How good leaders learn from failure

How good leaders learn from failure

Organisational Success Podcast

You don’t need a leader if you aren’t going anywhere. But if you and your organisation or business is on a journey, especially when all around you is changing, one thing is inevitable – failure. In his latest book, Stifled: Where Good Leaders Go Wrong, James Wetrich explores the role of failure in good leadership and how leaders can turn failure into learning and success. 

The podcast


The Book: Stifled: Where Good Leaders Go Wrong


James Wetrich

James Wetrich
James Wetrich

James G. Wetrich, is the best-selling author of Quitless: The Power of Persistence in Business and Life and the book we are going to talk about today which James has just published; Stifled: Where Good Leaders Go Wrong

James is the CEO of The Wetrich Group of Companies, through which he has consulted with over 100 companies in the past twenty years. He has been in the health care industry for more than forty years and has worked in a number of senior positions. Jim has extensive international experience having responsibilities in the US, Europe as well as Latin America. He has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern California, a Master of Health Administration from Tulane University, and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University. Jim has served on numerous boards and advisory boards in both non-profit and for-profit corporations. 

Jim is an adjunct lecturer at Texas Wesleyan University, where he teaches Principles of Marketing to business students. He is also a qualified executive coach and coaches senior executives primarily in the health care industry. Jim received the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University.

James is also a member of the Oxford Review

Connect with James


[00:00:00] David: Hello, and welcome back again. I’m David Wilkinson from the Oxford Review and with me today, I’ve got James Wetrich, now James is the best-selling author of Quitless: The power of persistence in business and life and the book that we’re going to be talking about today, which James has only just published called Stifled: Where good leaders go wrong. James is CEO of the Wetrich Group of Companies, being consulting with over a hundred companies over the last 20 years which is pretty impressive and he’s been in the healthcare industry largely for more than 40 years and has worked in a number of senior positions. Is it James or Jim? What do you prefer?

[00:00:38] James: Either one is fine. Jim is fine. Most people call me Jim. I used to have a nickname, Big Red. You’ll see that on the cover of the book and at one point, David, I had flaming red hair. I tell my marketing class I’ve lost my brand. So what should I do about..

[00:00:52] David: Right! So Jim has an extensive international experience having responsibilities in the U S, Europe, as well as Latin America. He’s got a [00:01:00] Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern California. A Masters of Health Administration at Tulane University and a Masters of Business Administration from Emory University. So pretty well qualified. Jim served on numerous boards and advisory boards in both non- profit organizations. He’s also an adjunct lecturer at the Texas Wesleyan University, where he teaches principles of marketing to business students, and he’s also a qualified executive coach and coaches, senior executives, primarily in the areas of healthcare industries. Jim received the outstanding alumnus of the year award from the school of public health and tropical medicine at Tulane University recently. He’s also a member of the Oxford Review, which I’m pleased about. Welcome Jim.

[00:01:44] James: Thank you, David. It’s really a delight to be here and delight to be with you. Thank you for the opportunity.

[00:01:49] David: Yeah. It’s great to talk to you again. Could you just start off by giving us a little bit more of your background and kind of what led up to you writing the book?

[00:01:58] James: Yeah, it’s a couple things, David.[00:02:00] First, I bought the book on becoming a leader in 1989 and as I recount in the book, I can’t remember exactly why I bought it. I’d probably read a review about it and I became at that point, a huge fan of Warren Bennis, who was an author of the book and also a huge student of leadership. I found many things really fascinating. I had at that point worked for some very good leaders and subsequently as I list in the book, I had the pleasure of working for some truly outstanding leaders virtually every, same my first boss in the grocery store that I worked for, became a CEO of a corporate officer of a public company or private company and I’ve just been blessed to have been around many people, and I am passionate about leadership. I try to read fairly prodigiously about leadership. I read a lot of books about leadership. I read books, criticizing books, about leadership written by Jeff Belfor and others at Stanford. So I’ve really tried to [00:03:00] immerse myself in this area and have through my consulting work, I really also had the opportunity to be around some really terrible leaders and I can, I’ve seen the impact that they’ve had and I want them to try to point out some of that in the….

[00:03:14] David: Yes! Yeah! And you do, and obviously being a member of the Review, you’re obviously very keen on evidence-based practice in that area. So could we just kind of start, cause I was really interested in opening the book, the very first chapter, which is unusual, starts with failure. So, why start a book with failure?

[00:03:32] James: Yeah, I think there’s a few things, David. First, I think it set the tone for the book because we all fail. We’re human. We’re going to continue to fail. I’m 64 years old and even in my own business, I continue to make mistakes and continue to learn. I continue to grow but the thing that I think is most alarming is there are many instances where we’re not learning from those mistakes. You know, the company that I mentioned, that’s still publishing about accidents [00:04:00]and climbing in mountaineering and climbing is still publishing their work and people are still dying from the same accidents. In some cases, failure to tie a knot at the end of their rope, and they literally are falling off the end of their rope. It may be because they don’t know it, maybe because they’re too tired. It may be all kinds of things we don’t know, but I think there’s so much to learn from failure and, there’s so much, pressure not to fail. Companies, I think talk often about their willingness to let people fail, but it’s always to some extent or some degree being failures can be career limiting and nobody knows and has a good definition of what an okay failure is. That being said, I think, as I mentioned it, it sets a tone for the book and realizing that we are human and we are going to fail, and I think doing what we can to learn from those failures is really…

[00:04:54] David: Yeah, I think and certainly coming through the research, we were seeing a lot more research around having a [00:05:00] learning orientation and it’s being tied to all sorts of kind of factors and things, and in fact, you know, as you were talking, it just reminded me of some within academia, obviously people publish their CVs and things of, and there was a colleague who published an anti CV and it was everything he’d failed at. So all of the papers that didn’t get published, all of the funds that he didn’t get and all of those things, and that went viral, which lots of people were interested in that, I know. People are kind of notorious thing and we are, you know, forgetting our own failures and kind of putting them behind us. What can people really do to learn from their failures and mistakes and not the, you know, how politicians do the, yes, we’ve learned the lessons kind of thing. When actually, you know, not only if they’re not learned the lessons, they probably don’t even know what those lessons are. So in that rumble, the question really was how can people actually learn from the failure?

[00:05:52] James: Yeah, I think that’s a great question, David. Part of it, I think is codifying it somehow, or whether you write it down as [00:06:00] that person that you just mentioned about the CV, whether you journal it, whether you have a notepad, whether you have a little black book, whatever it is, I think making sure it’s captured somewhere to serve as a way to remind you when you can go back to that and remind yourself of that, and I also think it’s calls out for some sort of support structure, whether it’s a, you get it from your partner or your spouse, your colleagues, from a mentor, from a coach, from your peers, from people you worked with or people you’re working with. I don’t think we can, you know, get enough feedback, and I mentioned in the book, you know, my wife, Nancy, who spent 35 years as an ICU nurse working in mostly very large prestigious university hospitals, she personally helps keep me grounded, right, and I think having that somebody to make sure you as the phrase goes, you keep it real on new [00:07:00] state ground, and then I think part of what happened is people get so much momentum getting into such big jobs they feel the reason they’ve gotten there is because they’re often, you know, heads and shoulders above somebody else, when the reality really is, they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, when I talked to the people I’ve known, who’ve been extraordinarily successful, they’ll all tell you to a person that it just happened to me in the right place at the right time, and I had mentors and mentors really helped me and helped, and I think some part of it is just asking the question, you know, what can I do better? What am I not doing, well? How can you provide feedback to me, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative or formal or informal?

[00:07:44] David: Yeah, and I liked that idea of having a journal of failure, kind of a diary of failure. I think it’s a really, really good idea, and it’s kind of not only what am I not doing so well, but just what am I not doing? What am I avoiding? Quite often, that’s a good area for looking at [00:08:00]as well.

[00:08:00] James: I agree, one of the things I try to suggest to my coaching clients, particularly my young coaching clients is, write down instances where your boss treated you poorly or asked you to do things that you really didn’t like. You’ll forget about those things, you know, and if you write them down and you review them from time to time, you’ll be reminded so that you won’t do the same things that irritated you when your boss irritated you, you know, a lot of things, we tend to forget, my kids, I’ve got two boys they’re in their mid to late thirties now, they used to come home from high school and complain about their teacher. And you know, the teacher did this, the teacher did that, the teacher said this and they’re all upset, and I said, first of all, your day wasn’t ruined by your teacher, your day’s ruined by you, all right, you’re in control of your day. And secondly, you won’t remember this incident in years, because it’s just not that big of a deal really in the grand scheme of things, but in business, some of those little things can be big deals and making sure you capture those, I think [00:09:00] could be very helpful over someone’s career.

[00:09:02] David: Yeah, I think that’s important. Not this isn’t just about learning from our own failures. It’s learning from other people’s failures as well, which can be just as valid.

[00:09:10] James: Absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:09:11] David: And there’s an awful lot of ground that you cover in this book. So I’m going to kind of skip about a bit, obviously in kind of 30 – 40 minutes, we can’t cover everything. I was really interested to see your chapter on self-awareness and there’s an awful lot written about self-awareness and being self-aware, but how can people really develop a greater self-awareness and how can they know that the sense of their self and the impact that they’re having is actually accurate?

[00:09:40] James: Yeah, I think, again, it goes back to feedback. However, that feedback is captured. I also think it has somewhat to do David with reflection. I know one very prominent CEO, who’s now retired. I heard him speak years ago, said I go into the office every Saturday and part of what I [00:10:00] do in the office every Saturday is looked at my calendar for the previous. Where did I make a mistake? Where did I spend too much time? Where did I not spend enough time? If I had to do it over again, how would I have spent the time I spent last week? So I think the notion of self-reflection and also whether it’s a personal advisory board, whether it’s a group of people that people meet with, whether it’s peers, whether it’s coaches, whether it’s mentors, I think it’s very difficult, you know, I really, as a concrete example, I have no idea that, whether, when you write this book, I have no idea if it’s going to be good or bad or have an impact positive or negative, you just don’t because it really doesn’t matter. I’ve written it, I’ve put my thoughts down, but what’s important is the feedback I’m going to get albeit good or bad from people that have read it. So I think, being open, the thing that’s most important is being open, open to the criticism, open to the feedback [00:11:00] and taking it in and figuring out what can I do with that feedback? There are some things that we just can’t change, right, and there’s some things we can change, and how do I take that information and become a better person? I know from reflecting back on my own career, the way I work with people, the way I treat people, the way I manage people has changed radically over the years. Radically.

[00:11:26] David: Yeah, I liked that. I certainly liked the idea of going back on the last week and thinking about, I had to do this over again, how would I spend my time, is a really good way of looking at this. And I also think that we spend quite a lot of our time being defensive, kind of, ego defense routines, so that, we were not hurt, but that speaks to what you’ve just been saying about being open, but it’s also being open, it’s that being open to learning, and learning about yourself that critically.

[00:11:54] James: Yeah. I quoted Warren Bennis again in the book and it’s you’ve got to own it, you know, right? [00:12:00] You’re your own best teacher and accept responsibility and blame no one. And I think often what happens is we try really hard at when something doesn’t work, to figure out who as sign blame too. I may have been part of it, but who can I really, you know, quote as we say in the states, you know, throw them under the bus, and that’s not fair, that’s not authentic, that’s not self-aware, but there’s a lot of time and energy spent in a lot of organizations where people are trying to do.

[00:12:29] David: Yes. And it’s that kind of blame culture, isn’t it? That I think that actually makes us feel defensive at times without taking that responsibility and ownership.

[00:12:41] James: Agreed. Agreed, and I guess to some extent, you know, reflecting on the conversation, you know, probably goes back to childhood where if I know someone’s going to get in trouble, I sure don’t want it to be me, trying to figure it out.

[00:12:53] David: … put as much distance between you and them as possible.

[00:12:56] James: … to some extent….

[00:12:57] David: There’s quite a cultural aspect here, actually, just as [00:13:00] you were talking, I just remembered a paper, I was reading earlier in the year about a Japanese concept about HANSEI which is I’ll spell it out for people H A N S E I, I may not have pronounced that right, and that’s the concepts about taking responsibility for failure, taking responsibility for your own actions, but it’s based on introspection and saying yes, but this was my fault, and there was a story that was in the paper actually that came along with it about A guy who was involved in shipping in the U S and they were shipping things out to Japan and, something happened to the ship and the containers got lost overboard. So the American came in and blame the shipping, you know, the weather and everything else and the Japanese didn’t understand that. Why are you not taking responsibility? He said, well, it’s not my fault. And they said, well, yeah, but you’re not learning. And then it’s that sense of, you know, I’m sorry that this has happened, in the future, we will make sure that this happens instead, so it doesn’t happen again, which [00:14:00] is taking responsibility.

[00:14:01] James: I absolutely, I think that’s a fabulous story. I’m glad you shared that. I love that and you’re right. There’s huge cultural impacts on so many things that we’re talking about in the book. And also just so many things in business and work. We had a huge fast, last February and in Dallas, un you know, century record-breaking low temperatures and a lot of pipes froze and a lot of buildings and homes and I have a small office building here, that’s where I’m talking to you from, and we turn the water off to avoid the pipes from freezing, but the neighbors in the building next door, not knowing which water valve was there and mistakenly turned the water on in my building and the pipes froze, and I can’t seem to get those people to return my phone call to talk about, you know, what damaged happened to my building, right, it’s just taking responsibility, you messed up. And, I know you didn’t do it intentionally, but you’re responsible for causing the water to break in my building, but, you [00:15:00] know, that’s just the proverbial ostrich with the head in the sand, people won’t own it.

[00:15:04] David: Yeah. And, that happens a lot in business, I think.

[00:15:06] James: Of course. Of course

[00:15:08] David: So I suppose from a slightly, a different angle on this, how, actually no, let me just go back a bit because there’s this… I just want to, sorry, I’ve just got to go back for a second. There’s this one of my favorite chapters in the book that was about, hypocritical leadership. Now, what do you mean by hypocritical leadership? Can you give us some examples and how can leaders, firstly, identify that they’re actually being hypocritical and how can they then move towards doing something different? Be more genuine.

[00:15:36] James: You know, David, I first saw this early on in my career and I worked for a company that I would say was pretty structured in career development. These are the things you need to do to get from this point to this point, to this point, to this point. And we had a senior executive in that company stand up in front of the people with one of the divisions that he was operating in and [00:16:00] said, if you want to get to this position, you must go from this position, to this position, to this position. This is the…. you must come into the headquarters, work in this function, and then we’ll promote you back out again into this other job. So it was a progression and it was laid down black and white. This is what you have to do to go from a salesperson ultimately to a regional manager. You have to come into the headquarters and you have to do this function. Not more than a month after that rule and policy was implemented, there was an unplanned departure of a regional manager in a part of the country and rather than having a sales person come into the headquarters to do that function, boom, out the door, the rule went and that person went from sales rep to regional manager, and a thousand people in the organisation have heard the message, they’re like, well, how did that happen? How did that happen just a month ago? You said this will [00:17:00]never happen, and I think part of what we learned from these things is it can’t necessarily always be black and white and okay, let’s just say that happened, let’s have the leader come out and say, we had to make an exception, and this is why we made an exception. And I’m sorry if I messed up and I’m breaking my own rules. And I think the answer to your question, David is that’s where the team comes involved, that’s where the peers come involve, and that’s where people working for that leader have to step up and say what you gotta realize the message, you just broke your own rules and people are now very confused. And when you come out with another decree, is that going to be meaningful or are you going to break that rule in another month? And the sensitivity on all that is really keen, and part of it goes to the psychological safety. I have to be able to go to that leader and say, you have to understand the [00:18:00] impact your hypocritical leadership is having on this organization. If you’re going to set rules like that and then break them, people are going to begin to wonder, well, what what’s next? What other exceptions are going to be made? And I don’t think people generally understand that because as a leader, I have a problem, I’ve got to get somebody in that job and I’m going to do whatever it takes to put that person in the job, whether I break my own rules or not.

[00:18:26] David: And it destroy his trust, actually.

[00:18:28] James: It does, absolutely does. And, then when somebody wants a job like that come open again, they’re like, why can’t I also be the exception to the rule? Why do I have to go into headquarters? I don’t want to go to Chicago. I don’t want to move my family and freeze my tail off for a couple of years, in the brutal winters. Why can’t I be an exceptional? Why did you make an exception for that person? It really creates challenging issues within a particularly a large organization like that.

[00:18:55] David: It is. Can I just kind of switch this because obviously you [00:19:00] do a lot of coaching and start to look at this from a slightly different angle. How can coaches and usually you’re in a one-to-one relationship and rarely do you actually see people in their natural environment. You’re not sat at work with them as your workplace coaches. How can a coach, what are the kind of warning signals that they may have a hypocritical leader in front of them, and what can they do to help that leader kind of move away from.

[00:19:23] James: Well, I think it goes down to powerful listening and maybe something will come up that will give you some sort of suggestion that maybe there are some hypocritical things going on, or maybe a story or a vignette or something, or I had to make a tough decision, and this is what I had to do. And again, the key in coaching is using those questions to try to get the coachee to understand, to your point, the lack of trust that now may be coming up or the impact of that, or what, you know, are you aware of how that’s impacted the organisation and, if that can’t come through [00:20:00] the questioning, then we can ask the coachee, I’m hearing a situation, I’m not sure I’m understanding it properly, if I am, do you mind if I step out of my coach’s role and give you some advice? Right. So I think that, rarely will that come up, I think in a coaching session, but if it does, questioning is the appropriate method, and then if that doesn’t work and we really sensing something, then I think we have to step out and ask them if they’re willing to take some feedback, yeah.

[00:20:27] David: Yeah. Yeah, and I think this raises another issue. Now I’m just kind of thinking through coaching now, I’ve been involved in, coaching that I’ve done. One of the things that I’ve never done is just raise the issue of hypocrisy and to help to get the, kind of, I think most of us in certain ways are hypocritical. You know, there are things that we do and say, and they don’t, but what we don’t quite often do on a day-to-day basis is kind of reflect on that and think about it, and maybe, and I’m just kind of thinking this through, [00:21:00] I’ve never raised with a client, for example, for them to just go and identify times when they’ve been hypocritical and, you know, kind of what are they trying to get in front of it as it were, you know, what are the warning signs that this may be about to happen? I kind of suspect that there may be a set of emotions.

[00:21:18] James: I think there are emotions. I think there are difficult situations and I think some of it comes up you know, formally, you know, through comments and things on a 360 degree feedback where people may not feel comfortable, actually confiding the person, but have the opportunity through a blinded 360 to make some comments and surface issues that otherwise have gone unsurfaced and, I think that’s a huge opportunity, and that’s why I really dedicated a whole chapter to it, to the book, because I think it’s something that isn’t well discussed. It isn’t well understood from a leadership standpoint, people aren’t thinking about the impact and, you know, I think the most powerful thing [00:22:00] we’ve talked about on this topic is what you said about trust. When you start destroying trust like that, it has a terrible impact on the organisation, the engagement and the effectiveness of.

[00:22:11] David: That’s actually, it’s a really interesting kind of feedback question to ask, particularly in a 360 to ask about times when other people have perceived that I may have been hypocritical. It’s also a brave question to ask for a lot of people.

[00:22:23] James: Well, I think this is to some extent where having a really powerful, engaged and yeah, human resource function. Right? So, If I’m in that operation and I’m in human resources and I hear that managers say those things, and then I see that exception, I would certainly hope that somebody from the human resources organisation could confront that executive and say, do you sure you want to do this? You understand the implication, the organisations I’ve seen that have been really effective, particularly the big ones, I’ve been a part of, [00:23:00] without exception have very powerful, very engaged human resource people that can act as a mentor and talk to the executive and say, this is important that you understand the implication of this decision and the best executives I’ve seen have been open to that kind of feedback.

[00:23:17] David: Yes. Yeah. As they should be. So yeah, and having a powerful tough love from human resources, I think will be useful. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it, but all very often I’ve seen it now and again, I have to say,

[00:23:28] James: Yeah, I have too. And it’s fabulous, and one of the leaders who ran a big business, who was an informal mentor to me at Abbott. We had a very powerful human resource executive in that division at the time, and he was extremely open to feedback and he was one of the few people in that whole division of 10,000 people that was willing to give that person that kind of feedback. And, you know, people don’t like to be told they’re making mistakes, but somebody needs to tell them they’re making mistakes and the..

[00:23:57] David: Absolutely, kind of, and you kind of, place at the [00:24:00] top of an organisation and as a leader and to have somebody who’s being honest with you and holding a mirror up to you is invaluable.

[00:24:07] James: Yeah. It’s incredible. It’s super invaluable. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.

[00:24:11] David: Okay. So let’s just move on a little bit further in the book. And I suppose this is the bane of many people’s lives and organisations meetings, and I’ve got less than fond memories of having the life sucked out, I mean, countless meetings over the years, how did meetings end up as being something that stifles well, all sorts of things like creativity, enjoyment, productivity, and what can leaders and managers actually do about.

[00:24:37] James: Yeah, I think part of it David is, understanding the data. I mean, there’ve been so many studies now and so much data, but we seem to be ignoring the data and the implications and the loss of productivity and it just becomes part of a culture. This is how we run this business. This is what we do. This is how we make decisions, and now [00:25:00] with technology and a lot of people having gone virtual and everybody being able to being called into any collaboration, albeit meeting or whatever you want to call it, almost instantaneously as probably made things in a way worse than it has better, and I just think that people don’t understand how much productivity’s being lost and, you know, I remember in many occasions being part of training meetings or national sales meetings, where we’d bring in the whole, you know, US sales organisation for a whole week and meetings and run from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. Well, all these salespeople have customers, they don’t care they’re in a national sales meeting, they’re not on holiday, they don’t have out of office on their email necessarily because they are working and people need time to do all kinds of things. And I think one of the biggest mistakes we’re making is not forcing people time for [00:26:00] breaks for personal breaks, for hygiene breaks, for coffee breaks, for exercise breaks. And we’re just, you know, from eight o’clock in the morning, till six o’clock at night, you know, you’re ours and we’re gonna control your life, and we’re not paying attention to so many things that are so critical now. Sanjay Gupta, who’s a physician reporter for CNN news out of Atlanta, I heard him say recently that, you know, for this generation of workers, sitting is going to be the new smoking. We’re sitting all day long. We can’t do that. We have to get up. We have to move around. And at least in the offices, when we’re all together, we walked between meetings, right. We generally didn’t sit in meetings all day long, although we all have been in all day staff meetings, but now it’s even worse. I don’t even have to move and it’s just really unhealthy. And I think it kept, I haven’t seen the data yet, I don’t believe I have seen, talk about burnout and fatigue on video [00:27:00] conferences, but it’s got to have a negative impact on our ability to stay crisp and process.

[00:27:05] David: Yeah, like, as I say, I’ve got many memories of being in meetings actually, and you come out of them and think of like, I’m not, I didn’t contribute anything there and I’m not even sure why I was, there was no point to this and I think anyway, we can go on about meeting.

[00:27:20] James: It’s just an area of improvement. We need to continue to move the needle and we need to continue to, you know, understand the impact on the organisation, and I don’t think we’re doing as good a job of that as we should be doing.

[00:27:34] David: Yes, I would agree. Okay. So just to move on to leadership, I notice in the book that, you’ve really picked up on one style of leadership above all others. And as you know, we’ve got this leadership styles project going on within the Oxford Review, at the moment where it’s about 111 different styles of leadership in the literature, on our database. But you’ve chosen one particular one to base an entire chapter on, Servant leadership. So why?

[00:27:59] James: I think [00:28:00] it resonates with me David, in terms of the focus on the people that you’re working with. I’m very gregarious, very person centric, I hope that I’ve paid attention to the people in the organisation as effectively as I can. And I think it’s really important. At one of the sales meetings I was referencing earlier, I had a, kind of a question and answer session and it was toward the end of my time with that organisation, and someone asked me, what impact do you want to have on this company? And I had to think about it for a minute and I said, you know, it’s not about our results. It’s not about our annual targets. It’s not about our sales. It’s not about our profits. I said, I would, during my time here as your general manager that you’ve grown, because what I want you to do is I want you to grow and I want you to develop. I think if we keep that focus, we get rewarded for so many things that may not actually be as important as the people in the organization [00:29:00]are. And we often lose sight of that, and if I’m consistently hitting my numbers on, consistently hitting the sales, I’m consistently hitting my margin, I must be doing a good job, but you know, nobody seems to care for people think I’m a son of a gun, but I think that really is important. And I do believe in organisations, people become secondary or tertiary and it’s hard to see. I understand running a business, very well, but I also understand that having to put people through layoffs and cutbacks and things like that is extremely difficult. And If you don’t feel that I’m not sure you’re doing as good a job as a leader, as you should.

[00:29:43] David: Yeah, I would agree with that. And in fact, there was a thing that I heard years ago, that has always stuck with me from a leadership point of view is that I’m actually trying to create an organisation that years later people look back on as big, really transformative [00:30:00] in their lives. And when I started thinking about that, I thought that’s actually really powerful. About creating a legacy for the people rather than my legacy that they look back on this period and say, that changed me positively.

[00:30:13] James: Yeah! No, that’s another fabulous example. I love it. And I think that’s what many people aspire to, yeah, that are really genuine in their efforts, you know, part of the trap we run into David is we think that the organization revolves around us, I’m having all this success, the market capitalization has gone from a billion to 5 billion, whatever it is, and it’s all about me because I was CEO at the time, and it really isn’t about you, it’s about the people and them pulling the oars together to help, you know, make the change that was made.

[00:30:44] David: Yeah, definitely.

[00:30:45] James: Yeah.

[00:30:45] David: So towards the end of the book, you talk about two things that I think are now irrevocably interconnected and that’s managing the modern workplace and managing during the pandemic. So what are your observations on how things have changed and what do you think the [00:31:00] future of work and leadership looks like?

[00:31:02] James: Yeah, I think one of the most exciting things that’s come out of the pandemic and I gave a presentation on this at the end of June at a conference in Las Vegas. Companies virtually of all sizes have realized they can move much quicker than they ever thought they could possibly move and there are thousands of unbelievably exciting stories about how companies, large and small, Ford general motors, you name it, who all of a sudden stopped what they were doing and start doing something else, whether it was making ventilators, making face masks, whatever it was, at pace and speed that was unprecedented. And I think organizations have now realized because they’ve seen it firsthand, if you put people in charge that know what they’re doing with a mission to get something done, they can get it done and get it done extremely quickly. And I think, I mean, just look at the vaccines that have global cooperation from researchers around the world [00:32:00] unprecedented. I don’t think most of us would have been able, who have somewhat of a background in health ever estimate that we could have gotten vaccines to the market as quickly as we did and unprecedented cooperation among competing scientists around the world, and it’s miraculous. So I think there’s been a lot of good things that have come out of it. We clearly have a different go to market strategy and so many companies, and it’s very difficult now for salespeople in a lot of companies to get access to customers because customers aren’t where they used to be. How do I see doctors and how do I see nurses? If I’m in the medical field, calling on these people, if I can’t get, they don’t even want me to come in because it’s only for patients only, and how do I do my job? And I can’t necessarily connect with everybody electronically by email, by zoom, whatever. So I’m very curious from an intellectual [00:33:00] standpoint, how, what we’ve been through is going to change the face of business forever. Company I’m coaching brought people from 30 different companies right now, from big companies, like AT and T to companies like Chevron and they’re all trying to figure out what’s the new model. How are we going to, what’s the office of the future going to look like? And I don’t think anybody really has the answer, but it’s going to be complex. It’s going to be hybrid. It’s going to be a mixture of all sorts of things and more so than anything I think agility is super important and I would be in the group of people that would say they’ve been surprised at the productivity we’ve had without being in the office. I wouldn’t have estimated originally we could have done what we’d done with remote technology and remote workers to the success we have during the pandemic. And I think it’s caused a lot of people to rethink about how am I going to run this business?

[00:33:57] David: Yeah, we’ve just, in fact, we’re just about to [00:34:00] send out a research briefing to members about hybrid working and kind of the future in mirroring very much what you say and that the workplace of the future is going to be a lot more dynamic with a lot more elements involved. A lot more customization for what needs to be done and not just what needs to be done, but for the health of the people that are involved as well seems to be coming out of this.

[00:34:24] James: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I tell people all the time, I would not want to be a CEO or a chief human resource officer in a large global company, the complexities now of the pressures related to work, to help, to vaccinations, to safety protocols, to how we’re going to do things, it’s gotta be unbelievably stressful in these big companies

[00:34:48] David: Yeah. Without a doubt and complex. Okay. So as we come to the end of this really horrible question for you now, to be able to only pick three things that leaders could do to un-stifle the [00:35:00] workplace. What three things would you do?

[00:35:01] James: Yeah, that’s a great question, David, and thank you for asking that. I think being self-awareness number one, we’ve talked about that, I think it’s really critical. I think the second thing is having unquestionable integrity. It still amazes me the breaches of morality and integrity we’re having in large companies to this day. It’s absolutely mind numbing to me, I cannot understand how some of this stuff is still going on. And I think the third thing, which I know I mentioned in the book, and it also surprises me at how unaware people are that you have to know what you don’t know. I mean, one of the tidbits that’s come out of Jeff book, Hot Seat about trivails he had as chairman and CEO of GE is, he wished he had said, I don’t know, more often. And there’s another book out about the debacle of GE called Lights out written by two reporters, I think, but I’m not certain they’re both wall street [00:36:00] journal reporters. And even Bill Gates came out and said, everybody should read this book or highly recommended something like that. And one of his observations was that it’s so important to know what you don’t know. And I’m thinking to myself, how can we possibly be leaders in large organisations and not understand, you have to know what you don’t know. It’s not possible with the explosion of knowledge, for anybody to know everything about anything, it’s just not possible, and even though the pressures on you to make those decisions and run the business, and you are chairman, you are CEO. You have to know what you don’t.

[00:36:41] David: Yes. And I think that kind of speaks back to that leadership humility thing that you were referring to earlier on. Just about recognizing that actually I’m in a space where I don’t know what to do, and I need to actually know that, particularly in these times of a huge environmental dynamism, market’s changing, [00:37:00] social change, technological change and so on.

[00:37:03] James: Yeah. It’s so critical. Thank you for asking that question

[00:37:05] David: It is. So lastly, just in a couple of sentences because you’re a coach. What advice would you give coaches and other professionals who are involved in leadership development?

[00:37:14] James: I think the mantra is, train, keep training, keep growing, keep developing, keep learning, keep exploring, keep having open conversations and continue to grow your knowledge and your skills and competencies and realized, that you’re on an endless lifelong journey of exploration and development and learning, and you’ll never be at your peak. I forget which of the Mannings it is, that, you know, probably on arguably in the U S National Football League, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but he still at the peak and pinnacle of his career had a quarterback coach and they reviewed tape every week after every game, because he realized if [00:38:00] I got just 1%, I’d be better. And I think that spirit of even 1% improvement can have, you know, literally a game changing outcome is so critical.

[00:38:12] David: Actually, you raise a very good point there. I just wonder how many coaches have coaches and I wonder how many leadership development people have some court form of leadership or some form of development program for themselves. I think that’s really interesting.

[00:38:25] James: I do know that to get to certain levels, like to get to the MCC level within the international coach Federation, you have to have been mentored by an authorized mentor, and you have to have people listen to your coaching sessions and give you feedback and approval on that, and I think the same is true of management and leadership. One of our failures is we’re not watching that manager or leader lead, and we’re just presuming that he or she, they are doing a good [00:39:00] job based on the metrics we’ve created. How few times in my career, as my immediate manager ever been in a room when I was managing, to see how I’m doing, right? Hardly at all, so how do they know how I’m running my meetings or how I’m treating my people or how I’m coaching my people. They just look at the numbers and say, oh, you know, you had a good year, it exceeded your…

[00:39:23] David: Yes. Yeah, I agree. And it would be interesting….

[00:39:26] James: It’s a great question. David, it’s a great question. And I think we’ve got a lot of improvement to do across the board in that area.

[00:39:33] David: Yes. Yes, I think so. Anyway, Jim, thank you so much. Yeah, it’s big. I’ve really enjoyed this. Actually, if people want to contact you, how can they?

[00:39:41] James: Yeah, they can go to my website. It’s just they can email me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to talk to anybody, at any time. So I really relish the opportunity. You know, David, someone told me a long time ago, the [00:40:00] greatest gift you can give somebody is time, cause it’s finite. So I appreciate your gift of time today.

[00:40:05] David: And likewise, this has been brilliant. Thanks, Jim. So, James Wetrich, and the book is Stifled: Where good leaders go wrong, and I’ll put links in the show notes and everybody, so people can find you and find the book. Thanks, James.

[00:40:20] James: Have a good rest of the week.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page