thought, let me take, for example, Clean Water. They thought it was about clean water, which it is at the end, but what they realized very quickly is that none of sustain without leader development, because it’s the leaders, the people that have the fortitude to step out into those impossible, but so important situations that are so critical to any kind of a longer-lasting impact. And so, we set up the Wild Foundation as a way for people to raise funding and support, to provide the best whole leader training, we possibly could to all of those populations of people who just have been not denied that kind of access in the past. And so, we’re excited about that as a way to serve in such important needs in the world.
Steve Rush: That’s amazing, and often Rob people forget that behind any great mission. Behind any great change experience in the world where people are trying to change cultures, thinking and behaviours. There’s somebody who’s going to be responsible from a leadership perspective, who may not have had access to broader, wider thinking. So, I think it’s fantastic cause, and we’ll make sure that we share some of that work in our show notes too. You’ve written a couple of books. The Wild Leader was the kind of one that kicked things off for you. But latterly you’ve written Composed and Composed is the heart of leading under pressure. And if ever there was a time to have a book leading under pressure, it’s probably now. Tell us how the book came about?
Rob Mckenna: So, I often say that I’m not that much about leadership, that my focus really is on leaders. That when I think about this whole area, I think about a person. And we started to over the years, I’ve been involved in several different longitudinal studies across different large corporations, and we studied non-profit leaders. We studied engineers transitioning to leadership, all different kinds of populations. And one of the factors, we started to study, was actually begun by some colleagues of ours, around how leaders learn on the job. And as I mentioned before, they learn in these kinds of crucible, really high-pressure kinds of moments. Where there’s a 50/50 chance they may succeed or fail. Where everyone’s going to watch when they do and where they’re having to do things and draw on other people like they’ve never imagined before.
And as we got into that research and we started to talk with leaders to quantify their experience and qualify their experience, what we found was that there was a common factor emerging. That was simple and didn’t matter whether we were talking to an executive with a multi-billion-dollar budget or a parent, a person who’s parenting their children. And the fundamental issue was this challenge of pressure and what it means to compose themselves and what was happening inside those high-pressure moments. Cause I describe pressure as this invisible force that tells us that something is changing. And so, I got really interested on what it is that people were experiencing in those high-pressure moments in those leadership kinds of roles. And so, what was coming out was that there was a fundamental tension between their capacity to stay true to themselves and to stay clear and convicted, and at the same time, staying connected to those same things in others.
So, what we found is that when people transition to the role of leader, where they are now responsible for others, and they’re going first, that was the tension that came up, because now it’s not just about my truth. It’s about what I think is important for us. And people want that from me, but at the same time, listening to multiple other stakeholders, all of whom may want something different. And so, this book got me deep into the literature on what it means to stand well in the midst of the storm, and hence the title Compose: The Heart And Science Of Leading Under Pressure. So, the book is really the result of so much of the work I’ve done over the years on leading under pressure and how people show up in those moments. And that fundamental tension is where it starts.
Steve Rush: And that whole paradox of tension is kind of a core theme throughout the book. Isn’t it? So, you have a bit in there around you call it the fundamental tension, which you call this chapter, you and me, how does that work?
Rob Mckenna: Yes, so it is so interesting when people. And you can, you know, as a father yourself, you know, whether you’re a parent or a president, as I say. That this challenge of staying true to ourselves and staying connected to others is always there. If we have any awareness whatsoever, that there is and other, then that tension is there. And what I’ve seen over the years and break down in the book is that most of us have what I would describe as a habitual reaction under pressure, a way of responding. And that for some of us, that habit is, or what I described as the default, is towards self. So, for some of us, what we see under pressures, we see a lot of us. A lot of what matters to me, and you have a much more, I mean, what people see is a more autocratic kind of leader under pressure, but really what it is, is a leader kind of doing what it is that has worked well in the past, or well enough.
And so that’s one possible way that people go emotionally. But the other possibility is toward a heavier emphasis on others. In the book, I described these as true speakers and peacekeepers. So, the other thing is that you have leaders, what pressure does to them is that it actually impacts their ability to stay true to themselves, it diminishes, and you see an increased focus on what everyone else thinks is important. And these aren’t bad leaders either because they just tend to have this habit more of making sure everyone else is okay, but we sort of lose track of who they are. And so, I worked with leaders over the years, trying to help them, not to, I wouldn’t say, maintain a balance, but to maintain a capacity to live in the tension between those two things and to avoid the default, that is kind of their way, that is by the way impacted by the system of people around them. So that’s why I think any concept that is oversimplified into sort of treating a leader as if they live in a vacuum, misses the reality that every leader is living with an assistant with people who will push them in certain kinds of ways as well. So that’s what that tension is about.
Steve Rush: Sure, and of course every individual brings their own worldview that will shape their own behaviours as well. So, you have then in the book, a chapter about victim or volition and how we can perceive control. Now, control is really important to have in our world for us to be effective, but actually giving control away is equally as powerful as a leader. Tell us a little bit about what you were trying to achieve in this chapter?
Rob Mckenna: So, the second half of the book, Steve. The first path have to sets up that whole, like what is pressure? And this fundamental tension that I described. I love conversations that make your head hurt a little bit at the same time, I’m a person who kind of needs to know. So, what do you do about it? And so, what we studied was. What were the strategies that allowed leaders to effectively live within that tension between self and other? And so, what the last part of the book is about is these 11 strategies that emerged. And so, what you’re highlighting is, one of those strategies is focusing on what you can control and what has been so interesting is that it doesn’t matter the scope and the scale of power or authority or accountability that a leader has.
I have seen leaders with more budget authority than I could possibly imagine, like billions of dollars, all in one room, people who could quite literally change the axis of the earth with the push of the cash register, it feels like that. I’ve seen those kinds of leaders spend three or four hours talking about human resources systems that they have no control over.
Steve Rush: Exactly right.
Rob Mckenna: I remember thinking this is when I was a much younger man. I was sitting in a room one time thinking these people could change the world. If they began to think about things within their influence and control, as opposed to complaining about things, they have no control over. That’s one of the places that starts. We had these, as I said, these 11 strategies, which were emerged as important. So, what we have leaders do is we have an assessment within the wild toolkit called the leading under pressure inventory. So, a lot of the book is based on that particular portion of the whole leader development toolkit. But what we have leaders do is identify what are the strategies that you’re using well, and what are the ones that would help you move forward, if you were to increase your capacity in this one area and control is one of them.
Steve Rush: And I love that. I have a mantra myself. Which is, only control, only what you can control.
Rob Mckenna: Yeah.
Steve Rush: If it’s not within your gift, give it away. Can you delegate it? Can you give somebody else the capacity to think of it differently? And therefore, just only control, only what you can. And then as part of your, that play out, you’ve got another part of the book, which I found really quite intriguing, which is chaos and calm, which I think most leaders will recognize a typical day/week. That could be both of those dichotomies playing out, right?
Rob Mckenna: That particular strategy is sort of the meta-strategy in the book and its around self-regulation. And the way I define that is maintaining your ability or capacity to make a choice. And it’s one of the meta strategies, and I think one of those things I share sometimes Steve, is what we call the secret sauce. So, while all 11 strategies were important, we also wanted to know, if someone didn’t have a chance to use leading under pressure inventory to read the whole book, what would be the strategies that were most critical in helping a leader self-regulate and compose themselves under pressure? Does that make sense? So, we wanted to know. If we had to pick one, what would they be? And it was very interesting, and this is emerged through a couple of decades, and I’m old enough now that I can say that.
Steve Rush: Right.
Rob Mckenna: The number one strategy. Increasing a leader’s capacity to self-regulate to compose themselves into stand in the tension was sense of purpose. It was the extent to which a leader knew, had almost taken account of or audited. Like, what is the reason I’m in this situation, in the first place? And it wasn’t something that was popularized in a Ted talk or somewhere else, although it’s certainly critical. We found over and over again for the last couple of decades that this sense of purpose was emerging as something that was not even, it’s more than like a psychological speak. It was a strategic thing, and so it’s one of the reasons that even as our wild team goes into any high-pressure moment together with groups of leaders. We ask ourselves as a team together, why are we here?
And it’s an example. Steve, I told you I have a 19-year-old son, and this is sort of in my own family system is if I know why I’m his dad in a given season, it will serve as a keel in the midst of the storm when a high-pressure moment comes up between us and it’s whether it’s that, or in my role as CEO, it’s been critical. The second one I’ll mention very quickly, the second, the one that’s soaked up a lot of the variants as well in that whole idea of composure was focusing on potential.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Rob Mckenna: And it was the extent to which, and this was over and above sense of purpose. So it was, if I could maintain my capacity to see positive potential outcomes, when everyone else may only see barriers, it was critical. And it wasn’t optimism, because optimism is that I have a half, you know, my glass is half full. Pessimists, it’s half empty, that the focus on potential was a leader who says, I have a half-full glass of water. What are the multiple things I could do with that? Those were the two that stood out the most in our research, those 11 strategies. All of them were important, but if we had to pick, those would be the ones.
Steve Rush: And I reckon many people will get optimism and potential mixed up. What’s your experience?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, one of the issues is. People want it oversimplified and focusing on potential actually is a strategic working sort of strategy. In other words, we have people sit down and actually identify what are the great things that could emerge or the positive potential that could emerge in the midst of the season. Even in the midst of the season, people are experiencing. Now we’re doing this often right now. So that’s one of the different, the other ones Steve is so interesting is two of the strategies. One is empathy, and one is what’s called taking the perspective of others, which is behaviourally listening. What we found that was so fascinating is that empathy and listening are they’re highly correlated, but they’re not the same thing. So, in other words, here’s what we saw. In some cases, a leader who actually had very strong emotional connections to the experience of others. Actually, had a reduced capacity to listen. That connection was almost overwhelming. And we also had leaders who have this tremendous capacity to listen, who don’t feel it. I think to your question is, sometimes we want to oversimplify something for the sake of simplicity, you know, and just to bring parsimony to something complex. But the reality is these things are a little bit more complex. So that’s what I was trying in the book to do to break that down in a way that was consumable.
Steve Rush: Really neat and we’ll make sure that we let folks know how they can get hold of a copy of Composed: The Heart And Science Of Leading Under Pressure soon. But before we do that, this is where we get to turn the leadership lens on you as CEO and leader for many years, it’s keen to get an understanding of your kind of top tips. If you could distil your many years of leading others and leading teams and businesses, what would be your top three leadership hacks?
Rob Mckenna: Oh, top three. Steve, that’s tough. I know, but number one would be, a bit redundant, but if any people walked away with one thing and I think this is something I remind myself of, is that. What I said before? Is that understanding why you are here? That sense of purpose. Is not touchy-feely, that’s not the soft side of science. That it actually is a strategic move. And we’re spending so much time in this season with leaders who, what has happened in 2020 for so many leaders is a sense of sort of an uprootedness. In other words, it has exposed whether or not they knew why they were here in the first place. And so, sense of purpose is a huge one that I’ve already mentioned. The second thing is, I hope this is a very, very practical approach.
My brother taught me something that has been so critical for me over the years, but I think it’s related to purpose. Is he said, cause my brother used to work with all the senior leaders at Microsoft back in the early days and through the middays, and he gave me this tip and he said, anytime you go into a meeting, no matter what it is, think about the three things that, you know, deep within your gut about that meeting. And he said, let all of the rest of it go. I can step in anywhere now. If I know those three things, I can let everything else go and focus there.
Steve Rush: And that helps with control as well.
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, it’s related to that, right. That we talked about before. I think that’s certainly there. The last thing was, this one is not quite so practical, but leaders who are experiencing, right now in our world, and it does break my heart. Is that we are seeing leaders in real-time leave their roles because they can’t stand in the midst of the storm and it’s happening repeatedly in the United States right now with the incredible fortitude it is taking to stand well when social media and everything is making your perceived successes and failures public immediately. This is my word to those leaders is first of all, we say this on every, every time we’re with leaders who surround us is that you are not alone. The tensions you feel between something like resourcing and humility.
Right now, I’m so struck by this because in the midst of this moment where we’re trying to be aware and sensitive to things like inclusion and justice. Just absolutely, so in critical things, important things that are happening in our world. At the same time, these leaders that we have in place, or will put in place will be responsible for budgets and operations and making sure that we can actually pay people. And I think the leaders who are listening, who are saying like, yes, that’s my world is, I just want you to know you’re not alone. That’s from my heart, and that there are people out there who are paying attention to your whole story. That includes some things you may share and some things that are more challenging.
Steve Rush: Great advice, thank you for that Rob. The next bit of the show is, we call it Hack to Attack, and this is where something hasn’t gone as planned. You know, this is about that fortitude you were talking around where something’s screwed up and we’ve learned from it, but we now use it as a positive in our life. What would be your hack to attack?
Rob Mckenna: Talk about vulnerability, Steve, you know. When I hear this question, I think of things that have not necessarily gone well. One of the first things that come to mind is a few years ago, I don’t know if this is a, it is something I was trying to learn from. I choose a developmental theme. By the way, with anything that I have said, I don’t claim to be an expert. I can’t claim to be someone who studies this, who’s also experiencing it.
Steve Rush: Right.
Rob Mckenna: A few years ago, I picked a developmental theme for my year and I picked the word conviction, which any emerging leaders who have been around me might know that that’s kind of a keyword for me is helping them develop a sense of themselves and to put themselves out there. And I actually wrote this down. I had a whole, you know, theme that I’d written down for my year. And then I got feedback midway through the year from some other leaders around me that I was intimidating. And Steve, if you know me, you know, I just would never hope to, or perceive myself as someone who was unapproachable.
Steve Rush: Of course.
Rob Mckenna: And you’ve even known me long enough to know that I have a lot of conviction, but I almost all blindsided. I thought me unapproachable, you know, it just never occurred to me. So, it was an important moment to understand even the context within which my conviction is helpful in contexts that are a little bit overwhelming for people. So, here’s what I did the next year. I chose the developmental theme of convicted care to make sure that when I’m just speaking about something that is so deep, you know, so important to me. That I would always be, it would be coming from a place of deep care and that I would try to communicate that as well. And it helped, so that was the first thing that came to mind.
Steve Rush: The fact that you’ve taken the opportunity to reflect, and it now forms future thinking is what kind of, that whole learning experience and the fortitude you just described as. The very last thing that we get to talk about today, Rob is a bit of time travel. So, I’m going to ask you to bump into Rob at 21, and you don’t get the chance to give him some advice. What’s its going to be.
Rob Mckenna: Steve, this one is relevant, and I think fairly easy because my 19-year-old son just started University and he’s a freshman in college. And so, I think about him immediately. And I think about some of the things I wish I had been told. And I would say number one that came to mind was that not all voices are right. I had people early in my career who said things to me that now I know were more about bad role modelling than good role modelling. But when I was young, I didn’t know that. And so, I think of being aware that there are very smart people around us, and then there’s something to learn from the good and the bad role models or from people who may not quite get us. But I wish someone had told me that early on.
The second thing was that came to mind was to be patient. So much in our world said, you’re not doing it right, unless you’re going fast. And I would say that at 52, I feel like I have spent my career being prepared for this moment.
Steve Rush: Sure.
Rob Mckenna: And if someone, maybe, I don’t know if it would have helped or not, but if someone would have said, Rob you’re in this for the long haul and that some of the things you’re doing may not even be about you, but maybe about a generation of people who will come after you. I think I had some of that modelled, but I would have loved to have heard that. The third thing was this, and I told my son this to not make it all about you, but to think intentionally about how to improve the experience for others and even make that sacrifice, you know, many of our, University classrooms are going to now be, they’re going to be Zoom calls or they’re going to be on some sort of virtual platform. And I think it’s very interesting to imagine for even a student, you think of myself at 21 as you asked. What would it have meant if someone had said to me, what if you thought about instead of how nervous you are in class or how you feel under-qualified to be there? What if you had thought about how do I make this learning experience better for other students? I just wish I had maybe begun to think about that earlier. And it probably would’ve calmed me because back to what we said before, it probably would have given me a sense of purpose.
Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so.
Rob Mckenna: But I think realizing that it’s not all about you, what’s important to you is critical, but let’s start practising what it means to actively pay attention to what other people are experiencing in real-time. So those would be the three things that I would love to go back and talk with old Rob about back then.
Steve Rush: Very wise words, Rob, very wise words. Now, for folks listening in, they’ll probably want to think. How do I get hold of some information about what Rob is doing with Wild Leaders and the wild foundation and get a copy of the book? Where would you like us to send our listeners?
Rob Mckenna: Yeah, for the book. The book is Composed: The Heart And Science Of Leading Under Pressure, and it’s on Amazon. It’s also, on audible. A lot of people are listening today, I always recommend people listen to me at two times speed. Cause I talk a little slow, when reading. But any information on Wild Leaders or the wild toolkit go to wildleaders.org, and there are all kinds of things. We have a Friday conversation, we invite leaders from around the world into, that’s been an amazing way to serve in this season, especially, and that’s just a, no-cost jump in there with some amazing leaders. Every Friday at 10:00 AM Pacific time. And then for any information on The Wild Foundation, it is quite literally thewildfoundation.org, as I was mentioning people that would want to help resource those kinds of leaders. We’d love to hear from them, would be great. But they can also send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions that anyone might have.
Steve Rush: Great, and we’ll make sure all of those links are in our show notes as well, Rob. So, I just wanted to say, I’m super grateful Rob, you taking time out of your busy schedule. I know you’re a busy Chap and I am super grateful. You’ve shared some of your wisdom, you’re learning some of your experiences and on behalf of all our listeners. Thanks for being on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.
Rob Mckenna: Thanks Steve. So great to be here.
Steve Rush: Thanks Rob.