This week, Michael Kester, CEO and Founder of Lead Belay, sat down with Christopher Lind of Learning Tech Talks to discuss a wide variety of topics. Check out how Lead Belay has built a unique platform to best teach and adapt core leadership qualities for young emerging leaders.

TIMESTAMPS & TOPICS

Use the links or time markings below to jump to a primary topic of your preference. 

[0:22] INTRODUCTIONS AND BACKGROUND ON MICHAEL KESTER, FOUNDER AND CEO OF LEAD BELAY

[5:10] WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MOST MODERN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS?

[14:35] WHY PEER LEARNING IS SO IMPORTANT IN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

[28:17] WHAT CORE SKILLS IS LEAD BELAY LOOKING FOR TO BE STRONG PEOPLE LEADERS?

[37:23] HOW THE WORKLIFE & HOMELIFE ARE MELDING AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR MANAGEMENT

[43:14] LEAD BELAY'S TEACHING OF LEADERSHIP STYLES FOR NEW MANAGERS

[55:00] ASSIMILATING LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT WHEN YOUR ORG DOESN'T WANT TO ADAPT

 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Christopher Lind:

All right, happy Tuesday, everyone. And welcome to another Learning Tech Talks, where we explore way more than the landscape of learning tech. It's learning tech, it's workplace tech. It's really all things, employee development. And today I'm joined by Michael Kester, which you told me to call you Mike, but I just feel like Michael Kester just rolls off the tongue. And I'm just so used to saying the long version of people's names. So anyway, I'm joined by Mike and we're going to be talking about developing emerging leaders, but we're also going to be talking about the humanity of workplace development, digital transformation in leadership. I mean, we got a lot to talk about Mike, wouldn't you say?

Michael Kester:

Yeah, we do. We've got more to talk about than we've got time to discuss. And we could spend days on this stuff.

Christopher Lind:

Well, for the sake of our guests, we will not spend days in this Learning Tech Talks. In fact, I think there's actual streaming limits with LinkedIn in terms of how long I could go. So even if I wanted to just leave it running, I don't think I could, but I'm looking forward to the conversation because this is an important topic. If you're in pretty much anywhere, the topic of developing leaders is a big challenge right now. It's a challenge for folks that many orgs are trying to figure out.

But this isn't a new one either, but there are some new things which I'm really looking forward to talking about how things have... What's changed and what hasn't. What assumptions do we have that we need to let go of there? There's going to be a lot, but before we get into it, a little bit of background. So I'm where I always am, in Waukesha here. The same familiar background that I'm always in. But Michael, for you, where are you located? And for those of you who are joining in, if you want, let's play a little bit of an ice breaker game. Comment and let me know where you are today, but Michael. Mike, where are you today?

Michael Kester:

Sure. I'm in the Denver area. I'm actually a Denver native. Grew up here, lived away, and out of state for a long time. Moved back here though. Family, friends, and it's a great place to live.

Christopher Lind:

All right. Well, you're probably looking... If you're near Denver, although how far from the mountains are you? Because some people think like, "Oh, Denver, the mountains are right there." And you're like, "Well, may..." It can be a bit.

Michael Kester:

It depends on you define the mountains. So we're very close. I mean a quick bike ride away from the foothills where you can be kind of... Something that feels and looks like the mountains, but it's not the "mountains-mountains".

You get into the mountains. It's like 40, 45 minutes from here.

Christopher Lind:

Okay. Still not too far though. Because there are parts, you know? And I think some people assume all of Colorado is just one big... And it's like, well, no, actually no, the other half are pretty.

Michael Kester:

Half of it looks like Kansas and half of it-

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. Half of it's like Indiana or Iowa type of a thing.

Michael Kester:

Not to disparage those places.

Christopher Lind:

No, no, no, no. But landscape-wise, I'm from the Midwest. So I would be disparaging my own area if I was saying that, but yes, from a landscape standpoint. Very different. Yeah. All right. So, let's talk a little bit about your background in this space as well, because I always love hearing the founder's journey. Where did you come from? And then what led you to this step?

Michael Kester:

Sure. So career-wise, I didn't ever envision ending up in leadership development.

Christopher Lind:

It wasn't something, when you were in kindergarten, you said, "I want to run a leadership development company."

Michael Kester:

People do, I'm sure. No, I started, I was a philosophy major, but went into finance. I worked for an investment bank. Lehman Brothers-

Christopher Lind:

Philosophy to finance.

Michael Kester:

And not just any finance. I mean, Lehman, who's not around anymore, probably for all kinds of understandable reasons. The more you learn about leader development. Then law school. Worked for McKinsey for a while as a management consultant and then partnered with a friend who had an e-learning company.

It was very circuitous and not a lot of intent, but it just, at every... Stuff seemed like I was following my passion and doing things that were interesting. So ended up merging the e-learning company with a business called the Regis company. And Regis, if you know them, they build really high-end custom leadership programs, and business simulations, which is what they're best known for. So now they've actually evolved where they've got a really powerful platform for creating simulations, but we built programs that were the best of the best for the biggest companies in the world. And after doing it for a decade, I was working with some other leaders of the company actually on things that felt more aligned with our personal sense of purpose and mission.


TOPIC 1: WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MOST MODERN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS?


Michael Kester:

What can we do to take this kind of an impact to people outside of the select chosen few of the biggest companies in the world? And that's historically been the problem with leadership development. It's super expensive.

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. It's, there's a big disconnect between the masses and the folks with the biggest budgets, things like that.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. Still, 70 plus percent of leadership development dollars are spent on very few, the top, the top people in organizations and then the masses get next to nothing, if not nothing. Or what they do get is typically subpar. Still organizations try to handle soft skill development and leadership skills and even manager skills with e-learning and things that don't have the same level of intimacy and connection and set people up for those really deep self insights to get them to go through these huge growth transformations. So we were thinking about that. Go ahead.

Christopher Lind:

No, no, no, no. I was chuckling a little bit at the point, because I think sometimes the way we approach leader development... And again, it's with best intent, but I think sometimes the idea that, "Well, if we send them through this content or we send them through this thing, then magically the behaviors change." And I think it's one of those... Yeah. That might be part of it. But like you said, is an e-learning module going to make a great leader? Not by itself. Not by itself, for sure.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. No. So, we know what the best of the best programs or experiences offer and actually one of the inspirations for this was, if you've ever seen Reed Hoffman's Masters of Scale or listened to his podcast.

Christopher Lind:

Yeah.

Michael Kester:

He has an interview with Brian Chesky, who's the founder of air Airbnb where they talk about the 11-star experience. So, what's a five-star experience look like in your space? What is the best of the best? And then let's think about a seven-star and then a nine-star and 11-star. If budget wasn't an issue, what is the most important-

Christopher Lind:

What would we do if we could do anything?

Michael Kester:

Right. And so you think about what CCL does, when people go to these exotic elite retreats, coupled with executive coaching and then things like YPO where you've got periodic meetings with people that are, that you really trust and connect with. And over time they understand you and you understand them and you're all teaching one another. So it's, you combine all this stuff and you can create this incredibly powerful thing where anybody, certainly anybody with at least a few basics, we could talk. Right. There are a few things that people need in certainly our philosophy to be able to grow into a people leader.

So then what do you do to prune that back and make it accessible to anyone? So we were thinking that way. So this is like mid-2019. So how do we create this powerful experience? Or take all these things from these various places and create the ideal experience, but make it completely affordable? And we were thinking the lowest dollar possible, so right away travel's off the table. Travel crushes budgets. When you're thinking about-

Christopher Lind:

So do elite resorts, right?

Michael Kester:

Yeah. Well, and the coaches, the facilitators who are there full time for the time you're there. And I mean, it all adds up. It gets really expensive. So we were thinking we got to do something for less than a thousand dollars a person, ideally, what can we do? Even lower dollar and still deliver that impact. And people... We know they love the peer group. They love the connections they get with others. You've got to get them to self-generate insights like I mentioned, and they're only going to get there if they're working on things that really matter to them. So it's got to be immediately applicable, and relevant.

They're going to get a quick ROI. We talk in terms of Monday Morning Impact, what are people going to differently, really fast? So you start looking at the things that are essential. And those things actually don't cost a lot of money. What's hard, the central problem is to get people to that deep level of intimacy and connection and trust with a group of people because you've got to have that. That's central to it over Zoom. And most leadership programs today that are operating virtually, they have taken whatever they were doing in the classroom and they just put it online.

Christopher Lind:

They moved the box. They moved the box from one delivery mechanism to another.

Michael Kester:

What they didn't account for was what we were thinking about. Even this is before COVID, this is like late 2019, early 2020. What can we do to get people to that place where it's like Zoom melts away? So you feel this deep connection, right? And so many people today still talk about if you're doing it over Zoom, it's subpar.

Christopher Lind:

Which I was just going to say. That there's still this assumption in the back of people's minds that it's like, you just, you can't. And I'm looking forward to digging into some of this because I can say, yeah, you can. You can. I've seen it. I've experienced it. I've done it. But anyway, yeah, there is still this leading assumption. That's like, it's always like the lunch box version of the steak dinner.

Michael Kester:

Right. Well, and that's like saying that somebody who loses one of their five senses just can't have the same level of quality humor, right?

Christopher Lind:

Their life is somehow subpar compared to everyone else. Because they have lost their sense.

Michael Kester:

And if somebody's normally abled and they lose their sense of vision, yeah. It's going to be a pretty crappy transition and it's going to be very hard and very difficult. But what we know is that they lean into their other senses. They still have deep and meaningful connections with people. They still experience love. I mean.

Christopher Lind:

I love the analogy, honestly. I love the analogy to make it click.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. So when you move leadership development online, you lose a lot. When we're with people, there's physical proximity, you're sensing micro gestures, pheromones. It releases oxytocin in the brain. I mean you do have the love drug. I mean, you have these things are happening that cause you-

Christopher Lind:

That happens organically.

Michael Kester:

That happens organically. But those are not the only ways you get the same release of chemicals in the brain that cause you to really connect with somebody and really trust them and deeply build a deep, long-lasting relationship. So we were looking at, I was lucky I was working with, her name's Dr. Grace Chang, a cognitive neuroscientist at Regis. She's now at EUI in their learning innovation group and Grace and I talked a number of times about what we can do. And she steered me toward, I think it was like 30 different neuroscience research studies or social science research studies. And I just devoured this stuff. I read all that stuff about trust and trust-building. And it was all with an eye toward, what can we do? What can we experiment with online? So that was the central problem.

Christopher Lind:

Which, on that one, and we'll probably talk about this more. Who knows, like I said, we'll see where the conversation goes, because they tend to go all over. But what I love about the fact, two things that you've said to date that I really liked with where you were going. And I think these things can apply to anybody in learning and development in general. First of all, when you were setting out to do this, it was this let's strip out our assumptions and let's approach this from a, "What would we do if we could do anything?" I think sometimes there's this tendency to always self-limit ourselves out of the gate. It's like, well, we've got this limitation and this, and there's that. And it's like, well just because you vision cast the, "What would you do if you..." It doesn't mean you have to do it.

But I mean, at least put yourself out there in terms of dream state, what would we do? Because that leads you to that second part of peeling back that onion and then saying, "Okay, but what's realistic?" But also I think it gets to this point you're bringing up now, which is it allows you to start asking the question, "What is it about that really makes it click? Why did I put that on the list? What is it that I believe that's actually doing?" So that you can start to unpack some of the creativity of, well, what if I put five-star resort and whatever, because what I really was trying to get to is, it's an environment that really draws people together where they can build trust and be authentic.

Okay. Well, if that's really why I was doing it, well now I can start to say, "Okay, what are different ways that I can get to that outcome? And yes, I'm going to have to design differently. I'm going to have to think differently." But it's actually pushing you to think about the, what you're trying to accomplish instead of just, well, we don't have budget for a fancy resort. So I guess we're doomed to PowerPoint, voiceover and we're just going to call it a day.

Michael Kester:

Yeah, that's right. So I know a lot of people who are responsible for design or leading design teams in the learning space. Listen to your, or watch your webinars. It's design thinking, right. Allow for divergence before convergence, don't say no, don't prune back until it's, you get to that point where you've got so much to think about. It's doing exactly what you just described. What is it that we want, that we get out of each of these things and then how can we make as much of that a reality as possible within the constraints we're facing?

So don't think about the constraints up front. Think about them later. Let the mind go. That's how you really innovate. So that was a central problem. We were focused on and thinking about, "All right, how do we create this experience?" And so we tried a bunch of different things and we learned some stuff.


TOPIC 2: WHY PEER LEARNING IS SO IMPORTANT IN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT


We learned, first you got to put the right groups of people together. So the group matching for us, it's this group matching logic. So I hate comparing it to a dating app, but there is logic. It misses the mark. But, there are several principles that we realized early on, really matter. By the way, Google Project Aristotle for examples. One of the things that steered us to, and then we started to dig a little bit deeper into why is it the teams with gender balance do so much better than ones that don't? And why are these diversity factors really valuable? Because we know that there's tons of research about it.

Christopher Lind:

Anecdotally, we know it, but how do we actually tie it?

Michael Kester:

Yeah. How do you pull it through? So we found like three things as general... We've got, we've evolved our own very complex group matching algorithm, but there are three general principles we follow. First, you got to have people that could relate to each other and one another's challenges enough that they can contribute. They can help one another. So that seems obvious. Like, all right, so you got people with similar size teams who've been managing for about the same length of time. They can relate to each other's, from an age and generational standpoint. They're close enough.

But then you have to have a ton of diversity beyond that. So you get those things right. You want different styles, different strengths, and different backgrounds. So we looked at using-

Christopher Lind:

So while we're on that one, I'm really curious about this. Because I think this is a fascinating piece. When we think about group dynamics, because we've all been, I mean we've all been in that group before, whether it's leadership development or something where you're just like, "This ain't jiving."

Like this is just not, there is zero connectivity here. And I think the risk to that is when that happens, the tendency can be to say, "Well, what, if everyone was just like me, this would be so much better." And it's not... I mean, it's not, so how do you find? You hit on some of them, but what are some of those ones? Because I can see where, and I've seen it just again, anecdotally, I love talking to people who do all the deep research because I'm like, well I've got a bunch of experience, but it's great when you hear the, "Well, we actually validated that with the research studies." Okay, good. But I am curious about some of those because I can see where some of them would be. If you don't have diversity here, it's a problem. If you have too much diversity in this area, it's a problem because there's zero relatability type of a thing.

Michael Kester:

Right. So that was it. Get it right in terms of those few things in common and it's amazing. Across industries, across functions, people can relate to each other's people, leader challenges. If they're leading similar teams, they've been leading for about the same amount of time, few other factors. But then the diversity stuff, like what's different, we thought about using the full spectrum of Myers-Briggs, or Disc, or other, you familiar with Hogan and so forth? Like, do we want different styles? And then I read this great research study by a neuroscientist who talked about thinkers, feelers, and knowers. Okay. Think, head, heart, gut leaders. And really great teams, the best performing teams have a balance of those things.

So the problem we are facing is, all right, there's no assessment that gets at that specifically. So we have to create our own and try it. And we just put some hypotheses out about what that would look like. Typically people will self-describe, just picking a group of adjectives, what they think is most important to them based on which style they are. Okay. So we ended up building our own assessment. We get all the data we need to put the groups together, but that's one of the key things. We don't want-

Christopher Lind:

So what was it? Head, heart…?

Michael Kester:

Head, heart, gut. We use the expression thinker, feeler, knower. So people who are very analytically geared want a lot of data, may be slow to make decisions, but they're very methodic about their approach. Okay. Feelers, heart leaders, right?

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. Yeah. The ones that emotion's first, they... Or considering people sometimes at their own peril.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. Deeply empathetic. They're very... Get worried about the dynamic of the group, but sometimes to the exclusion of being able to have the difficult, hard conversations that they need. In Kim Scott's language, a lot of ruinous empathy. They've got strengths and weaknesses around it too. And then knowers.

Christopher Lind:

The yeah. The gut. Okay. And that's the gut. Like I just, yeah, this sounds good right now. Let's go.

Michael Kester:

Right. And interestingly, whether somebody wants to be perceived as a gut leader or not, a lot of business leaders and people who rise in organizations are gut leaders. They've got a ton of confidence, maybe a fair amount of bravado about them. Most entrepreneurs are-

Christopher Lind:

Gut leaders.

Michael Kester:

... that camp. But if you mix some, they learn a lot from each other and they share different points of view. So that alone is really powerful. We want different strengths and weaknesses across the top manager challenges. So what people are, or at least believe they're good at, so they can teach each other and learn from one another. So a whole bunch of other factors. So those two things are really important. Enough in common and then enough different style differences in their style. And third, we don't put any two people from the same company in a group together.

And you can have people get to a deep place of trust and connection, even over Zoom, with others you work with. But it's harder. We want to give people a safe place where they can open up about their strengths and weaknesses and their fears and vulnerable.

Christopher Lind:

I love that you're bringing this piece up because I think this is always one of those topics that it can be challenging, especially if you're trying to do leadership development internally. It can be challenging because that trust factor and the trust factor to me is historically demonstrated, has been one of the key variables of if people don't trust each other. Just forget it. Because the vulnerability you need, the honesty, the transparency. The willingness to take risk. That doesn't happen if you don't trust. If you don't trust the people, you're in a room with you're like, "Uh-uh. I'm not doing any of this stuff because I don't trust any of you with that."

And I can see where that being a big barrier internally. And I've seen this with leadership programs where it's like, I mean, I don't want them to know what I'm really dealing with because they know my boss or they work with this person on this peer team. That vulnerability's tough.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. You worry about things. Even getting back to your own team. If you're talking about somebody you're struggling with, then worry about the political fallout and their ramifications, really, it gets in the way, even if you're in different divisions, different parts of the company, different places. So I mean. Because we work with-

Christopher Lind:

It doesn't matter because even just the cognitive piece. I mean, and I've been in some big companies. Big companies, and first of all, one, information does travel. Information travels internally and there is this like, well people know that, but even if it's ultimately one of those like, well, this is never going to get to that division. Or, it's like, yeah, but in the back here, well what if I want to transfer to that division? And what if then this person knows what I'm really dealing with? I can see that being a real hard factor.

Michael Kester:

It is. So we've drawn a hard line around it. We've worked with some organizations where they wanted to do some modification of this internally and for us, frankly, because of the group matching. That's one of our, as we were getting started, as a startup, that was one of our biggest growth constraints. If one company gave us too many people, we had to have enough other groups. So if a company gave us a hundred people, we'd have a hundred groups. We couldn't meet that demand. So it was.

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. Because you're basically serving as a crowdsource for all these orgs. And it's like, well. And I can see just again, traditionally, a lot of times an organization when they want to develop their leaders, it's like, "Here's a bunch of them. Go develop them all."

Michael Kester:

And Christopher, this is absolutely a passion project for me. This is something that I'm doing because I want to make an impact on the world. But the only way we get there is viability. So we got to get the wheel, the flywheel moving.

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. You can want to change the world all you want, but if your path to do it is just a nonviable product, you're never going to make it.

Michael Kester:

Right. So saying no early on in our evolution is hard. It's really hard. To stick to our... We've got these few principles and we're not going to waiver from them. That is not easy. That was one of the most difficult things we faced. But we've been true to that. So okay. Create the safe space. And Amy Edmondson's work. I'm sure you're very familiar with that. About psychological safety, the importance within teams. It's also important for people's growth. We want to replicate that great team environment of safety within the groups of people who are going through this growth experience as leaders, as emerging leaders together. So that was a very long story.

Christopher Lind:

We hit on a ton of stuff, which I think we're going to continue to unpack on here. Because, but this one of... Because one of the questions, one of the things that came up and I'll be, there's somewhere I want to go with this. But Benjamin brought this up. Is just, leaders can, and I wouldn't say leaders are stuck in their ways. I think people, in general, tend to be stuck in their ways. We tend to just be like, well, I don't want to change unless, somebody's threatening me to, or there's something just compelling to do that. And so I am curious with this, you talked about the trust factor.

Are there other big ones that you've seen be real barriers to people being able to make... And again, we're not even getting into the, how you're doing it or, or things that you've learned, but even just getting to that stage? Because that state of readiness, I mean, anybody who's been in our space for very long knows you get that person who's like, "I'm here because I have to. I'm just getting through to the end of it."

Type of a thing. What's been your experience with some of that in terms of how can you break that down? And I think the trust and psychological safety, I think that's a huge one. It's been my experience. People don't feel like they can be vulnerable. Because even people who posture that they have all the answers, if you can get them into a safe environment, people know they're not perfect. I mean there's some real folks out there that truly do. But.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. You hit on several things and they're all really important. One, what makes a good participant in an experience like this? First. And second, what are some of the biases people have that weigh against their growth as a leader? And third, you got organizational pressures and so forth and all kinds of other things. So we first, we believe that anybody with three basic things can be a great people leader. They have to have some self-awareness, meaning they don't think they have it all figured out. There's at least an openness to learn.

Christopher Lind:

You're a total sociopath and think you have all the answers. Well, we're probably.

Michael Kester:

Yes. Second, you're going to have the will, which means you're willing to, you're going to try some new things and you're going to put some effort into this. You're not just going to skate through it. So you're going to, you're lean into this right now. And sometimes that means you have to have a little bit of capacity. Doesn't take a ton, and we've crafted... We can talk about the specifics in a moment. But third, you have to have some empathy. I don't mean off the charts empathetic. You don't have to be uber empathetic, but you can't be a hardened narcissist. And that's essential.

Christopher Lind:

Is that one of the prerequisite questions you ask people. Well, so are you a hardened narcissist? Yes or no? On a scale of one to five, where do you sit?

Michael Kester:

We looked at a ton of research about narcissism and narcissists, this is something Grace helped steer me towards. There's some validated assessments for narcissism. And then there are some studies too that show, narcissists will more or less tell you they are. I mean-

Christopher Lind:

Really?

Michael Kester:

Not if you ask the question that way, but they... They think highly of themselves and they're going to use a lot of "I" language and they're going to take credit for things. And they don't necessarily think too much about the impacts of what they're doing or saying on other people. So we took... That's part of our assessment. So we built this upfront assessment where we get the thinker, feeler, knower stuff. We get the basic demographics. We get, there's 40 points of data we use for the group matching. We also ask a few questions that give us a sense of how likely somebody is to exhibit empathy in the workplace.

Interestingly, we've had less than like one and a half percent of the people who've gone through our program have said it wasn't for them and dropped out, which is incredible. That's awesome. All of them, we're talking about a very small number, registered very high levels of confidence. So we asked about people's confidence level about the top 18 manager challenges. On average, they were very high and they were also very low in their empathy score. High confidence, low empathy. The program wasn't a fit, which is not a surprise to us.


TOPIC 3: WHAT CORE SKILLS IS LEAD BELAY LOOKING FOR TO BE STRONG PEOPLE LEADERS?


Christopher Lind:

Which from a development standpoint, and this goes to the bigger conversation that I think a lot of organizations are... There's opportunity is what are we actually looking for from a skill standpoint in people leaders? And I think, as we go back to this skill capability standpoint, can you bring someone up who maybe doesn't have all the leadership skills? They haven't done it and they... Yes, but is it a huge risk putting somebody into a people leader role, if they have super high confidence in their own ability and a very low ability to empathize with other people?

That should just be a red flag. I don't know that this person belongs in a people leadership role, because they may end up just being a powder keg.

Michael Kester:

That's a hard one because I wouldn't go as far as to say somebody who's confident as an individual contributor wouldn't go through a lot of growth and have the softening of their confidence. If they, if six months in, they still say they're super confident-

Christopher Lind:

If you're still seeing it.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. But in that transition, because that's the world people.

People who get selected for manager are typically high-performing individual contributors. Some of them have all kinds of imposter syndrome feelings and get promoted. And even with a lack of deep core self-confidence, but you do have a lot of people who are pretty confident. And then if they don't go through this realization, this is so much harder than I expected.

Christopher Lind:

Wouldn't you say what you're talking about... It's a little bit of a distinguishment. Because what we're talking about is if you're confident in your skills and what you're doing today, that may be an okay thing? I think, again, as we start talking about emerging leaders, people who are newer to this space. Now, if you're walking in, you've never managed people before, but we start talking to you and you think... You basically, like, "People leadership. I can do that. I can run a team."

That might be concerning a little bit. Because it's like, well again, that goes back to that self-awareness and-

Michael Kester:

Yeah, I still wouldn't rule someone out if they're highly confident.

It's important that the two happen together too. We have people who go through the program who are confident... Actually we tried this. So we assess people. This is their own self-assessment of their confidence, of the top 18 manager challenges before and after the program. We've been looking at lots of different ways to measure efficacy of the program. And that one wasn't actually very good for us really, because people's self-awareness was raised as they went through it and they started to see, "Oh, I'm not doing all these."

Christopher Lind:

Unconscious competence. They didn't. Incompetence. They didn't know what they didn't know.

Michael Kester:

Exactly. Right. Unconscious incompetence. And Dunning-Kruger effect, novices have a lot more confidence. T true novice is far more confident than somebody who's getting to that point of whole... It's setting in, that their confidence drops for a long time. And then experts don't even evaluate themselves as high as the true novice. I mean, I see the mistakes I make all the time and I wish, and I think about all the things I've done wrong to my career. I wish so badly I had this kind thing for myself 20 years ago. But in terms of where, so we want those people that have those-

Christopher Lind:

Okay. So you don't necessarily want to be concerned about people who are confident. You just need to keep a pulse on, do they start to recognize, what, there are things I don't know, and I need to learn and things like that.

Michael Kester:

And the low empathy coupled with the high confidence is a concern. And I want to be clear about that. Because we've had lots of people that they're high performers. Some organizations have used this for their high potentials. They're coming in and they, they're good. I mean, they are, they're better than most, but they still have a ton to learn and they've got that empathy and they've got that willingness to grow. They're trying to grow. It's great for them.

Christopher Lind:

Okay. Okay. Well, no, and I think that's where nothing ever is as simple as it often presents itself on the first. So confidence could be an indicator, but you're like, well, but is it? Like you said, is that coupled with, you have zero understanding of anyone else? That's concerning, you can't even relate to other people. And I think you're, the middle one, was that space. Do you have the space and desire to actually do anything with that? Or are you like, "No, I don't really care."

Michael Kester:

Yeah. That's right. And narcissism. I mean. Talk about a challenge in our society too, because you've got some of the... Some people would say that some of the wealthiest, most notable entrepreneurs in the world are a bit narcissistic and what do you do with that? There's some great things that have been written recently about that. And it's causing problems and challenges because we confuse signal and noise all the time. There are people who jump at a great... They've got, they hit a vein. They're working on a great idea or concept. And they, frankly, they drive and they overcome some of the maybe the leadership-

Christopher Lind:

They strike oil. They strike oil and they overcome all this other stuff.

Michael Kester:

And then we start to think, we want to emulate that in totality. And the reality is, the thrashing that happens from poor leadership is extremely costly. And it's extremely costly, not just in human terms, which is what I really deeply care about. But getting people to a space that their work is meaningful and rich and rewarding both for the leader of the team and the members of their team.

Christopher Lind:

And I think that what you're bringing up right there, I really want to hit on this because I think this is one of those things that gets... I still see this even today. That some of these legacy thinking and practices and leadership development, and I won't mention names, but like XYZ leaders, they're a complete jack wagon. They treat people like garbage, but they're a billionaire because they're whatever. And so people aspire to that and they go see they made it. And I think your point of sometimes they just, some people are going to strike oil and it had nothing to do with anything other than that. But I think one of the other things that comes to mind that I've seen is, and you mentioned this, not only do they cause just a wake of chaos in their path, but the path they tread is so much harder than.

Imagine the path, imagine how much more successful they would've been had they not created a wake of destruction in their path and how much more innovation, how much happier people would've been? What would've been? To me, I'm like, don't hold these shining examples of, well, they created chaos and destroyed everyone around them and they made it. And it's like, well-

Michael Kester:

That's right.

Christopher Lind:

... Yeah. But there's a much better way to do it. And you probably could have done it with a whole lot less headaches and destroyed relationships and things like that.

Michael Kester:

That's right. Plus we're at a transition in our world. When you think about where we are today and how we work. And I've talked about this before, it's like we evolved to work differently. We evolved to get purpose, meaning and connection with other people through our work, not just as a result of our work, not just after our work. I mean, you think about like tribal days, people... We wanted to work hard and we got, yeah. It was richly rewarding to be part of something bigger than ourself, to be working with people that we cared about and felt cared for by, and doing things that really matter to all of us. And then with the rise of the first couple industrial revolutions... And for productivity, it kind of made sense. Let's make people cogs in the machine and then you have the rise of the eight hour work-

Christopher Lind:

You're on an assembly line. I need you to put this pin in this whole and do it as many times as possible.

Michael Kester:

We get our work week rules and we get to a point that we're working for the weekend. And okay. So we just accept that the work sucks. Our work life is terrible and we're just going to maximize life outside of our work, which, all right. It worked for us for a while, but now it's, you can't do that anymore. For one, I mean, work, it permeates every part of our life. Part of it's because of the COVID world and being online.

Christopher Lind:

It definitely accelerated some greater awareness to that.

Michael Kester:

But also that being COGS in a machine is not good for innovation. If you need your people to be creative, to be collaborating, to be doing things that are, that are differentiated, to be building. In this world, that's how we differentiate. It's not about operational excellence above all else. It is about those things and continual reinvention. It is better for people, for their teams, for their organizations and for humanity, for us to have a great work experience where we feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves, we're connected to other people. And the research shows, too. It's.


TOPIC 4: HOW THE WORKLIFE & HOMELIFE ARE MELDING AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR MANAGEMENT


Christopher Lind:

So I'm curious on this one, because you're working with a lot of leaders. This one... And I said this before we went live. To me, this much-needed erosion of separation of work and life. It was very much needed because I think this idea that work is completely separate. It has nothing to do with anything. I put on this mask and I go to work and I do this thing. And then as soon as it's done, I take it off and I go home. I mean, that was leading to problems in and of itself anyway, because the reality is, it's just life. Whether you like it to or not, you're going through a divorce. Well, that's going to affect your personal life. You just had a child, your work life is going to be affected.

And it was a lot of work for people to pretend like this doesn't affect me in any way, shape or form. And I'm just, this is work, and this is life. So I'm happy to see this starting to break down. But I have to imagine there is a lot of baggage that has carried over from the industrial revolution and the historic way of doing this in terms of orgs and leaders who are... I have no doubt some emerging leaders come in and are like, "Wait, what? That's not totally how I thought it was supposed to be." And then leaders of those leaders going, "Absolutely not. That's not the way we run this organization." Type of a thing.

Michael Kester:

Absolutely. So I'm Gen X, as I'm sure you know. And came of age in the professional world where there was this separation. You're supposed to show up... My first job I wore suit and tie. I was working on Wall Street, and you show up in a certain professional way and there is this wall between who you are as a person and what you're doing at work. And the way that you lead and relate to other people, it was a very command and control, sharp hierarchical environment. That was so pervasive when... It's a legacy of this operational excellence world that we've evolved from, and getting past that is so difficult. And there's still so much of that mindset out there today. It's about telling people what to do and having them do it, which.

Christopher Lind:

Well, and even integrating life. I mean, I remember an experience early in my career where we were doing... There was a happy hour and I remember asking, I was like, "Oh, can my spouse join?" And people looked at me like, "What are you talking about?" Wait, am I supposed to pretend that I'm not married? And that I have a life outside of this, for work? Is that not kosher? And I remember... It was, there were some real stigmas that had to be broken down to go, "Okay. I'm not going to pretend that I'm someone I'm not just because, oh, that's the work version of me." I mean, and it's very freeing in many ways to say, "No, just, you are the same person at work as you are at home." And I think we've seen that come out of the pandemic.

Michael Kester:

Right. A lot of things began to shift. I think about... So having worked for an investment banking, worked, gone to law school and then worked for management consulting firm. A lot of, for those careers as professional careers where people work incredibly long hours, very, very hard, high, pay is high, but you kind of sacrifice yourself for the work. There was this evolution of all right, we're going to work hard and play hard. And we're going to drink a ton at these social events and do things outside of work.

But it still is. It's like the separation was so stark and that's not who we are as people. I mean, we did. We evolved to want to... To do our work and have play and work be a little bit more integrated and to have that bond and connection with other people. And we're at a spot where it's almost paradoxical to a lot of people, that's not just good for people and the team environment. It's also better for results if you want to be innovative and so forth. But people haven't learned how to do that.

Christopher Lind:

So from a skill standpoint, I'd love to talk about that a little bit because it's one thing to talk about it and say, "Hey, we need to be better at this. We need to think about this." But for emerging leaders and honestly, even seasoned leaders who probably, I have no doubt, and I know because I've run into them, carry a lot of this bias of, "Well, this is how it used to be. I remember the days where I was at the office till nine o'clock at night and I would go home long enough to sleep and turn around and come back."

And it was like, whoa, well... I mean, how happy were? How many divorces do you have as a result of that type of a thing? And now this is changing, but just telling people it's different, that's got to be hard. So what skills do you look at to help leaders develop and make that shift?

Michael Kester:

So I'll give the frame for a second. So our program is for new managers, people up to four years of people leader experience professionally. So it can be brand new. Typically about six months in is a better fit, because they've got through that self-awareness.

Christopher Lind:

So they don't have the 30 years of baggage, but they've still got to learn how to do this.

Michael Kester:

Yeah, exactly. And you're catching them early enough in their career that you can make an impact as opposed to spending gobs of money, trying to fix a bad leader who's more senior. A little investment-

Christopher Lind:

The executive coaching. And I mean, yeah.

Michael Kester:

Exactly. So we put five or six people together. As I mentioned, across companies, we match them. We go through these, I'd almost describe them as icebreakers on steroids. We tried these social science ways to get people to really connect. Then the content though is intentionally light. We don't want to give people way too much. We didn't want to introduce another leadership model or leadership standard or leadership competency set. There's too much-

Christopher Lind:

Some other 10 steps they have to memorize, type thing.


TOPIC 5: LEAD BELAY'S TEACHING OF LEADERSHIP STYLES FOR NEW MANAGERS


Michael Kester:

Exactly. We want them to bring that stuff, whatever they're learning in their organizations to the table. That's important. That is an important part of this, but then give them this space to really explore and develop their own leadership style. So they will go through... We prime them. They will watch a video. It can be actually a Simon Sinek video or Amy Edmondson video. Do some self-reflection, guided self-reflection. Think about how this applies to them in their world, but come into the group meeting really primed to have a rich discussion. Lot of dialogic learning, some experiential learning, and then go and apply it in the real world. Okay. So to avoid too much content, because content can kill learning. If everything's dumped into it. That was the thing I saw again and again, from programs that we were either moving away from at the Regis-

Christopher Lind:

Yeah. You can completely saturate people to the point. Going back to your middle philosophy of, they have to have capacity. Some of these programs can actually sap their capacity by being like, we're trying to jam so much into you. It's like, I don't have any capacity to make any change.

Michael Kester:

For our research, when we were forming this program, we connected with over a hundred millennial new managers and we heard again and again. And these are motivated people. They were reading tons of books, HBR articles. They were seeking all the help they could get. And it was overwhelming and crushing them. They couldn't assimilate it all. So we wanted to simplify it and distill it and make sense of it for them. So what we noticed, so instead of introducing another model, let them bring stuff that they're learning and then give them some simple, three lenses to look at leadership challenges through. So those three lenses. This is what we, and frankly, all the body of work in the leadership development space falls into one of these categories or several.

The first is psychological safety. And Amy Edmondson's work is fantastic around it and why it matters and how much it matters. The second is communication. Clear and effective communication, making effective requests, holding others accountable without eroding trust and so forth. And the third is alignment. It's alignment. Everyone on the team should understand what everyone else is doing and why they should know how their work contributes to the team and to the broader organization, how they're working on something that means that's connected something bigger than themselves.

And they should be able to connect it back to their own personal sense of purpose and mission. Those three things. So if you're having a problem on your team, it usually falls into one or several of those categories. Like you're not making effective requests or your team doesn't feel safe enough to speak up about it. If somebody quits and you were surprised by it, they weren't safe enough to tell you they were-

Christopher Lind:

They didn't feel comfortable telling you.

Michael Kester:

Or about where they wanted their career to go. You weren't actively coaching them to move beyond your team, which is nearly... I mean, it's so hard for people to do, but it's the right thing to do. Interestingly, people will stay with you much longer if you are coaching them beyond your team than if you're just ignoring the fact that they're a human being.

Christopher Lind:

It's a scarcity mindset thing. It's been my experience with it, it's the scarcity mindset that if we allow people on our teams to believe that they could do more, or we coach and develop them to do more, that we're somehow going to have less. And again, I tend to be more... My experience has been, I've seen quite the opposite. It's like the more you invest, the more you say, "No, I want you to go beyond this." Actually, the more you get back, which totally, it's counterintuitive. It's counterintuitive. You feel like... And that's where the leading from the gut thing could be a dangerous one. Because it could be like, well, that doesn't make any sense because yeah, if I give, I have less. And it's like, no, actually, no. When you give, you have more, which doesn't make any logical sense.

Michael Kester:

Somebody I used to work with talked about holding talent with an open hand. And when you do that, the team comes together and they feel cared for as human beings. So you're giving them stretch assignments that are toward their evolution beyond your team, maybe beyond your organization, they will stay longer. And when they leave, it's a wonderful thing.

Christopher Lind:

It's a smooth transition. It's honestly, that's the-

Michael Kester:

And you're a talent magnet. Others will want to work with you and for you. That's what happens.

Christopher Lind:

That's just it. It's like, when that person leaves, you're not sitting here going, "Man, how do I find somebody to put into this role? Because no one wants to work for me. It's a miserable role." They know it's going to be terrible, type of a thing. Again, it's counterintuitive that giving actually gives back more than you can give. But it is an early life lesson that I think has paid tenfold dividends.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. So we anchor things around those. We help people understand what those look like and feel like. We do a ton of group work shopping. So people bring their own challenges. We have a lot of optional content, things for people to dig into. There are some things, basic best practices like understanding the SBI model for giving feedback, lots of the basics around having difficult conversations. You should be having, at least once a month, a one on one with every member of your team that's about them and their growth and development. Not just a status update data or a chance to hold them accountable. There are things that are best practices that we touch on in the program. But for the most part, it's, let them bring their own stuff. So when the group work shopping was actually watching a video every now and then we'll get permission to record one of the sessions our coaches are leading.

Then we use it for our Train the Trainers. And in this session, somebody was just overwhelmed and crushed by all the requests and things they had said yes to. And he was describing... A high performer clearly and tired. He's like, "I'm bugging my stakeholders by going back, asking again and again, how do we handle this?" And so another member of the group talked about the Eisenhower four quadrants, right? The urgent and important. And she regularly, when she gets overwhelmed, would put all of the things she's working on on that matrix, and it's become a norm. And then she'll go to her stakeholders or her, whoever she's working with-

Christopher Lind:

Help me realign these.

Michael Kester:

... And be like, all right. So here's how I'm thinking. Exactly. So they're bringing their own stuff like they've been through. It's not like they're complete novices. They've been exposed to it.

Christopher Lind:

I love that you bring this up because sometimes we do have this empty box syndrome where we treat people as though they're an empty box. Like, oh, well you're an emerging leader. So you're just a complete bonehead on all things. And it's like, no, actually they're not. Like you said, they've read things. They've had their own personal experiences with bad bosses. They've led something in some capacity, whether it's projects, teams, I mean, people have experience. And when we treat them like, oh, you don't know anything, let me tell you how it is. That is one of the most off- putting things that I think you can do whether it's leadership development or anything. It's just not recognizing you bring experience and exposure to this group.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. And you learn through teaching. Some of the stuff you've been exposed to, but it might have clicked in certain ways, but you bring... It just, it comes home for you when you start to use it to help someone else. You're like, this thing I've been working on really fits here, and they'll talk about it, whatever it is.

Christopher Lind:

Or even the self-awareness. There have been plenty of times where I've been talking through something. I go, "Wait a minute, now that I'm actually saying this and processing it, now I don't... This is fundamentally broken. I don't know why I've been holding onto this for so long."

Michael Kester:

Right, right. So the first thing that we expose people to at the very beginning of the program before they come to their first meeting. So they have gone through our assessment. It takes like 12 to 15 minutes. They've put in a group. They've accepted the schedule, and they get just one quick thing is, read a two-pager description of a growth mindset. What it is. We reference Carol Dweck's mindset book, which is outstanding. If you haven't read it. And for anyone on this call. And it just dispels myths about a growth mindset. Like, high performers think they have a growth mindset, but research shows that we double down on things we're good at. So we want to set the tone that you're going to grow much faster if you, take some risks and you focus on, all right-

Christopher Lind:

Do things you're not comfortable with.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. Do things you're not comfortable with. And that sets the tone, both for this program. And then also for the way that they're going to approach some of their team challenges a little differently, and the way that they're going to look at the members of their team. So it's, those things are so important. Like that setting up the safety communication, alignment, mindset for looking at problems.

Christopher Lind:

And some of the things you brought up, and then there's one question that I definitely want to hit on before we run out of time. Although I've got probably a whole bunch more I'd want to get into. Is some of the things you talked about I really like, and I think this is something that anybody in our industry can really be thinking about with this. You talk about them in very tangible, relatable terms. Things that people can relate to in terms of what are some things that you can actually grow and develop that don't sound like I'd need to get an encyclopedia or a dictionary to try like be better at this? And you're like, I don't know what that means, but okay. I'll try and work on that.

It's a lot simpler than I think sometimes we make it out to be. I think sometimes we overcomplicate this to a point where people go, "I don't know what you're talking about." And that's been my experience with, people... When we're developing leaders, some of the biggest things that I've seen fail is the general population does not talk about this stuff all the time. So the language, the lingo, the stuff we use in HR and learning and development, it's foreign to the average person. So when you start going on. I won't even mention it. Some of the comments, these... People are like, "I don't know what that is." But going back to psychological safety, they don't want to be the one to go, "I have no idea what you're talking about. You're telling me to develop this thing. I am not even familiar with it."

Michael Kester:

It's a good one. So we try wherever we can to use very plain and relatable language. I didn't want to use training language at all. In fact, my team had to convince me that we need to call our syllabus a "syllabus" at some point. There's just no other good name for it.

But it was less content, more context, more connection, more sharing, more bringing practical examples between and among the people, let them develop their own stuff. Self reflect. Think about leaders you've worked with, what are the things that they did that you like, that stood out, that were good? Talking in terms of behaviors, that made a difference or dragged the team down. Psychological safety is one of those things that is so important. So fundamentally important to an effective team environment that we lean pretty hard into it. At the beginning of the program, we have people... Will watch an Amy Edmondson video. They do some reflection. They create their own safety timeline.

When did they feel safe? And when did they feel not safe, unsafe during their academic and work career? They share it. It's a really, really powerful intimate moment. It just brings it home for them. But we don't want to be using a lot of language that isn't just plain and ordinary for them.


TOPIC 6: ASSIMILATING LEADERSHIP CHANGES WHEN YOUR ORG DOESN'T ADAPT


Christopher Lind:

So last question that I have, and this may be opening Pandora's box, but I am curious your take on this because this can torpedo people's leadership journeys pretty hard. And I'm curious how you help people prepare for this because I've seen over the years and have been on the receiving end of this. Where, you can start to develop this stuff and you're growing and you're excited. And you're like, all right, this is how I want to do it. And you go into an environment that literally just crushes it right out of you.

You go back. I mean, we've been there. You're like, I want to lead like this and I want to care deeply about my... And then you go back and you go into an org or under a leader that's like, "No, I don't support this. Get back on... Run it like this."

How do you help people work through that? Because that is just a reality of life that it's like, well, you're going to run into this and you can't just throw in the towel because it's tough. But how do you help people prepare for some of those challenges?

Michael Kester:

So I think we're in a different world, that I think team leaders do have some autonomy to set their own container with their teams a little bit. Managing up is one of the toughest things with respect to protecting your team. But there is... I mean it's agile language, right? Protect your team. So I worked... I mentioned Lehman brothers. I worked for people who threw things.

Christopher Lind:

I know. But that's what I'm thinking. Like there's the-

Michael Kester:

That was a long time ago, but it was like the opposite of good leadership, right? It was motivation through fear and money. And that was it. And those things don't motivate positively. They don't create team environments.

Christopher Lind:

No. They get compliance. Maybe.

Michael Kester:

So much of the conversation is about what can you do? What can you do with your team, with your people? You can create a cohesive team, even in a generally bad culture. And frankly, cultures shift from that team level up as much as they do from the top down. We spent a lot of time talking about those two things. I mean, you do want to have this right tone set at the top, but you can make an impact. There's just so much personal choice you have in the way that you interact with people. Then you can point to things like... So the army did an extensive research study recently about how do you build cohesive teams? Number one conclusion, what it boils down to, the executive summary: treat people like human beings.

Get to know them as humans. I mean, of course you don't want to spend inordinate amount of time with somebody who keeps bringing their personal stuff to you all the time, but. We've all experienced that, so you do need to kind of help them, but get to know them. That stuff just... It's pervasive. Doesn't matter the environment you're working in.

Christopher Lind:

Well, and I think one of the things on this that... What you've talked about throughout, and I think some of it is, and this is, again, it goes back to some of the growth mindset stuff is, there are things outside of your control. You might be in an environment or under a boss or in a company where it may not always be the easiest to do it, but there are always things that you can control even in that environment. And I think encouraging that in your new leaders to go, "Yeah, you know what?" You might have a boss you can't trust. That is a reality. There's going to be times you're going to have a boss you can't trust. So what do you do when you're in that environment?

And I think that's where building that community, that connection and say, "Well, so protect your teams and look for support through the people you have around you." I think there's ways that you can help people recognize it. There are real challenges and it's not all sunshine and puppies.

Michael Kester:

Right. And I mean, you walk in a fine line there. We could spend a lot of time on this actually.

Christopher Lind:

I told you it was Pandora's box.

Michael Kester:

Yeah. But it's like... So when you're going through layoffs, sometimes you can't say certain things to your team, but before those things happen, before the bad times happen, you want to build that cohesion with the team with as much trust as you can. You want to share as much as you can. That's the environment you should be fostering. And it will give you so much runway when you do hit those things that you have to be a little bit more tied up about.

Christopher Lind:

Well, and I think... And then we can wrap on this. And I think this is the point where it's, don't... It's like waiting to invest into your 401k two years before retirement. It's a terrible strategy. If you're waiting to build trust, if you're waiting to drive some of these forward and you wait until it hits the fan, well, it's not going to work. It's not going to work. But if you're doing this consistently and ongoing, you're still going to make... You're still going to have hiccups. You're still going to make mistakes. But if you've been doing this and investing in this long term, over time, then people will be able to assume positive intent and see some of these things through a different lens. Then if you're doing none of it and then things hit the fan, you're like, "Oh, well, let's trust. Let's build trust right now." Like, "No. A little too late."

Michael Kester:

Yeah. Start as soon. Start now, immediately, with your team.

Christopher Lind:

Start now. Well, I knew we'd have far more than we could talk through in an hour, but I really appreciate you making the time, Mike. For those of you who have been tuning in, hopefully, this is just giving you some food for thought, as you think about developing your own leadership skills as a leader, as you're thinking about developing emerging leaders and just, what are some of the different things that we can do as facilitators of behavior change in our org? I think there was a lot to unpack here. So thank you for making time on a Tuesday morning.

Michael Kester:

Christopher, thank you. This is fantastic. Enjoyed the conversation and look forward to talking with you again.

Christopher Lind:

All right. Sounds good. Well, thanks everybody. And have a wonderful week.


 

Interested in having Michael Kester guest speak on your future webinar or podcast? Contact him at mike@leadbelay.com

 

 

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